Proteomics: The Next Truly Massive Investing Opportunity
Blue and red flashing lights pierced the darkness. Michael Behar and his family were on vacation at a remote campsite 10,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains. They were huddled around a campfire when a police sergeant pulled up in his SUV. He stepped out and said, “Mr. Behar, I’m sorry to have to tell you that your mother has passed away.”
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Michael’s mother had suffered a heart attack. But not too long before she had passed a series of coronary scans with flying colors. Behar knew we had to find a better way to “see” what was happening inside the body.
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His doctor encouraged him to sign up for a medical trial across town. In short, the test would scour Michael’s blood for “proteins” associated with heart disease.
When you hear about protein, you likely think of “high-protein foods” like beef. But proteins are far more important than a big, juicy steak. They are the building blocks of every living thing on earth. Inside your body, billions of tiny biological nanomachines called proteins are hard at work. They are what allow your eyes to detect light. Your brain to think. And your blood to carry oxygen. Proteins allow your body to battle infections, and convert what you eat into nutrients.
The study of proteins is called proteomics (prō-tē-omics). Proteomics is closely related to genomics. While the latter is concerned with our DNA; proteomics is all about proteins.
My research shows proteomics will be even bigger than genomics And so is the moneymaking opportunity. As you may know, genomics stocks have been red hot over the past couple years. For example, Intellia (NASDAQ:NTLA) and 10x Genomics (NASDAQ:TXG) have surged 550% and 277% since 2019.
But genomics is simply a sideshow. Proteomics is the “main event.” Highly respected medical research facility the Baker Institute found proteomics provides 1000X more information than DNA. I chatted with a PhD geneticist who told me: “Genomics is fun but the real breakthroughs will come from proteomics.”
A New Superpower
Over 1.5 million Americans die from heart disease, strokes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s each year. But folks with these deadly diseases often don’t know they’re sick until it’s too late, like Michael Behar’s mother.
Proteomics is like a superpower. It lets doctors peek inside your body to see what’s happening in real time. Proteins signal when something is wrong inside your body. They can confirm when an illness is underway, long before we even feel sick.
As Joshua LaBaer, founder of Harvard’s Proteomics Institute, said: “It’s the proteins we can measure before anything else.” Illnesses like the flu, COVID, and HIV are already diagnosed through protein tests.
Now scientists are developing proteomics tests to catch deadly diseases early. Baylor College of Medicine researchers discovered colon cancers have their own unique proteomic patterns. They found proteomics could help doctors understand what causes the disease. And more important, discover new ways to control or eradicate it.
In short, “damaged” proteins often cause diseases like cancer. But they can also be used to cure them. For example, 90%+ of drugs target a protein. The antibodies used to treat infections are just proteins designed in a lab.
Proteomics is also allowing doctors to detect Alzheimer’s with a simple blood test. The C2N test measures for a protein called tau, which is often found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. It then slowly seeps into the bloodstream. Get this: the test can detect tau up to 20 years before patients develop any symptoms.
Proteomics is even helping diagnose autism in babies. UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers identified proteins that could lead to an earlier diagnosis of children with autism. Right now the average age of a child diagnosed is 4 years old. But catching it earlier means the child is more likely to get effective treatment.
Why Am I Only Hearing About Proteomics Now?
Scientists have long known about proteomics’ potential. But the sheer cost and complexity of protein detection kept the industry locked inside college science labs. There are around 200 million known proteins, and detecting them isn’t easy. Until recently it took 30 hours just to get shreds of data from one human sample.
There’s been a couple of big breakthroughs over the past year. And proteomics is following the same trajectory as genomics. It took scientists 13 years and $3 billion to sequence the first human genome. Even as recently as 2011 Apple founder Steve Jobs forked over $100,000 to get his DNA mapped.
Then a little-known company called Illumina pioneered a new way to map DNA and slashed costs by 99%. Last year over 10 million Americans got their DNA mapped by firms like 23andMe for just a few hundred bucks.
Similar breakthroughs are happening in proteomics. In short, proteomics is one of the most exciting hypergrowth industries in the world today. Within the next couple years, proteomics will be able to tell us precisely what’s going on inside our bodies. Omid Farokhzad of Harvard Medical School says: “We’ll be able to diagnose diseases such as cancers and Alzheimer’s years before symptoms.” This is definitely one investing trend you’ll want to keep an eye on in the coming years.
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Article by Stephen McBride, Mauldin Economics