It isn't just the lousy outlook for Social Security that has so many of us worrying about our Golden Years.
It's also the reality that one out of every eight people who read this will suffer from the one affliction that Golden Agers fear the most.
I'm talking, of course, about Alzheimer's, a disease that already affects more than five million Americans. And with the aging of the nation's Baby Boomers, the number of Alzheimer's cases is set to quadruple.
It's not just the nightmarish symptoms – and the impact the disease will have on our families – that leave us feeling both fearful and frustrated. It's the inability to fight back that adds a feeling of helplessness to it all.
You see, of the Top 10 causes of death by disease, Alzheimer's is the only one that cannot be cured, treated or slowed down.
But that may be about to change – and a vaccine could soon be at hand …
A research team at Canada's Université Laval has just discovered a way to stimulate the brain's natural defense system to combat Alzheimer's.
This bit of breakthrough research could supercharge the race for the cure.
There's even a way for you to invest – today.
And I'm glad to be able to tell you about this new finding, which has put drug giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC (NYSE ADR: GSK) at the forefront of a potential blockbuster. Turns out the mega-cap Big Pharma firm played a major role in the research.
In a sense, this as a "hidden cure." But it's probably more accurate to describe it as having been "hidden in plain sight."
You see, the molecule that could play the key role in all this – think of it as the "active ingredient" – has been in GSK's portfolio for several years now. The firm has been using it as an additive to increase the human body's immune response to GSK vaccines.
This means the substance – known as MPL (monophosophoryl lipid A) – has received extensive use on a wide range of patients all over the country.
Thus, its safety record is clearly known, which should give GSK a bit of a leg up with the FDA when the company decides to pursue a product approval for MPL.
That's one of the issues with biotech or pharmaceutical investing. The FDA must make sure that all drugs approved for sale are both safe and effective. That's why clinical trials are so necessary, but can also be so time-consuming and expensive.
(Just to give you some context: It can take a decade and $1 billion or more to bring a new drug to market.)
Given the time and expense we're talking about here, anything that can cut the time and cost involved with bringing a new — but still safe — drug to market is certain to be a boon to both patients and investors.
There's always a lot at stake. But the need is particularly acute when it comes to Alzheimer's.
Last year alone the direct costs of "dementia" cases (of which Alzheimer's is the No. 1 cause) totaled some $200 billion. Without a treatment of some sort, experts say those costs will soar to more than $1 trillion by the middle of this century.
Of course, there's no guarantee MPL will in fact work once it's tested on humans (though I think the chances look great at this point). Just last month I told you how three big firms had to stop working on Alzheimer's drugs because the patients in the tests just didn't get any better.
This may explain why GSK's stock has barely budged since news of the potential new treatment came to light 10 days ago.
But I believe this vaccine is poised to succeed where the other drug candidates failed.
There's a major difference between this drug and the failed predecessors, and it starts with the brain itself.
One of the main problems with Alzheimer's is that the disease allows the brain to get soaked with a toxic molecule known as amyloid beta.
This overwhelms the nervous system's defenders, which are microglial cells. Because those cells can't get rid of amyloid beta, the brain builds up deposits called "senile plaques."
Spanning 12 weeks of research, team members gave weekly shots to mice with Alzheimer's symptoms. Here's the amazing thing: After the mice got the treatments, 80% of their senile plaques were gone.
Then the mice got tested on how well they could learn new tasks. Over that same three-month period, the mice showed marked improvement in their ability to think clearly.
Besides using MPL as a vaccine to stop Alzheimer's, the Laval-GSK team sees it as a possible treatment for those who already have the deadly brain disease. In that type of situation, patients would get a shot in one of their muscles so the compound could take root in the body and slow the disease down.
Once investors really assess what's in play here, I believe they'll take a closer look at GSK shares.
Don't let them the masses get the jump on you: GSK currently has a market cap of about $108 billion, and the company's shares are trading at roughly $44 each. With a consensus target of nearly $50 (about 13% above Friday's close) – and a hefty yield of 5.3% – you'll be well-compensated for your patience.
And the Alzheimer's drug could provide one heck of a subsequent tailwind …
Let me close by noting that this is the second promising Alzheimer's treatment from Big Pharma in the last few months. I recently told you about how Baxter International Inc. (NYSE: BAX) had made progress with Gammagard, a drug given to patients intravenously.
Baxter says that four patients who received its new drug in trials showed no decline in memory or thinking skills. The drug contains antibodies that may help remove amyloid, says Baxter, which plans to test the treatment on 400 patients … perhaps by the end of this year.
If there's a common takeaway from these two research initiatives, it's simply this: These advances show that we're on the verge of a breakthrough treatment in the battle against Alzheimer's. For the first time ever, there's cause for optimism in this campaign – for patients and for investors.
Those are the kinds of opportunities that we search for, and that we'll continue to bring you, here in the Era of Radical Change.
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About the Author
Michael A. Robinson is one of the top financial analysts working today. His book "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" was a prescient look at the anatomy of the nation's S&L crisis, long before the word "bailout" became part of our daily lexicon. He's a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter, lauded by the Columbia Journalism Review for his aggressive style. His 30-year track record as a leading tech analyst has garnered him rave reviews, too. Today he is the editor of the monthly tech investing newsletter Nova-X Report as well as Radical Technology Profits, where he covers truly radical technologies – ones that have the power to sweep across the globe and change the very fabric of our lives – and profit opportunities they give rise to. He also explores "what's next" in the tech investing world at Strategic Tech Investor.