A Cure for Cancer? Not quite yet, although the fundamental tools are here. Innovative medical companies and hyperscale computing providers are leading the way. And in some cases, they are curing previously incurable diseases. As costs continue to decline, many treatments will be personalized. The demand for them should be enormous and nearly immeasurable.
Remember mainframes, your first desktop, or early transistor radios? They were large and costly. Because of large scale production, they become smaller and inexpensive. Similarly, computing power recently increased by much more than is common (i.e. reached a positive inflection point).
Humankind is applying its greatest tools in improving technology. The resulting intersection is that of medicine and hyperscale computing power. And it now allows for affordable personal genomic sequencing. Like computers, transistor radios, or electronics, these things start big and expensive. Then they reach smaller and smaller size and lower and lower prices.
Speaking of big and expensive... In 1988 a herculean effort to sequence and map an entire human genome began. Scientists, doctors, technologists, and government officials spent a lot of time and money on the Human Genome Project. Planning began in 1990 and continued through completion in April of 2003. If you’re counting that’s nearly 148 months or well over 12 full years. It cost approximately $2.7 billion to make happen. Not quite what I would call inexpensive.
What does it even mean to map and sequence a person’s genome? And why should we care as investors? It means decoding a person’s DNA, the tiniest building blocks of what makes you, well, you. This includes everything about your makeup at the genetic level. Doing so has already proven virtuous by allowing for an understanding of you. Are you predisposed to a debilitating or deadly illness such as cancer or type II diabetes? Mapping and sequencing your DNA can inform your doctor of that. Once informed, you and your doctor can be more proactive about your health. As investors, the market for tools to identify diseases and their treatments and cures, is incalculable. And the market is presumed enormous for those companies implementing.
Today, any person like you or me, can have her or his genome sequenced for less than $600, and it takes about an hour. Plus, we should expect costs to come down even further. ARK Invest, an investments provider with focus on innovation, expects the price to drop to under $100 within five years.
Medicine has always made use of the latest technologies and today is no different. Many of today’s companies are using and innovating the genomic sequencing technology. Some are developing related technologies to treat various diseases at a genetic level.
For example, the case of Victoria Gray, a mother of four from southern Mississippi who suffered from sickle cell disease. That’s past tense, since Victoria agreed to experimental treatment from Crispr Therapeutics AG. Because her painful spells were so bad, she couldn’t care for her children. Her doctors removed her bone marrow and edited the genes to avoid those agonizing spells. They then put back her bone marrow with the newly edited genes. As the team had hoped, her cells began generating the missing protein that caused the spells. Victoria no longer experiences symptoms of sickle cell disease since the treatment. While further follow up is needed, the technology shows promise.
More examples of companies utilizing genomics and hyperscale computing are Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech SE. All three of them, to develop COVID-19 vaccinations, are using messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA can inform one’s cells to make any protein the doctors want it to make. The science around this was discovered in the 1970s.
Additionally, a company named Verve Therapeutics developed VERVE-101. This base [gene] editor can edit one piece of a gene. Recently, the company chose to edit a gene related to inherited high cholesterol. The “bad kind” of cholesterol, or LDL, dropped by 59%. Data shows a likelihood the changes are permanent. This study was performed in monkeys, and not yet in humans.
Exciting and yes, even somewhat scary given the implications of curing diseases that previously were not curable. The treatments and cures are electronic in nature. Costs for identification of disease, treatments and cures will continue to decrease. Given the demand for them, an investment in companies innovating these solutions seems prudent. Personalized cures for individualized cancers will become less costly for companies to implement. Sounds like a good investment to me.