To strengthen the fight against dengue, the Department of Science and Technology – Biosafety Committee (DOST-BC) in its series of webinar, invited two resource speakers from Oxitec LTD, namely, Dr. Nathan Rose and Dr. Kevin Gorman to give talk on Genetically Modified mosquitoes.
Oxitec LTD is a United States- owned company with headquarters and Research and Development (R&D) facilities in the United Kingdom (UK). It was formed in 2002 with the help of Oxford University Innovation. Since its inception, Oxitec has pioneered work on controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops through world-class genetic engineering and the use of self-limiting gene technology. In the mid and late 2000s, Oxitec successfully deployed genetically engineered insects in select locations in the USA, Caribbean, South America, and has continued to grow these projects, expanding to new regions and countries.
Dr. Gorman has over 25 years’ experience as an agricultural and public health entomologist. He has been Oxitec’s Technical Lead in Central America and the Indian sub-continent for insect control programs using Oxitec’s genetic technologies, with emphasis on the mosquito vectors responsible for transmission of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses. His presentation was on “Oxitec´s 2nd generation self-limiting technology for control of insect pests”.
Dr. Gorman opened the session by providing Oxitec’s Mission and emphasizing that the main objective of Oxitec is to improve lives and livelihoods by developing safe, environmentally sustainable and highly effective solutions to control disease-transmitting and crop-destroying insects.
Dr. Gorman presented Oxitec’s 2nd generation of self-limiting technology for control of insect pest (OX5034), more specifically on Aedes aegypti Mosquito or better known locally as the carrier of Dengue virus. The 2nd Generation Aedes aegypti carries a self-limiting gene that prevents female offspring from surviving, allowing for male-only production, which reduces up to 90% of production complexity. After releases of male mosquitoes into the field, which find and mate with wild female mosquitoes, reduction of the target population is achieved as the female offspring of these encounters cannot survive due to cellular disruption which would lead into death of a female offspring due to the overproduction of protein. Male progeny survives, carrying a copy of the self-limiting gene; in turn, these males are able to pass on the self-limiting gene to half of their offspring, of which female carriers of the gene cannot survive. The self-limiting gene can thereby persist but declines over time, offering potentially multiple but still self-limiting generations of suppression for every Aedes aegypti male released.
Dr. Gorman added that it is safe, non-toxic and non-allergenic.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rose is responsible for Oxitec’s global regulatory efforts and supports Oxitec's Research and Development, Field and Business Development teams across the Oxitec global portfolio. He joined Oxitec as an R&D group leader in 2016 and, before that, had a career as an academic researcher at the University of Oxford, where he worked on the design of drugs targeting epigenetic enzymes involved in human cancers. He discussed some available safety studies on “Friendly” Aedes in Brazil, US, and other geographies”.
Dr. Rose underscored the Oxitec’s Regulatory Approval pathways in Brazil and in the USA.
In Brazil, the initiative received its full biosafety approval in 2014 for the 1st generation (OX513A) Friendly Aedes, and they have released ~1 billion over 10 years. This approval results in protecting over 100,000 people without any adverse effect. Fast forward in 2020, the 2nd generation was approved and 20 million were released over 2 years. The Brazilian Biosafety Regulators (CTNBio) assessed all aspects of biosafety and grant permits for experimental use (‘LPMA’) and commercial biosafety approval. No contained trials for GM insects are required, and open field releases are permitted following comprehensive risk assessment.
As for the Oxitec mosquitoes approval in the USA, the scientific assessment was undertaken by the US-Envronmental Protection Agency (US-EPA). Similarly, no contained trials are required, and open field releases are permitted after completion of a comprehensive risk assessment of environmental and human health impact.
Following on from the attainment for the approval for commercial release in Brazil, Oxitec partnered with Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to pilot OX5034 in the USA. The OX5034 pilot project received unanimous regulatory approvals from US- EPA and Florida State regulators. The first mosquito releases are set this 2021. Following the release, all the data will be used to support US-wide commercial registration with EPA.
In conclusion, Oxitec paved the way in developing new technology to prevent the potential widespread of Dengue virus. It is a well-known fact in the Philippines that Dengue is one of the major diseases that had taken toll on our Filipino people during the past years. With this scientific innovation and technological advancement, we might see in the near future that our long overdue battle with Dengue can be mitigated. #