When Will Gene Editing Help Humans? This Investor Says It’s Already Happening
Technology has long infused health care with inspiration and hope. The trend held true on Wednesday when a trio of forward-thinking industry leaders shared their thoughts on the future of medicine at Fortune’s fourth-annual Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego.
But their discussion was also about wallets—specifically, in what technologies these investors are putting their money.
Legendary Silicon Valley investor Beth Seidenberg of Westlake Village BioPartners made news at the conference, revealing that cell therapy startup Tmunity has brought a product into human clinical trials that has knocked out multiple cancer genes.
“You read a lot about gene editing and CRISPR-Cas9 as a tool to knock-in or knock-out specific genes,” said the 14-year Kleiner Perkins veteran. “There’s a big question as to when is that ready for humans. I’m here to tell you it’s already in humans.”
The reveal came during a back-and-forth when the moderator, Fortune executive editor Adam Lashinsky, asked participants to weigh in on the impact of Amazon in health care. The e-commerce giant is a hot topic even at a conference focused on medical technology, since its entrance into the pharma space with its acquisition of PillPack and foray into nonprofit healthcare, along with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan through Haven.
“Everyone wants to know what Amazon is doing,” said panelist Cheri Mowrey of Morgan Stanley. “We wish we had a crystal ball.” But as the investment bank’s head of health care services, Mowrey has watched as Amazon has made lots of hires in health care, describing them as “little pods of people within Amazon who are focused on specific programs—very secretive pods of people.”
A good example of this is PillPack, which has allowed the company to get comfortable with the federal regulatory and HIPAA framework. She expects Amazon’s next move will be to start monetizing medical devices.
But big money—and cures—lie in newer FDA-approved products that are coming available, says Amit Sinha of Goldman Sachs. “There’s been real value creation in fueling continued interest for treatments and modalities.”
Focusing on biotechnology investment at Goldman, Sinha considers the future of health care belongs to both big and small players. “If you look at the field of immuno-oncology, the biggest players today are large pharmaceutical companies, and part of that is because the funding required to fully develop and tap the full potential of some of these therapies required hundreds of millions of dollars.”
But breakthroughs like Tmunity’s are also impossible to ignore.
Additionally, Sinha thinks cell therapy, and its ability to do more with immune system-linked combination therapy, offers enormous potential. Said the banker: “That field alone is going to be the basis for some very important drugs over the next decade.”
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