What Every Investor Should Know About Cancer

When it comes to raising money from investors, there’s a single word that starts with C and always gets everyone’s attention — as well as their money. Cancer has an emotional attachment to it that is nothing less than astounding. Heart disease is America’s No. 1 killer, but people just don’t have the same chill run down their backs when a doctor says, “You need to go on a statin, exercise more, eat better and remember to take your blood pressure pills,” as they do when she says, “You have cancer.”

When the diagnosis is heart disease, humans seem to shift their mighty powers of denial into full gear. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you say, “It won’t get me.” But when the diagnosis is cancer, your brain runs in the opposite direction, and somewhere in the back of your mind, you say, “I wonder how long I’ve got?”

Investors know something very important about cancer, even if they cannot express it outright. They know that people will pay anything to stop it. As a nation, we’ve spent far more money trying to stop cancer than any other disease.

It should be clear, cancer is not one disease. I know you’ve read that before, but the idea is really big and you need to take it in: Cancer is more than 100 separate diseases, and each of those diseases has lots of subsets with remarkably different characteristics. There are hundreds of cancers. We are never going to see a pill that cures all of them. But we will see lots of therapies that cure lots of cancers.

To reiterate how complicated cancer is, there are many types of cancers within a specific cancer, many of which have extraordinarily different genetic profiles. For example, it is now believed that there are more than 80 different types of breast cancer alone.

The situation seems impossible, but cancer’s differentiation can be a blessing. First of all, it means very specific medicines can be created for very specific diseases. Second, investorwise, it also makes for a lot of room for pharmaceutical companies to attack the same disease. With breast cancer, for example, it could mean that we’ll need a minimum of 80 different treatment regimens and 80 different chemotherapies and perhaps even 80 different immunotherapies — all for “one” disease. That’s a lot of opportunity to create new drugs.

Creating Medicines That Actually Work

The specificity of different cancers and their subtypes is also an opportunity to create medicines that actually work. If a company can develop a very specific and highly targeted drug for a subtype of a cancer, people with that variation will see remarkable results.

Despite all this complexity, what to do about cancers is, by and large, extremely simple. Cancers kill by growing, so strategies against them need to be designed to stop them from growing. That is exactly what is meant with chemotherapy. Each one is a drug designed to stop the progression of a tumor, to stop it from growing.

Chemotherapies of the past are horrible poisons, and we somewhat indiscriminately threw them at the whole body. They nearly killed patients while trying to help them. They were blunt instruments aimed at very fine targets.

Over the last decade, chemotherapies have become far more sophisticated as we have learned which ones work best on which specific cancer types. Part of our awareness came from the discovery that cancers are almost always caused by mutated genes.

At the same time, we are increasingly coming up with toxins that only kill cancer cells and leave the rest of the body alone.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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