A Golden Age of Miraculous Cures…Perhaps

Nicholas Mitsakos
11 min readDec 11, 2023

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Nicholas Mitsakos

Potential or Hype?

The first gene-edited approved drug (treating sickle cell anemia) is the first commercial rewriting of human genomes. Is this a new “Golden Age” for medicine? There is great promise, and the potential to treat unmet medical needs, scale dramatic innovations to commercial applications, and transform life sciences is enormous.

The previously dubbed “golden age of medicine” was the first half of the 20th century, its peak in 1955 with Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. This was a time of profound advances in surgical techniques, immunization, drug discovery, and the control of infectious diseases.

Since every medicine is an intersection of scientific, technical, and clinical understanding, many new treatments are suddenly arriving because of the convergence of dramatic advancements in science, technical knowledge, and clinical results.

Modern medicine is witnessing a transformative era of groundbreaking innovations and technological advancements.

Altering DNA and Genes

Central to this revolution is CRISPR, a gene-editing tool that has opened new frontiers in medical research and therapy. CRISPR’s ability to precisely alter DNA sequences is a monumental leap, offering potential cures for genetic disorders and enhancing our understanding of complex diseases.

Gene therapy, though still in its nascent stages, is another area of rapid advancement. Introducing or altering genes within a patient’s cells can cure various inherited diseases. This approach represents a shift from treating symptoms to addressing the root causes of diseases at a molecular level.

New Vaccines and Messages

After decades of moribund development, vaccines are entering a new era, exemplified by the speed and success of COVID-19 vaccine development. This success has spurred investment and interest in developing vaccines for diseases that have long plagued humanity, such as malaria and tuberculosis. The use of novel platforms and delivery systems in vaccine development is poised to change the landscape of infectious disease prevention.

Equally transformative is the advent of mRNA technology, which gained global attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. This technology, involving messenger RNA to trigger immune responses, has proven vital for rapid vaccine development and holds promise for treating various diseases, from cancer to rare genetic conditions. The versatility of mRNA platforms is a testament to the agility and adaptability of modern medical science.

Data, Machines, Software, and New Insights

Another significant development is the integration of machine learning in drug development. Artificial intelligence streamlines the traditionally lengthy and costly drug discovery process, offering new ways to analyze vast datasets and predict how drugs interact with biological systems. This integration is accelerating the pace of discovery and enhancing the precision of pharmaceuticals, tailoring treatments to individual genetic profiles.

Integrating digital health technologies, such as wearable devices and telemedicine, is also pivotal in advancing healthcare delivery. These technologies enhance patient monitoring, improve care access, and enable personalized medicine.

Weight Loss — and Miracle Drugs

“A miracle drug for almost anyone over 40 years old is to lose 20 pounds” The Cleveland Clinic.

The sudden surge of weight loss treatments (a derivative of medications initially developed for type II diabetes and other metabolic syndromes) that show unprecedented efficacy is revolutionizing medical therapies for many diseases, including not only type II diabetes but cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and many other metabolically based diseases. These drugs, often targeting metabolic pathways, offer new hope for tackling many growing global health challenges.

The New Era — Integration and Innovation

We are entering a medical era characterized by a synergy of biotechnology, computational science, and innovative therapeutic approaches. From CRISPR to mRNA vaccines, machine learning in drug development to novel weight loss drugs, these advancements are reshaping medical treatments and fundamentally altering our approach to health and disease. As these technologies mature and their applications broaden, the future of medicine holds unprecedented potential for improving human health and longevity.

Here are more detailed discussions of the most important innovations in this new preventative and therapeutic medicine era.

CRISPR and Gene Editing

Genetic engineering, long a field of both immense promise and profound ethical debates, is undergoing a seismic shift thanks to CRISPR technology. This revolutionary gene-editing tool has become a cornerstone in the latest medical advancements, offering unprecedented precision, efficiency, and versatility in modifying DNA.

CRISPR’s ascendance is not merely due to its technical prowess but also its potential to address some of the most complex and incurable diseases. One of the most notable applications is in the treatment of genetic disorders.

Attacking the Intractable

For instance, researchers are exploring CRISPR’s ability to correct mutations responsible for conditions like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Early-stage clinical trials have shown promising results, especially in sickle cell anemia, where CRISPR has been used to modify stem cells from patients’ bodies, thereby circumventing immune rejection issues.

Another area of significant progress is in cancer treatment. CRISPR is being employed to engineer immune cells to recognize and attack cancer cells, a method similar to CAR-T cell therapy but potentially more efficient and less expensive.

CRISPR also helps identify new drug targets by enabling large-scale screening of genetic mutations and their effects on cancer cell growth.

Diagnosis and Global Treatment

Infectious disease therapy also benefits from CRISPR technology. Researchers are developing CRISPR-based diagnostic tools for rapid and accurate detection of pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. These tools promise to be cheaper and more accessible than traditional methods, potentially revolutionizing infectious disease management, especially in places like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia that are limited in resources, but serious infectious disease can typically become uncontrollable quickly.

CRISPR offers new avenues for understanding and potentially treating conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by enabling precise editing of specific genes in neural cells. Scientists are unraveling the complex genetic underpinnings of these diseases, a critical step toward developing effective therapies.

Furthermore, CRISPR technology is branching out beyond traditional medicine. It’s being applied in agriculture to develop crops more resistant to diseases and environmental stresses and in bioenergy to engineer microorganisms for more efficient biofuel production.

Controversy and Expense

CRISPR has its challenges and controversies, especially regarding ethical considerations since the technology can create heritable effects. The scientific community is grappling with these issues, emphasizing the need for robust ethical guidelines and regulatory frameworks to ensure CRISPR is used responsibly.

Although the genie may be out of the bottle, examples of misuse include genetically altering fetuses in utero (done in China several years ago), and the potential for additional abuse overshadows all applications and developments.

Also, for all its promise, applications can be massively expensive. Promising treatments for sickle cell anemia cost over $1 million per treatment. While it is a lifelong and miraculous cure for those treated, this expense cannot scale. Who’s going to pay for this? I doubt insurance companies will cover $1 million treatments. While scale and applications more broadly can reduce the cost, the treatments’ specializations may create an insurmountable barrier.

A New Paradigm

CRISPR’s impact on medicine and beyond is profound and far-reaching. Its ability to edit genes with precision offers a new paradigm in treating genetic disorders, cancer, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative conditions. As research progresses and clinical applications expand, CRISPR stands poised to revolutionize medical therapy and reshape our understanding of the genetic basis of life itself. The ethical and regulatory challenges it poses will require thoughtful navigation, but the potential benefits of this groundbreaking technology make it one of the most exciting developments in modern science.

mRNA

Few breakthroughs have impacted as immediately and profoundly as mRNA (messenger RNA) technology. This “overnight sensation” (30 years in the making) captured the global limelight with its role in the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. That was its first act. It is now poised to redefine the landscape of therapeutic interventions far beyond infectious diseases.

Fast and Flexible

mRNA works by instructing cells to produce proteins, a fundamental process in all forms of life. Its application in medicine is revolutionary because it essentially turns the body’s cells into miniature drug factories, producing the precise proteins needed to combat various diseases. The beauty of this technology lies in its flexibility and speed: mRNA sequences can be quickly designed and synthesized, allowing for rapid responses to emerging health threats.

The most widely recognized triumph of mRNA technology has been in vaccines. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the first-ever authorization of mRNA vaccines developed by companies like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. These vaccines demonstrated remarkable efficacy and mRNA technology’s ability to adapt swiftly in response to a global health emergency.

Their success has opened the floodgates for mRNA vaccine development against other diseases, such as influenza, Zika, and rabies, as well as more complex pathogens like HIV and malaria, which have long eluded traditional vaccine strategies.

Cancer and Other Therapies

Beyond infectious diseases, mRNA technology is being harnessed to combat cancer. Several companies and research institutions are developing mRNA-based cancer vaccines tailored to individual patients’ tumors. These vaccines aim to trigger a more robust and precise immune response against cancer cells, offering a new avenue in personalized cancer therapy.

Another promising application is treating diseases caused by missing or defective proteins, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. By delivering mRNA that encodes for the functional proteins, this approach could provide a temporary but repeatable treatment for these conditions, circumventing some of the challenges associated with traditional gene therapy.

Regenerative Medicine

mRNA may reprogram adult cells into pluripotent stem cells, which can then be differentiated into various cell types. This technique could lead to breakthroughs in tissue engineering and organ regeneration.

Challenges

The stability and delivery of mRNA into cells remain key obstacles, necessitating complex and often expensive formulations. Moreover, the longevity of the response elicited by mRNA therapies and potential long-term effects require more research.

Disruption

As mRNA technology continues to evolve, it is also reshaping the pharmaceutical industry. The rapid development and deployment of mRNA vaccines have demonstrated the potential for shorter development timelines and more agile responses to emerging diseases. This agility could transform how the pharmaceutical industry approaches drug development, with significant implications for global health.

mRNA technology stands at the forefront of a medical revolution. Its applications in vaccine development, cancer therapy, treatment of genetic disorders, and regenerative medicine herald a new era in healthcare. As research progresses and more therapies reach the market, mRNA technology promises to improve patient outcomes and redefine medical research and pharmaceutical development paradigms.

The journey of mRNA from a scientific concept to a cornerstone of modern medicine underscores the power of innovation in addressing some of the most pressing health challenges of our time.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Traditionally characterized by lengthy development cycles and high costs, the pharmaceutical industry is now at the cusp of a transformation driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) integration. These technologies are reshaping the drug discovery and development landscape, promising to make the process faster, cheaper, and more effective.

Machine learning and AI algorithms excel in identifying patterns and insights from vast datasets, a capability particularly valuable in understanding complex biological systems and disease mechanisms. This proficiency is being harnessed to accelerate every stage of drug development, from initial discovery to clinical trials and beyond.

Identifying New Drugs and Applications

AI algorithms can analyze extensive chemical libraries to predict which compounds are most likely effective against a particular disease. For instance, an AI model differentiates molecules that will interact with a target protein, streamlining the initial screening process. This approach significantly reduces the time and cost of traditional methods, where such predictions largely depend on trial and error.

In drug repurposing, AI is proving to be a valuable tool. AI can identify new therapeutic drug applications by analyzing approved drug databases. This method, which predicts efficacy and side effects, can bring treatments to market faster than developing new drugs from scratch. For example, an AI-driven platform identifies an existing drug as a potential treatment for unforeseen applications, whether to treat viruses, bacterial infections, or other acute diseases, showcasing AI’s agility in responding to emergent health crises.

It’s Personal

AI is also revolutionizing personalized medicine. By analyzing patient data, including genetic information, AI systems can predict individual drug responses, guiding the development of personalized treatment regimens. This approach is particularly promising in oncology, where AI can help tailor therapies based on the genetic makeup of a patient’s tumor, potentially improving outcomes and reducing side effects.

Better Testing and Trials

Moreover, in clinical trials, AI is improving efficiency and efficacy. AI can optimize trial design, identify suitable candidates, and predict outcomes, thereby reducing the duration and cost of trials. For instance, AI matches patients with relevant clinical trials, streamlining the recruitment process, which is often a significant bottleneck in drug development.

Protein Folding

A well-documented application has been Google’s DeepMind AI process to understand protein folding and develop new potential drug candidates that target those proteins. The human body does something because amino acids have folded together to form proteins. Then, those proteins fold together to create a molecule that sends a signal to the body. Understanding how these proteins can be formed enables dramatic drug development and therapeutic targeting advancements. The potential is enormous and enables progress far beyond human research capacity.

Challenges and Concerns

One primary concern is the quality and diversity of data used to train AI models, as biases in data can lead to skewed predictions. Additionally, the “black box” nature of many AI algorithms can make it difficult to understand how they arrive at certain conclusions, a significant hurdle in a field where regulatory compliance and validation are crucial.

Machine learning and AI are accelerating the discovery and development of new drugs and paving the way for more personalized and effective treatments. As AI continues to evolve and integrate with biotechnology, it promises to significantly improve healthcare outcomes, reduce costs, and transform the pharmaceutical industry. However, realizing its full potential will require careful navigation of challenges related to data quality, algorithm transparency, and regulatory acceptance.

The Golden Age Summed Up

A golden age in drug treatments is beginning, marked by remarkable medical science and technology advancements. There is unprecedented acceleration in the development of innovative therapies for a wide range of diseases, from chronic conditions to life-threatening illnesses. This surge in pharmaceutical innovation is reshaping healthcare, offering new hope to millions worldwide.

Oncology

Cancer treatment is at the forefront of this revolution. The advent of immunotherapies, such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapies, has transformed the cancer treatment landscape. These therapies harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer more effectively, offering new lifelines to patients with previously untreatable forms of the disease. For instance, CAR-T cell therapy, which involves reprogramming a patient’s immune cells to attack cancer cells, has shown remarkable success in treating certain types of leukemia and lymphoma.

Weight Loss

A new class of drugs addresses weight loss, offering more effective and sustainable solutions for obesity, an epidemic condition worldwide that is a significant risk factor for various diseases. Many were initially developed for diabetes treatment and have shown considerable promise in reducing body weight. Unlike traditional weight loss drugs, which often have limited efficacy and significant side effects, these drugs target the body’s appetite-regulating pathways, offering a more holistic approach to weight management.

Vaccines

Vaccine development has also entered a new era, exemplified by the rapid creation and deployment of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. This technology uses messenger RNA to instruct cells to produce a specific protein for triggering an immune response, which is a game-changer. Its flexibility and development speed are significant for tackling COVID-19 and hold promise for other infectious diseases, including influenza, HIV, and tuberculosis.

Gene Editing

Furthermore, the fight against deadly diseases is bolstered by gene editing advances, particularly CRISPR technology. This technique allows for precise alterations in the DNA, opening up possibilities for treating genetic disorders and diseases with known genetic components. For example, CRISPR is being explored for its potential to cure sickle cell anemia, a debilitating congenital disease, by correcting the faulty gene responsible for the condition.

Artificial Intelligence

Another significant development is using artificial intelligence and machine learning in drug discovery and development. AI algorithms can analyze vast datasets to identify potential drug candidates, predict their efficacy, and optimize their development. This approach speeds up the drug discovery process and enhances the precision of treatments, paving the way for more personalized medicine.

Digital Health

Integrating digital health technologies, such as wearable devices and telemedicine, is also pivotal in advancing healthcare delivery. These technologies enhance patient monitoring, improve care access, and enable personalized medicine.

We are witnessing a renaissance in drug treatment driven by innovations in immunotherapy, weight management, vaccine development, gene editing, and AI. These advances reshape medical treatments and fundamentally alter our approach to health and disease. As these technologies mature and their applications broaden, the future of medicine holds unprecedented potential for improving human health and longevity.

A golden age — with a bit of hype.

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Nicholas Mitsakos

I am an investor, entrepreneur, writer, and lecturer.