‘Mapping the human genome has been compared with putting a man on the moon, but I believe it is more than that.
‘This is the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime, but in terms of human history. A few months ago, I compared the project to the invention of the wheel.
‘On reflection, it is more than that. I can well imagine technology making the wheel obsolete.
‘But this code is the essence of mankind, and as long as humans exists, this code is going to be important and will be used.’
Thomas Dexter said this on 26 June, 2000.
At the time, he was director of the English Sanger Institute in Cambridge, a major contributor to the Human Genome Project (HGP) and was making a speech on the completion of the project.
For the first time ever, scientists had the complete genetic sequence of human beings at their fingertips.
It was a real breakthrough moment. A moment most thought impossible.
And it’s already had a major effect on the world.
But I think its true impact is about to hit.
We ain’t seen nothing yet.
Let me explain…
Two decades in the making
In the late 1980s, a cadre of ambitious biologists began this bold mission.
They set out to sequence every single one of the three billion pairs of ‘letters’ in the human genome.
It was a mission that was laughed at outright in science circles.
One of the key players was James Watson, who had helped discover the very existence the double-helical structure of DNA.
Watson said at the time:
‘It was very divisive, a lot of people said no, it’s just too big, too boring, the time hasn’t come.
‘At that time we had some viral DNAs, we had about 100,000 [DNA base pairs]. When you talked about [sequencing] humans it was a 10,000 times bigger project.’
Some believed it would take the better part of a century to complete.
Others believed there simply wasn’t enough money in the world to fund it.
(It ended up costing US$3.8 billion).
But the group of biologist dreamers persevered.
And, on 1 October 1990, the Human Genome Project was born…
As I say, the primary goal was not a small one.
To sequence the entire genetic code of a whole organism.
That organism being: us.
It remains today the largest ever world-collaborative project. Approximately 20 universities and research institutions got stuck in from the US, UK, Japan, France, Germany and China (although it was solely funded by the American government).
It was a ‘moon-shot’ project that basically catapulted biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields (plus a whole host of other scientific industries) into a whole new era of R&D, over the course of just 15 years.
It has led to huge innovations in molecular biology, chemistry, physics, robotics and computation.
And it has led to some stunning breakthroughs in medicine that simply would not have been possible otherwise.
We can now do genetic tests that tell us IN ADVANCE if we’re likely to get a certain disease.
We can test babies for up to 50 severe, inherited but treatable genetic diseases.
We can treat one of the most common genetic diseases, cystic fibrosis, with an amazingly effective drug called G551D.
We can predict whether a transplanted heart will be rejected by a patient.
And should we fall ill, we can learn from our own genes what the best tailored cancer treatment strategies are likely to be.
All of this was very hard to predict in the early 2000s.
Now here’s the thing…
It also made the early investors of genomic stocks pioneering this field eye-wateringly rich.
In the first 20 years following its launch, the Human Genome Project generated $796 billion in economic activity in the US, according to a 2011 report by the Battelle Memorial Institute.
And certain stocks have gone ballistic.
Illumina is a company now known as one of the pillars of genomic research.
An early investment in them could have made you over 28,000%.
Illumina was not alone…
* Celgene went from 51 cents to $142
* NeoGenomics went from 20 cents to $11.24
* BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. went from $4 to $146
* Regeneron went from $7 to $548
* Shire PLC went from $15 to $266
* Mesoblast went from $7.75 to $50
* Biogen Inc went from $28 to $409
* AveXis, Inc went from $17 to $217
* BeiGene went from $24 to $192
* Sangamo Therapeutics went from 50 cents to $25
* Bluebird Bio went from $19 to $231
* Agilent Technologies went from $9 to $63
* Celladon went from $4 to $5
Find the collision points, find the profits
Great ‘collision points’ in history — this one being between genomics and blockchain — are few and far between.
But if and when you can find them, you can ride a tsunami of returns as the exponential opportunity opens up over time.
That’s what I specialise in hunting down.
Right now, I think a new collision point is underway.
No one sees it yet but it’s a follow through from the human genome project.
This time though, it brings together a whole host of exciting fields into the biotech arena. We’re talking big data, AI and robotics smashing into the field of biotech like an exploding supernova.
A figurative ‘big bang’ collision point between some of the most stunning technological advances in the world.
And with it, the potential for exponential returns for early stage investors. My full report will be released Tuesday next week.
Contributing Editor, Tech Insider