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Investing in the promise of a longer life

At long last, the healthcare industry is undergoing a massive transformation. It’s a past-due shift in an area that seemed to remain stagnant for decades, even as the world around it evolved at a rapid pace. But new technologies are finally making change possible, moving from a healthcare model focused on caring for the sick to one that is focused on prediction, prevention, and the eradication of disease. The expected result: a longer lifespan—as well as a plethora of new investment opportunities for those interested in making the most of an area that is likely to see one of the biggest boons from the robotics and AI revolution.

According to a recent analysis by Bank of America[1], companies who are delivering solutions aimed at increasing the human lifespan represent one of the biggest investment opportunities of the next decade, with the market expected to be worth at least $600B by 2025. At the core of that opportunity sits a confluence of innovations that are all working together to expand the average human lifespan to 100 years and beyond. Artificial intelligence, Big Data, and robotics are giving physicians the ability to deliver faster, more accurate diagnoses, to better manage patient drug interactions, to improve patient outcomes via robot-assisted surgeries, and to monitor critical health statistics from anywhere using wearable healthcare devices. But perhaps the most extreme example of how technology is enabling longer life is genome science.

Genome science: customizing the care of the human body

The rise of e-commerce has brought an unprecedented shift in how consumers expect—and demand—to be served. Place an order with Amazon and you can expect not only next-day delivery, but Alexa will also alert you the moment your package lands on your doorstep. Request an Uber and you instantly know when your ride will arrive, the name of your driver, when you will reach your destination, and the total cost of your trip. The same has rarely been said about a visit to a doctor or healthcare facility. From identifying the right specialist for a health issue to trying to understand why and what you are being charged, healthcare has been a virtual poster child for poor service. This has been particularly true when it comes to caring for the human body. But what if it was possible to completely customize how each person is treated—from birth to death? What if, just like e-commerce retailers customize each person’s view to meet their individual needs, healthcare providers could personalize patient care down to the level of the individual’s DNA? That level of customized care is just around the corner thanks to genome science.

In fact, when it comes to increasing the human lifespan, there is no doubt that genome science holds the greatest promise in the history of medicine. By providing the information we need to effectively replenish, replace, and repair the human body, human genome sequencing seems to be the key to effectively “curing” the disease we call aging. At a very high level, here’s how genome sequencing works:

The body’s genome sequence is a series of 3.2 billion letters that define the characteristics of every individual. Genome sequencing is the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of each person’s genome. That sequence dictates not only what you look like, but also what your body needs to function at its greatest capacity. By understanding your genome sequence, you can understand what foods you should eat, what exercise is best for your body, and how your organs will respond to a particular drug. Your genome sequence can also reveal what illnesses you are susceptible to and, even more importantly, how to best prevent disease in your unique body.

Scientists began to uncover the potential of genome sequencing decades ago, but only recently has the process become accurate enough, fast enough, and cheap enough to make it feasible for practical use in a healthcare setting. The implications are incredible. Using human genome sequencing, it is now possible to identity the genetic mutations that cause abnormal or inadequate protein production in a person’s genes—or DNA—and to pinpoint as many as 6,000 genetic disorders. Spotting those mutations requires researchers to compare the individual’s genome sequence to a baseline.

It took years for researchers to sequence 99% of the human genome—the all-important baseline for that comparison. The initial cost of the project: $2.7B. But analysts Felix Tran and Haim Israel recently reported that “genomic sequencing costs have fallen 99.999% since 2003,” enabling “a new frontier in precision medicine to further extend life expectancy.” That promise has healthcare companies scrambling to profit from this game-changer in preventative medicine.

Today’s indisputable market gorilla in the space is Illumina, the company whose technology was largely responsible for the dramatic drop in the cost—and availability—of human genome sequencing. Illumina focuses on the application of genome sequencing for prenatal testing, rare diseases, oncology, population genomics, and consumer genomics. But there are plenty of other players, some that are already well established and others that show tremendous promise for growth. NeoGenomics specializes in cancer genetics diagnostic testing. Natera is a leader in noninvasive prenatal testing and cord blood banking. Veracyte targets the diagnosis of thyroid cancer, lung cancer, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. There’s also Genomic Health, Myriad Genetics, NanoString Technologies, and Invitae.

While the list of players is sure to grow in the years to come, these are just some of the names that should be on every investor’s list of companies to watch. As the reach of human genome sequencing continues to advance, those who invest early in the game will not only be helping scientists better predict, prevent, and eradicate disease—they will also be bolstering their own investment portfolios to better support that longer, healthier life that genome science promises to deliver.

By Bill Studebaker, President and CIO, ROBO Global


[1]Human lifespan could soon pass 100 years thanks to medical tech, says BofA”, CNBC, May 8, 2019

 

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