(Sixth in a Series of Pharmacy Articles)
One of the stock market sectors that still provides a small investor the chance to hit it big with a well timed, strategic investment is the BioPharma sector much of which is occupied by stock equities. Another advantage of investing in this sector is the fact that it is often a pure play independent of politics or trade wars. The fact is the development of a good medical product to treat disease will always be necessary, will always be desired by the market and public and will always therefore have the capacity to make money. But it is also true, as I have written in numerous previous articles, that it is also perfectly possible to lose money in the stock market. This is a fact that will always be true and it is not the purpose of this article to comment much more on that. The fact will always be that one must know the details of the company being invested in from a business and legal standpoint but one must also know, in the case of BioPharma, what a drug is, what it’s supposed to do, how it does what it does and whether doctors will use it and why or why not. What good is a drug if for some reason doctors are not comfortable with it or don’t use because of price problems or side effects and so on?
One large sector of drug families is the one developing drugs for cancer. Many of the mysteries and causes of cancers of all sorts have been figured out over the last 50 years. This has allowed the BioPharma Industry to really figure out some novel and effective approaches to treating cancer. The developments to date have been astonishing and in them one can honestly see that we will one day wipe out this disease. In this article I have chosen to start the explanation on drug function with cancer drugs. This disease is still very prevalent and very destructive not to mention varied in its scope. There are literally hundreds of different types of cancers and having a basic understanding of what cancer is and how the drugs are designed to kill it will be very useful.
Cancer is a disease where living cells, the basic unit of life, lose their signaling on when to stop growing/dividing. When cells keep growing we get a mass or a tumor. Normal cells “know” when to stop dividing so that we have just enough. For example, the cells in your hand stop growing when the hand is formed but keep growing until they get to that point. This is one of the miracles of life which, when you think about it, is rather important to say the least. If your hand kept growing it wouldn’t be useable and in fact it would be harmful in many ways such as needing and using extra energy and interfering with movement of the arm and so forth. Accept that there are signaling systems which control the growth rate and size of all of our cells and accept that when this system is flawed one has cancer. This can happen anywhere in the body and spread (metastasize) from there to any other part of the body.
Researchers have developed a number of classes of drugs to deal with cancer now. One class of drugs blocks enzyme systems and reactions needed by the cancer cells to live. Cancer cells, for instance, have to breathe like any other cell and if their breathing is blocked they die. Actually, there are many systems in a cancer cell where we have drugs that inhibit the systems and cause cancer cell death. One other system is nutrition or the metabolism of those cells. If the drug blocks a reaction to build a cell membrane for the cancer cell then this too will kill that cell.
All living cells need Oxygen to breath and so we have some cancer drugs which can close down arteries of our body that are feeding the cancer (tumor). This results in death of the cancer from intracellular suffocation.
All living systems such as Humans have an Immune System to protect itself. The system makes cells and chemicals which can kill foreign invaders such as cancer cells. They do this be recognizing that the cancer cell is not a normal part of our system and then they attack the cell and kill it. We have drugs that can attach to cancer cell membranes and attract a mega-attack of immune cells.
We also have a class of cancer drugs which can prevent the chemicals in the cancer cell from rebuilding the cell or repairing the cell or constructing a proper network of connections in the cell. This is also fatal to the cancer cells.
Another class of cells attack the cancer cell nucleic acid and by so doing either or both prevent more cells from being made or kill cells that already exist. We have drugs that can even change a person’s DNA to remove cancer genes when they exist (CRISPR). Genome editing (also called gene editing) is a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism's DNA. These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. A prominent one is known as CRISPR-Cas9, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. The CRISPR-Cas9 system has generated a lot of excitement in the scientific community because it is faster, cheaper, more accurate, and more efficient than other existing genome editing methods.
There are a few drugs currently under advanced stages of research which literally and selectively attach to the cancer cell membrane. This occurs because the cancer cells make and express a unique protein on the membrane which can be attacked by these designer drugs. Once the drug attaches to the chemical on the membrane they react together in such a fashions as to change their physical shape and disrupt the membrane tearing a hole therein. This causes cell death because it causes all of the chemicals in the can cer cell to leak out. It should also be noted that some of these new drugs also attract an immune response when they attach to the cancer cell membrane, as discussed above, and thus serve to provide two separate and distinct methods of attack.
The medical field of Oncology, which treats these diseases, determines which drugs are best for which cancers and often times provides multi-drug therapies. This basic information will give you some idea what to look for when you hear about the new drugs coming to market. For example, believe it or not, an enormous amount of very fascinating research is being done with the ancient Japanese art of folding known as Origami. The idea here is to develop extraordinarily mathematically complex algorithms for folding chemical structures in drugs into the perfect shape needed to perfectly attack a cell in the body. It turns out that strategically folding a chemical millions of times can perfectly replicate anything or any shape. Imagine the computing power need to accomplish this.
Coming soon then is the ability to match or pair a drug exactly to a disease just like a lock and key resulting in effective and immediate death of the offender by delivery of the drug. There are a very few corporations currently collaborating with a very few Universities to be the first to go public with such new drugs. These corporations, once they raise their heads and go public will be blockbusters and some few investors who keep watch and get on board early are going to be very, very wealthy in deed. I will keep my readers posted for where else, I ask you, will investors in Wall Street get such “gold rush” opportunities?