If you had all your genetic instructions, what would you do with it? Life Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ:LIFE) announced Tuesday it is releasing its Benchtop Ion Proton ™ Sequencer which allows for the human genome to be sequenced in a day for only $1000 dollars. Priced at $149,000, the machine is more affordable for labs and medical practitioners. Compared to current technology, this saves thousands of dollars and weeks of wait time for the results. Now the question is what do we do with this information?
Will the public, the medical community and the market buy into the possibilities of what this technology entails for this company and others? It seems like after an early jump with the news, the stock may be leveling off. This announcement may not be a lasting boon. When will the next faster, cheaper thing will replace it in the arms race of technology? The better focus is on what this type of technology brings forth. With a wider portfolio targeting what its technology makes more accessible, LIFE could still be a good long pick.
Epigenetics – The Next Step
For most interested knowing their genes it is part narcissism and part true concern for health. Cancer associated genes drive many to seek out genetic testing. What an individual can actually do with that knowledge medically at this point, however, is limited. Knowing risk factors truly associated with genes can make more aware of the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture issue in human health. Choices such as healthy diet, exercise and avoiding smoking could be reinforced additionally for those at additional risk for cancers and other diseases, but the medical community already stresses this across the board. While some are still destined for high probabilities of cancer and disease regardless of lifestyle choices.
While gene therapy, in theory, promises to “fix” disease causing genes, the sector seems more focused on creating epigenetic drugs. Life Technologies seems to understand that sequencing a genome is only the first step. Its support of epigenetics research is also on the forefront. Proteins and factors that turn on and off disease causing or disease fighting genes are at the heart of epigenetics. Technology like the Benchtop Ion Proton ™ Sequencer may open doors even wider for companies interested in studying epigenetic solutions to genetic diseases.
Who is Banking on Epigenetic Research?
Cancer is the hot topic for epigenetic research. With $22 billion spent on cancer drugs in the US yearly, reprogramming cancer associated genes would be a big payoff, something the large pharmaceutics have recognized.
CelGene (CEL) made $534 million in 2010 off of Vidaza, which showed increased life span in leukemia-type disorders. The Vidaza patent expired in 2011 and CEL expects to see a steady growth rate in the coming year and would be a good stock to hold.
Epizyme, Inc. is a small company co-founded by H. Robert Horvitz, partnered with Japan’s Eisai (OTCPK:ESALY) for a $4 million pre-clinical payment for EZH2, an epigenetic enzyme based drug for the treatment of lymphoma and solid tumors. It also has a $650 million partnership with GlaskoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) for research on epigenetic cancer drugs.
Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) has its Survivin ASO drug is in phase II trials. The drug inhibits the survivin gene and its protein product, targeting of non-small cell lung cancer. This drug has the potential to target other cancers as well.
Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ISIS) has a long line of epigenetic prospects. The company partnered with Eli Lilly and Oncogenex (NASDAQ:OGXI) to produce epigenetic cancer therapies which may have a promising payout. Further, Isis recently inked a deal with Biogen IDEC, Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB) for $299 million for its spinal muscular atrophy drug ISIS-SMNRx. The drug restores protein production to the SMN1 gene by targeting the related SMN2 gene. The drug has been given orphan status by the FDA, enhancing financial prospects. The target price of $9 has made ISIS one to watch.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.