The biotech industry is getting ready to transform the human race as we know it.
It will help us cure cancer, rid us of the scourge of Alzheimer's, and make 100-year life spans routine. Not only that, but we will lead much healthier and more intelligent lives as a result.
I've followed this field for more than 20 years and have never seen so many advances coming so quickly.
Of course, a big part of that stems from the fact that we have passed the tipping point in other forms of cutting-edge tech the biosciences have adopted—faster computers, better sensors and tiny digital circuits.
And now that we have a complete map of the human genome, biotech has reached critical mass. Add it all up and you have an unending series of advances that will redefine life in the Era of Radical Change.
To help make sense of the profound impact this will have on our lives, I have compiled a list of five firms that are pushing biotech into new realms.
Each has accomplished a major breakthrough. Take a look. . .
Biotech Firm No. 1: Spinal Cord Therapy
Talk about a brilliant breakthrough. InVivo Therapeutics Holdings Corp. has aradical new way of treating spinal cord injuries (SCIs).
And it's moving fast. The firm expects to get FDA clearance to begin human trials later this year.
InVivo has developed a novel scaffold made of a bio-friendly polymer. Doctors would implant the device directly into the patient's damaged spine.
The idea is to save enough spinal tissue to get patients walking again. InVivo says the process works in part because the scaffold helps rewire the key contacts between the brain and spine.
InVivo CEO Frank Reynolds recently told me dozens of monkeys treated with the system have learned to walk again in just three weeks. Actually, the monkeys can run full speed on a treadmill that tops out at eight miles an hour.
Experts believe the market for treating SCIs could total $39 billion a year just in the U.S. A single patient can run up a tab of $3 million.
Reynolds notes the firm also has a second area up for FDA testing. It's an injectable hydrogel, a thick water-based solution that can include time-release drugs to treat pain and swelling in the spine.
InVivo has attracted a team of top-tier scientists that includes a Nobel Prize winner. I recently recommended this stock for readers of my trading service Radical Technology Profits. Right now we're at break even on the play.
Biotech Firm No. 2: Human Tissue on Demand
You have to hand it to the team at Organovo Holdings Inc. They sure know how to carve out a unique niche in the high-growth field of 3D printing.
Most investors have heard of this as a way to print products—everything from wrenches to aircraft parts—on the fly. Standard 3D printers rely on special powders that are combined with a binding agent.
Not so with Organovo. The firm uses cells to "print" human tissue and calls its field "bioprinting."
Organovo's method could have a huge impact on the entire health care market. At the very least, it will allow drug firms to test new compounds on human tissue before taking on the high cost of trials using people.
The firm also has bioprinted arteries from cells it got from human donors. It's NovoGen MMX Bioprinter remains the world's only commercial unit proven to create tissue. Organovo grew heart tissue and got it to beat like a real heart.
In the long run, the firm hopes to bioprint human organs. That would no doubt be huge. Doctors could print organs for transplants virtually on demand.
Now you know why Organovo recently made MIT Technology Review's list of 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2012. Not bad for a company with a mere $90 million market cap.
I also recommended this stock for readers of my trading service Radical Technology Profits. We took 100% gains on half in one month. When the stock crashed a few weeks later, we sold the other half for gains of about 70%.
No doubt this is an exciting firm but it's still losing money. Its stock trades at just $2.20 a share, but is a volatile play.
Biotech Firm No. 3: Synthetic Vaccines
Over the last few decades, vaccines have saved millions of lives by protecting people against a wide range of disease.
To this day, the scientific and medical communities still credit Jonas Salk with one of the greatest achievements of all time—the polio vaccine. Launched in 1955, it rid the nation of a scourge that crippled thousands every year.
But as great as they are, vaccines have their limits. They're made from weakened microorganisms that can sometime cause the immune system to over respond.
Selecta Biosciences has a much better idea. It's pioneering the development of synthetic vaccines. The firm says creating vaccines from scratch is at the very least faster and cheaper.
To make its method work, Selecta fuses the field of nanotech with that of immune therapy. The firm sees its products working on a wide range of problems from allergies, to infections to getting people to quit smoking.
These guys have some truly great technology. But don't take my word for it. Selecta received the prestigious 2012 Edison Award's Gold Medal for Best Pharmaceutical Product Innovation.
Not only that, but Selecta seems to have no trouble raising money. To date, venture firms have invested nearly $90 million.
Of course, there are no guarantees in this field. But if I had to bet, I'd say the odds are good Selecta will go public in the next five years.
Biotech Firms Nos. 4 and 5: "Microchip Medicine"
Two startups are pushing technology that could make taking medications safer and more precise.
The companies use tiny electronic devices that can either deliver or track drugs inside the body.
Indeed, Boston-area MicroCHIPS has come up with what I believe is a great solution. It's a small semiconductor that doctors can place inside a patient's body.
Doctors program the chip to provide correct doses at the right times. In turn, the chips work wirelessly and can be programmed to change doses as needed.
A recent study of the device involved giving drugs to women who suffer from osteoporosis. But as I see it, there's no reason why "microchip medicine" wouldn't work with any number of drugs.
The devices can now hold up to 20 doses but the firm is working on a system that will increase that number fivefold.
Meantime, tiny Proteus Digital Health Inc. has a new electronic sensor just approved by the FDA. The Proteus device is about the size of a grain of sand.
As I see it, Proteus is really on the cutting edge. Patients swallow a Proteus digital sensor embedded inside a pill. Once it reaches the stomach, the sensor draws its power from the body's fluids, making it self-powered—no batteries needed.
Proteus also taps wireless tech. Its micro device sends a unique signal that checks the ID and timing of drugs in the patient's system. And the platform can collect other heath data such as heart rate, body position, and level of activity.
This approach could be a godsend to patients who must take their meds every single day, such as diabetics. They can set up the system so that it sends an alert to their doctor or loved ones as a safeguard against skipping the medicine that keeps them alive.
Let me close by reminding you that in the very near future we will have a wide array of new drugs, devices, and biotech systems that save the human race from disease and premature death.
And the great thing is we also will be able to make money by investing in these breakthroughs.
Yes, you'll be able to live to be 100—and afford it, too. What could be better than that?
- Michael Robinson