There's a deadly problem with one of the nation's major medical markets - vaccines.
The technology we use today to prevent diseases like the flu, chicken pox, and polio is hopelessly outdated.
It still relies on the delivery of a portion of the actual virus to the patient to develop immunity. Some of these agents are still grown in chicken eggs, just like they were back in the 1930s. And the vaccines themselves or their additives can still make people sick.
But what if you could develop a whole new class of vaccines that were actually safe using a synthetic DNA? Better yet, what if you could vaccinate yourself against HIV, cervical cancer, leukemia, and hepatitis?
The payoff would be tremendous...
There's a deadly problem with one of the nation's major medical markets - vaccines.
For example, teams all over the world are now in their labs looking to create novel biotech compounds or drugs by inserting synthetic DNA into cells, either living or artificial. They're also growing new microorganisms that yield biofuels to be used in lieu of oil.
Trouble is, the process is so complex that it can take days to synthesize these man-made genes, usually in small batches.
Not only is it time consuming, but it requires the use of costly robots and other advanced gear. Simply stated, if someone came along with a breakthrough that greatly speeded up the development of synthetic genes, it could affect several industries at once, not to mention its own value in the market.
Allow me to introduce you to Gen9 Inc. The company is blazing a trail in the development of scalable technologies for synthesizing genes.
Now, Gen9 is a small, new dynamic company. And its potential is huge.
It was formed last summer around a unique new device that greatly speeds up the process of creating synthetic DNA.
Even better, it cuts the cost of that process by leaps and bounds.
Next June, the nine justices are expected to settle - once and for all - whether companies can patent human genes in the United States.
The Patent and Trademark Office has been issuing patents on DNA for nearly 30 years, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Roughly 4,000 of the 22,000 human genes now have some form of patent.
But the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the practice in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. Now that case will go to the highest court in the country.
At heart, the legal question sounds simple: Does Myriad Genetics Inc. (NasdaqGS:MYGN) have the right to patent two genes that signal whether a woman is at higher risk of getting cancer of the breasts or ovaries?
Myriad of course did not invent or create the breast cancer predisposition genes, referred to as BRCA genes.
But it did create something called the BRACAnalysis test that looks for mutations on these genes. Those mutations are associated with much greater risks of breast and ovarian cancer.
Usually firms cannot get that kind of market protection for something that is clearly a product of nature. But in this case, Myriad has developed a process of extracting a gene that makes the resulting molecule novel and chemically different from DNA that naturally occurs in our bodies.
And, after all, it took Myriad 17 years and $500 million to develop the test. Without barriers to entry, other firms could simply come in, take advantage of all that costly effort and sell a knockoff for less money.
Even if that weren't illegal, it's obviously unfair.
Let's dig into the case and why it matters to you...
Here's why: biotech stocks have been in a stealth bull market in 2012.
In fact, the values of the 230 publicly-traded biotech companies tracked by the BioWorld Stock Report have jumped by an average 38% year-to-date.
The third quarter was especially hot. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index rose 10% over that time frame and is up a healthy 37% this year.
And, nothing is hotter than companies focused on the battle against cancer.
Take Medivation Inc. (Nasdaq: MDVN), for example. This California-based biotech has jumped from $23 to $46 a share, largely on the approval of Xtandi, its novel prostate cancer drug.
Thousands of other experimental drugs are going through various stages of clinical trials, and the largest category in the pipeline is cancer drugs. With that in mind, it's safe to say that if you're looking for a stock with big upside potential, cancer-driven biotech stocks should be high on your list. Biotech Stocks: Cancer Research is Paying Off
A cancer diagnosis was once a death sentence -- especially if you were diagnosed with the disease in its late stages.
But, both government and industry have spent vast sums in the last decade researching how cancers develop and spread.
And now all that investment is starting to pay off -- recent clinical trials and treatment breakthroughs show real promise.
The newest cancer research focuses on three fronts.
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I predict that in the near future, robots will be so human-like that it will seem natural for us interact with them. We'll also see the advent of people who are what I call "bionics" - those who put computer chips or other devices in their brains or bodies.
As I see it, we are fast approaching the day in which man and machine become fused together.
Just in the last few days, researchers reported major breakthroughs that promise to do just that. In a moment, I'll tell you all about it.
First, remember the new hydrogel we investigated last Wednesday - the material that could greatly improve human health and aging by replacing damaged cartilage?
Turns out there's another part of the part of the story we need to know about.
This type of hydrogel could play a vital role in the cutting-edge field of robotics, too.
See, we're getting very close to the day in which we augment robots with "smart" human tissue. We'll grow tissue in labs and equip it with onboard electronics made possible by nanotech circuits.
That's where the hydrogel would come in handy. We won't just replace damaged cartilage in people. We'll use that or something like it to link sensor-laden tissue inside robots or in people with organ transplants or artificial limbs.
Just two weeks ago, a research team from MIT and the University of Pennsylvania said they had blurred the boundary between biology and machines even further. They genetically engineered skeletal muscles for robots that work by responding to light.
This is just amazing...
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And our understanding of the brain is about to reach critical mass.
Our knowledge of the human brain grows by leaps and bounds almost every week. In just the last two weeks, researchers have made several new breakthroughs crucial to learning more about diseases that can cause mental illness or kill us outright.
I predict that in the near future our knowledge of the brain will become so complete we will find cures for such deadly diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The same holds for depression and schizophrenia.
And that's one of the key benefits of living in the Era of Radical Change. What was a deep mystery about the brain (and other areas) just a few months ago is now much better understood.
Of course, the pace of change is nothing short of amazing. Consider that as I was preparing this report on five new brain secrets, I came across two more brand-new advances in brain science. Each one holds great promise in our drive to live, longer, healthier, and smarter lives.
Take a look...
Brain Secret No. 1: SuperAgers Have the Right Kind of "Senior Moments"
For decades, researchers have studied the brains of diseased older patients to see what went "wrong." They focus on the origin of diseases, like Alzheimer's, that cause memory loss or dementia.
But a team at Northwestern University took just the opposite approach - they've been studying the brains of highly alert seniors. And the results give hope to millions of aging Baby Boomers.
Turns out there's an elite group of older folks called "SuperAgers" whose brains seem to defy the effects of aging. In fact, their brains match those of people 30 years younger.
Some of you were excited by the possibilities. Take Matt:
"As someone who has bounced back from a severe head injury 25 years ago to do things the brain injury rehab team told me would simply not be possible - complete my bachelor's degree as well as a master's, get married, and subsequently raise a son on my own as a single parent, etc. - I am especially excited about the possibilities at the juncture of neurological research, computing technology, and prosthetics. I will be overjoyed when the day comes that I can once again use both my hands to type 100 words/minute with few to no mistakes, like I could when I first learned to type on an electric typewriter, nearly 40 years ago."
On the other hand, several of you thought it sounded like a nightmare. Here's what Claire had to say:
"Transhumanism is a dark future that is presented as wonderful, but which will alienate those who embrace it from their humanity... Not for me, I would rather remain human."
Either way, it seems bionic tech is actually moving faster than I thought...
Restoring Sight to the Blind
You may recall that I cited two examples of future devices to enhance your eyes. One is a pair of contact lenses, and the other is an implant that would go in your retina. Both could access the wireless Web to keep you connected to the world's vast database of knowledge, wherever you are.
Well, it's come out that at least two companies hope to start selling bionic eyes in the U.S. within the next 16 months.
Neither of these designs is made to surf the Web. Instead, these cutting-edge breakthroughs could help millions of blind or visually impaired people to see again.
Take a look...
It's a "pill" as big as a grain of sand and it could also mean huge profits for Big Pharma companies in the not-too-distant future.
You see, each year millions of American s throw away tons of unused drugs. What happens is they start feeling better and just stop taking their meds. Eventually those pills get tossed in the trash can.
No one seems to know the full dollar value of all those unused drugs but many experts say this waste costs Big Pharma millions in profits in lost refills.
Not only that, but doctors around the world worry about the rise of drug-resistant bacteria which also stems from patients not taking their full regimen of antibiotics.
It's why doctors always tell their patients to take all their antibiotics even after they feel better. Otherwise, the few germs that manage to survive become more powerful and thwart the effects of stronger drugs taken at larger doses.
Enter a tiny new startup called Proteus Digital Health Inc. The company has developed a new electronic sensor that could transform the way millions of Americans manage their drug intake.
The move puts Proteus front and center in the hot new field of "microchip medicine."
Experts call it that because patients either swallow a microchip that releases doses into the bloodstream or ingest a small medical monitor like the one Proteus makes.
Proteus has the backing of a dozen firms. They include:
- Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS), one of the world's biggest drug makers.
- Medtronic Inc. (NYSE: MDT), a big-cap medical device firm.
- Kaiser Permanente Ventures, the venture arm of the large HMO.
- On Semiconductor (NASDAQ: ONNN), a mid-cap maker of chips and other devices.
They are set to become huge change agents in the high-tech world of the very near future.
Some of you may have already heard the recent news that doctors believe they can use these compounds to help fight the flu.
The major media was all over this angle. And no doubt, it's an important advance.
In the U.S. alone, 200,000 people get so sick from the flu they have to go to the hospital each year. U.S. health officials say as many as 50,000 people die.
The version of synthetic protein that can help boost your immune system to fight the flu is called EP67.
Earlier this month, a team from San Diego State University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center tested the substance on mice - with great results.
In a paper that ran in the journal PLoS One, they said mice given a lethal dose of the flu survived after getting an injection of the protein. What's more, it could be used to guard against other diseases, as well.
"Since EP67 works by stimulating local innate immunity, it should prove effective against viral, bacterial and fungal diseases," said Joy Phillips, the study's lead author. She noted said they still need to test the protein on larger mammals and humans.
There is a catch - you have to get a dose of EP67 within 24 hours of exposure to the bug for it to be effective.
Still, clearly, synthetic proteins could have a huge impact on public health.
Yet I believe the media missed the real story.
With a hot new field of science known as "directed evolution," scientists will do far more than treat disease.
They may just redesign our digital universe.
How Directed Evolution WorksThe idea is pretty simple. Genetic engineers apply evolutionary design methods to biological systems.
In this way, they seek to "evolve" proteins and organisms that have unique aspects not found in nature. They can have useful applications in medicine, alternative energy, and the like.
Making sense of this new advance requires us to take a look at proteins from a unique point of view.
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You see, there's an annual event that offers up some huge trading opportunities, courtesy of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
ASCO's annual meeting always seems to have everyone's ears. That's because its "ASCO Effect" has been known to benefit biotech stocks that reveal news at the conference.
In fact, some stocks surge more than 200% in the weeks leading up to the event.
This year's meeting will be held in Chicago from June 1-June 5 - and some stocks already have started to run.
If you're interested in cashing in on this biotech stock profit opportunity, here's what you need to know.
Importance of ASCOCreated in 1964, ASCO is a not-for-profit organization started by a group of physicians from the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR). They saw a need for a professional oncology society and set out with a mission to "conquer cancer through research, education, prevention and delivery of high quality patient care."
Today, the Arlington, VA-based global organization has almost 30,000 members with 25% coming from over 100 countries. The diverse group includes clinical oncologists from all oncology specialties, sub-specialists and oncology healthcare professionals such as nurses and health care practitioners.
At ASCO's annual four-day meeting, usually held in early June, tens of thousands of attendees share ideas and learn about cancer breakthroughs from therapies and diagnostics. It also includes presentations from more than 4,000 scientific abstracts.
The organization has attracted top clinicians and investigators to administer patient care and conduct research. On its website, the organization boasts that it "will be recognized as the most trusted source of cancer information worldwide."
But it's much more than a source for thorough cancer research. Those in the biotechnology industry keep a keen eye on the ASCO meeting.
That's because of the more than 600 medicines and vaccines developed through biotechnology and clinical trials, a large majority (254) deal with cancer treatments, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Behind heart disease, cancer is the No.2 cause of U.S. deaths.
The need for cancer treatments is high with an estimated 1.6 million new cancer cases to be diagnosed in 2012 while more than 577,000 Americans will die from it.
From an economic standpoint, cancer is expensive. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that the overall cancer costs of 2007 were $226.8 billion.
So for biotechnology companies focused on cancer drugs, this time of year is one that could bring a doubling or tripling of their stock price until the conclusion of the ASCO meeting.
That gain is what has been known as the ASCO Effect.