Yesterday afternoon, I attended a panel session at MIT's Emerging Technology Conference on the "$1,000 Genome." The panelists described many of the factors necessary to lower the price of sequencing the human genome, and elaborated on the implications for society.
It was a very interesting discussion. For instance, did you know that, in adjusted dollars, the cost of sequencing the human genome has plunged from approximately $80 billion in 1977 to about $200,000 today?
By any stretch of this imagination, this is extraordinary progress. Unfortunately, $200,000 is still nowhere near the "$1,000 genome." This might lead one to believe that the promise of the human genome -- like that of the flying car or fusion energy -- lies in the distant future. (Although there was a company promoting a flying car at the conference.)
Not so fast. While the experts all agreed that the cost is still prohibitive, they also pointed out that the enabling technology was getting better, faster, and cheaper. They stressed that it is not necessary for a person's entire genome to be sequenced in order to yield useful information.
In fact, if you were to compare my genome with yours, we would find that they are 99.9% identical. (Don't you feel closer to me already?) It is the remaining 0.1%, however, that makes us so unique and accounts for all of our respective differences.
This is important, because if this 0.1% of genetic activity can somehow be targeted for sequencing, it is possible that for $1,000 we could glean some extremely useful information about a person's predisposition to any number of different diseases.
This brings me to CuraGen
I have only begun to do my due diligence on CuraGen, and right now I only know that it is a biopharmaceutical company specializing in novel therapeutics in the areas of oncology, inflammatory disease, and diabetes. It also has some strategic alliances with Abgenix, recently acquired by Amgen
Nowhere in my research, though, did I find mention of 454 Life Sciences as an important component of CuraGen's overall valuation. This might present a significant investing opportunity, because 454 Life Sciences manufactures one of the better pieces of equipment in the field of gene sequencing technology, and it could play a large role in bringing the $1,000 genome that much closer to reality.
To be sure, 454 faces a lot of competition from big companies like Affymetrix
Awards, of course, mean squat unless they are followed by sales. Currently, no numbers are available for 454 Life Sciences, but the company does have an agreement with Roche Diagnostics to market, sell, and support its GS220 gene sequencer worldwide.
More importantly, the company has a new gene sequencer poised to enter the market soon, which will further hasten the declining cost of sequencing genes, bringing personalized medicine that much closer to fruition.
I don't yet know enough to recommend CuraGen, but CuraGen investors should at least begin factoring 454 Life Sciences into their valuation of the company. CuraGen looks like a diamond in the rough that could appreciate significantly in the next few years.
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich just wants a genetic solution to his receding hairline. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a chip-proof disclosure policy.