Time For a Change
I am going to switch gears today. Most of my content over the last nine months, either YouTube or newsletter, has been focused on macro finance. There has been a lot to talk about - we are living through the greatest experiment in fiscal policy the world has ever seen, and I think the decision makers are hanging on for dear life...
That’s not a jab - We can all relate to a situation where we unexpectedly found ourselves over our head, yet had to appear cool, calm and collected. Leaders of anything, whether a business, sports team or government, are by definition, blazing a trail. They can’t possibly know which direction to go.
So we bet on the one we hope can guess the best. We glorify them when they get it right, and vilify them for getting it wrong. At the end of the day, our assessment is nothing more than an armchair quarterback, yelling at the TV. This is why at the core of all of my content, is the urgency to gain and retain sovereignty - of mind, body, soul and wallet.
Today, I’m not talking about the macro. I want to talk about a development in an industry that I have touted as being the biggest bull market of my lifetime - health science.
“Science advances one funeral at a time.”
Celebrated physicist Max Planck
COVID19 created immeasurable loss on a global scale. There is no disputing this. At the risk of sounding insensitive, born out of any crisis are rapid adaptations and innovation. WWII was the catalyst for the world’s first computer, for penicillin, for nuclear power, and for pressurized plane cabins, jet engines and landing navigation - birthing commercial air travel.
COVID19 will launch innovations that may not be clear for years, or decades to come.
One that I am watching closely, is vaccinology - specifically, genetic vaccinations.
Now, I am NOT here to debate the necessity or efficacy of vaccinations. But, as many of you know, I intend to run a marathon on my 150th birthday. So you will appreciate my appreciation of this fact: Extending our healthy lifespan is directly tied to the elimination of disease. I believe that our response to COVID19 will prove to be a landmark turning point in the elimination of several terminal diseases.
Let me explain.
Like many of you, I have found myself caught in many vaccination conversations over the last nine months. Typically I dodge this bullet. Vaccines attract opinions that border on dogma.
But vaccines are also responsible for saving billions of lives - despite the fact that traditional vaccine technology is relatively dated and overdue for disruption. As we know, innovation is typically a response to pain. So vaccines, like any technology, needed a disruptive catalyst...
Before I dive into this, a quick reminder: I have a recreational interest in health science and vaccinology, and a professional interest in spotting emerging investment opportunities. My content is nothing more than an op-ed from a curious speculator.
But let’s go.
What are vaccines?
Stories of inoculations date back to 1000AD in China. Warning: cringe alert. Healers would scrape off the scabs of an infected person (ex. Smallpox lesions), grind them into a powder and then poof, blow them up the nose of another in order to expose them to the virus in an allegedly less harmful manner. The theory was this would trigger the production of antibodies for future defense.
But the first well documented case of inoculation is far more recent, taking place during the late 1700’s smallpox outbreak in the United States.
Dr. Edward Jenner, now credited as the Father of Vaccinations, was battling a smallpox outbreak in 1791 in Boston. He identified a variant of smallpox that was notably less harmful than smallpox itself - cowpox. Cowpox was typically transmitted from cows to the hands of milkmaids and would result in painful but relatively harmless lesions. Dr. Edward Jenner conducted the first rudimentary arm to arm inoculation. (second cringe alert) He used a syringe to suck the pus out of a cowpox lesion and inject it into 8 year old James Phipps. A single blister rose up on the spot, and James soon recovered. Two months later, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with the actual smallpox matter, and no disease developed.
*There is a contradicting origin story that credits a slave named Onesimus with bringing the idea of arm to arm inoculation to his master almost 100 years earlier, in 1706. Although it is much harder to find supporting documentation, anecdotally, it seems to add up.
Add a bit of science, sanitation and time and this is the basis for most of the vaccines that I have received in my life - altered or minimized variants of the virus we want to avoid - the concept of hormesis - a light stress that prepares you to endure a greater stress in the future.
Why does this matter?
This is not how the COVID19 Vaccination was developed. COVID19 vaccinations were developed using the concept of genetic vaccinations, which entered the game far more recently. The first patient, (a mouse) was inoculated only 30 years ago. Until today genetic vaccinations had never been tested in the real world.
I am not here to debate the efficacy of COVID19 vaccines. But I will argue that genetic vaccinations could become a game changer in medicine.
Genetic vaccinations were being pursued as a treatment for HIV and incurable cancers - very important applications. COVID19 provided the necessity for the first real world test.
Let’s back up - here is my understanding of how viruses interact within our bodies:
Viruses have two main components - their genetic code, and a layer of outer proteins, or antigens, that surround the code. At this point we have all seen the artist's rendition of COVID19 - the spikey ball, floating in weird space. In this popular image, the ball is the code, the spikes are the antigens. Each has its purpose.
Think of the code as the drug lord, he makes the product. The antigens are the street dealers, they get the product in as many hands as possible.
Thankfully, our bodies come equipped with security - B cells. B cells are the cops working the beat, looking for suspicious behavior. If we are exposed to a virus the B cells start reporting nefarious activity. If things get out of hand, they’ll call in for backup, and an antibody response is coordinated - like a specialized task force.
If our body works effectively, this task force eliminates the threat - the antibodies neutralize the virus and protect us from infection.
Therefore the goal of vaccinations is to trigger an early deployment of a task force, so that the virus (drug lord) is stopped as soon as their dealers hit the street.
But building traditional vaccines is tricky. We want to find or develop variants of harmful viruses that will cause just enough trouble to trigger the task force, but not enough to overwhelm it. Too little, and the immune system won’t respond. Too much, and it’s Medellin in 1991, with Escobar running the show.
It takes years to get this formula right. So how did we roll out a COVID19 vaccine in under a year?
COVID19 was the first real world test for new age vaccine development - genetic vaccines.
Another dumbed down version:
Rather than using a live, albeit modified virus as a vaccine, genetic vaccinations are viral-lookalikes.
For the purpose of alerting our B cells, they look like a virus. But they are not the virus - they are a sheep in wolf's clothing.
The benefit? Expeditious development. Building a lookalike is far easier than modifying a live virus to a safe balance. After sequencing the DNA of a new virus, scientists can build a lookalike in days, proceed with clinical trials in weeks, and have millions of doses in months.
This is what happened with COVID19.
COVID19 is the catalyst for genetic vaccinations to receive the funding and focus that could prove out applications for dozens of previously incurable diseases.
Relative to the scariest terminal diseases - (HIV, Prostate Cancer, Alzheimer's), COVID was a low consequence training field for this breakthrough technology. Although the vaccine rollout became a hotly debated and politicized event - medicine has never responded to a crisis this fast - there is not even a close second to reference.
What will happen because of COVID19?
Genetic vaccines could provide protection from HIV, cure cancer, replace less effective traditional vaccines, or be ready to stop the next pandemic before it starts.
Many genetic vaccines are already in advanced clinical trials for a range of infectious diseases, treatment of chronic infections and cancer.
I believe in the years ahead, we will look at this pandemic as the catalyst that launched us into a new era of vaccinology with genetic vaccines at the forefront.
Expect controversy with the COVID19 vaccine. Expect horror stories. Expect politicized narratives and fear mongering. Regardless of your stance on flu vaccines, when our loved ones are seriously ill, we want solutions.
COVID19 was a terrible event - medically, economically and psychologically. But from this crisis will rise some phenomenal advances in medical technology.
Next week, I will dive into another vertical in medical tech - an $81 billion dollar industry that as we will see, is just getting started.
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Play safe my friends,