Exmed Conference 2016
Comment of the Day

October 10 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Exmed Conference 2016

Eoin Treacy's view

It was a pleasure to spend the weekend and much of today at the ExMed conference in Coronado San Diego not least because there are so many people in attendance both as speakers and attendees who are at the forefront of their respective sectors.

It’s been something of a data overload so it will take some time to process the information and I will need to do some background research to check out the credibility of some of the claims made and what the possible investment implications are.

Here are some of the themes that are evolving:

The biggest theme overall is that the cost of sequencing the human genome has collapsed and is expected to fall well below the current $1000 over the next five years.   

Removing any cost inhibition from genetic sequencing will be transformative for the biotech sector and the delivery of personalized medicine overall. The preponderance of data that will be thrown off by this evolution will represent a playground for artificial intelligence and the potential for furthering our collective understanding of the human condition will be greatly enhanced.

Leading on from that are two contributing themes which represent a deeper understanding of the overall genetic makeup of the body. The first is the development of synthetic biology. The second is nutrigenomics.

Synthetic biology is the science of writing genetic code from scratch to create customized bacteria and viruses. Andrew Hessel, who it was a pleasure to spend some time talking to, has pioneered the Human Genome Project 2.0 which is aiming at creating a fully synthetic human genome from scratch within a decade. This is still very early stage work. There are challenges in how much is known about the function of all genes and also from the sheer scale of complexity in how individual genes interact with each other and how groups of genes interact.

Almost 2500 years ago Herodotus was believed to have said “Let medicine be thy food and food be thy medicine”. It is now looking like the medical profession has caught up. It is now experientially observable that the foods we eat, the environment we reside in and the societal influences we are exposed to have an influence on our genes and perhaps most importantly on our microbiom (read gut). This will not be news to subscribers, not least following David’s articles highlighting his experience with statins and cholesterol, however it was one of the best attended presentations at the ExMed conference.

Just like the cost of sequencing is collapsing, an impending decline in the cost of invitrofertilisation on the way. That will allow the sector to expand rapidly and because the ability to customize the embryo (sex now, height in two years, perhaps 10 years for intelligence) is evolving rapidly, the relative cost of these customisations is coming down quickly which will bring the ethical implications to the forefront of the conversation on genetics.

Daniel Kraft, CEO of Singularity University, told me he introduced Leroy Hood, founder of the Institute for Systems Biology and who helped Luxembourg to evolve its biotech sector from scratch, to the head of information warehousing for the NHS last night. Depending on what comes of these kinds of conversations all of the deep learning implications of evolving technology may not be over here but could be implemented in the UK which could result in transformational health and financial outcomes.

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