China’s germline growing pain

How China’s response to CRISPR fallout could elevate its global research reputation

How Chinese regulatory authorities respond over the long term to the CRISPR baby furor could influence its industry’s success on the global stage, as domestic and international stakeholders seek reassurance that the authorities are on the case.

Arguably, this was a controversy waiting to happen. Until this past week, China had not taken a clear stance on human germline gene editing, even though Chinese labs had broken international norms in this field in the past.

”It is shocking and unacceptable. We are resolutely opposed to it.”

Nanping Xu, China Ministry of Science and Technology

On the heels of the country’s vaccine manufacturing scandal in July, the new controversy feeds into the growing burden on Chinese regulators to both create and enforce standards that meet the scientific community’s expectations.

The vaccine case led to a high-level resignation, with the departure of Jingquan Bi as head of China’s State Drug Administration (SDA, now National Medical Products Administration (NMPA)), and a greater focus at the agency on quality control (see “Thinking Beyond Bi”).

On Nov. 26, Jiankui He announced via YouTube that he had used CRISPR-based gene editing to mutate the CC chemokine receptor 5 (CCR5; CD195) gene in single-cell embryos, creating HIV-resistant embryos, prompting outrage globally among the scientific and lay communities. Jiankui He is affiliated with the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, but has been on unpaid leave since February for undisclosed reasons.

Chinese authorities took an unambiguous position.

In a Nov. 29 interview on CCTV, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) Vice Minister Nanping Xu said: “The clinical operation of genetic editing for human embryos is strictly prohibited in our country. The genetically edited baby incident reported by the media

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