2014: The Year of Personalized Medicine

After a 2013 of massive improvements to cancer therapy, will 2014 be the year doctors can quickly determine which patients will benefit from which therapies?

Jan 22, 2014 at 6:30PM

Advances in biotechnology have changed the way we think about drug development and drug targeting. With antibodies that can act on selected targets with extreme specificity, it's now more possible than ever to treat individual patients with drugs tailored for their disease. That is particularly the case for cancer, where 2013 saw an explosion in immunotherapy treatments that stomp out tumors without blindly flooding the body with chemotherapy. But with all these clinical tools in hand, how can doctors get a quick snapshot of the patient's condition to know which drug is the correct drug? That void leaves plenty of room for a range of other technologies -- Illumina's (NASDAQ:ILMN) gene sequencing, Qiagen's (NASDAQ:QGEN) companion diagnostics, and athenahealth's (NASDAQ:ATHN) electronic medical records-to bring personalized medicine squarely into the clinic.

Genomes for everyone?
We're only a few weeks into 2014, and already Illumina is making the case that this will be the year of personalized medicine. On January 14, the company unveiled a new addition to its line of gene sequencing products. The new machine, HiSeq X, will usher us into the age of the $1,000 genome, only 24 years after the Human Genome Project secured its first round of funding from the National Institutes of Health.

While $1,000 sounds relatively inexpensive, the $10 million price tag for the suite of devices puts the system out of reach for practical use in the clinic. That means most patients won't get a peek at their genetic code just yet. As Fool Maxx Chatsko points out, though, the development will revolutionize the way we think about drug development, and suggests that innovation in the industry is still chugging along. High throughput gene sequencing could bring population studies of risk factors for cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and more to the forefront of research.

In the meantime, Illumina's MiSeqDx Instrument is much better suited for clinical use and is the only FDA approved in vitro next generation sequencing diagnostic tool. It won't put the genome at your fingertips just yet, but enables clinicians to sequence select genes for personalized genetic diagnosis.

Companion diagnostics
Sometimes a complete sequence of the genome is overkill. In many cases, doctors can narrow their search for genetic maladies down to a handful of genes. In those cases, patients benefit greatly from diagnostics engineered for specific diseases, especially when the genetic signature can dictate more targeted treatment options. Illumina is one player in this space, and recently struck up a deal with Amgen to develop a test that identifies patients that could benefit from Amgen's cancer drug Vectibix.

Qiagen is a much more established maker of molecular diagnostics for personalized health. The producer of laboratory equipment and consumables brought in 51% of its revenue from molecular diagnostics products in the third quarter of 2013, an 11% increase year over year. That growth is aided by Big Pharma partnerships with Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, and Bristol-Myers Squibb for its therascreen brand of oncology diagnostics. Qiagen would do well to foster those relationships to expand its therascreen platform as cuts to academic research spending force the company to shift its business focus. Look for the diagnostics division to drive growth for Qiagen, especially as it adopts next generation sequencing to compete with Illumina.

Putting it all in the cloud
The expanding use of genetic and molecular diagnostic tools means that clinicians will have more data at their fingertips than ever before. That data has to go somewhere. It has to be sorted, compiled, and accessed in accordance with HIPAA protections. Sounds like a job for the cloud.

Athenahealth is rapidly becoming one of the most influential players in the electronic health record, or EHR, space. What differentiates it from competitors like Epic Systems is its focus on the cloud. By offering electronic services for medical records, patient outreach, and claims processing through the cloud, athenahealth presents a convenient opportunity for small practices to transition to EHRs without the infrastructure and software demands of other EHR servers. Now with the addition of the Epocrates database of drug and disease information, Athena is developing a unique ecosystem of logistical support for medical providers.

Of athenahealth's several cloud-based services, athenaClinicals is the most related to personalized medicine, and grew subscribers at an impressive 55% clip in the last year. athenaClinicals, which integrates clinical data from practitioners, imaging centers, labs, and other health care players, allows providers to seamlessly treat patients and eliminate redundancies or inefficiencies in health records. That kind of integration means better organization and execution of patient treatment plans, and increased connectivity for small and large providers alike.

The bottom line
An interesting consequence of cancer immunotherapy is that newer innovations help fewer patients. That's because new drugs target specific diseases so precisely that doctors have many more personalized treatment options. Those options require sophisticated diagnostic technology, which presents an interesting alternative investment idea as personalized medicine becomes the norm.

Game-changing biotech stocks to watch today
These new diagnostic and logistical tools will help doctors address the specific needs of patients much more efficiently, especially when it comes to exciting new cancer therapies. In the Motley Fool's brand-new FREE report "2 Game-Changing Biotechs Revolutionizing the Way We Treat Cancer," find out about a new technology that big pharma is endorsing through partnerships, and the two companies that are set to profit from this emerging drug class. Click here to get your copy today.

Seth Robey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Athenahealth, Illumina, and Qiagen. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers