South Korea is seeking to ease legislative restrictions to allow research on breakthrough gene therapies using gene editing and other advanced gene correction tools. The Ministry of Health and Welfare said on Thursday it is revising the Bioethics Act to allow gene therapy research in this direction. 

Rep. Yoon Il-kyu of the ruling Democratic Party, a member of the Health and Welfare Committee, already proposed a bill to revise the law. 

The current law permits gene therapy research only if some exacting conditions are met, such as when there is no currently available therapy for specific diseases including cancer and AIDS, or when an investigative genetic therapy shows significant efficacy. 

But the revision removes the condition of specific diseases, allowing gene therapy research when there is no available therapy or when the therapy shows significant efficacy. 

If the revision is passed by the National Assembly, researchers will also be able to access gene editing technology to conduct their gene therapy research. The revision also calls for an enhanced ethical responsibility of researchers. It also stipulates the approval, review, investigation and supervision of research by an institutional review board, as well as researchers’ reporting obligation and the request for document submission for direct investigation by the National Bioethics Committee, if necessary. 

The National Bioethics Committee, the highest decision making body regarding bioethics in Korea, recommended in December that the current regulations be eased to allow gene therapy research to help address a range of rare and incurable diseases.

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