The Angelina Effect: Intersection of Biology and Technology
(ED: The Supreme Court just voted 9-0 against having patents for genes; one can only guess if the Justices were under the sway of the Angelina Effect, but Angie certainly brought attention to the isssue)
May 16th, 2013 by Angela Dunn
Big Day in Genomics
Angelina Jolie’s very open revelation, “My Medical Choice” in the The New York Times, was brave, and a “big day for genomics”, according to Leslie Ziegler of Rock Health. Jolie, in a powerful and personal narrative, explains why she chose a preventative double mastectomy after genetic testing found the BRCA1 gene. She was estimated to have an 87 percent likelihood of developing breast cancer.
However, Jolie says testing is still an obstacle for many women in the U.S. due to cost.
Myriad Genetics testing costs $4,000, and the company, who has a monopoly on the testing for the BRCA genes, is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court.
The Power of Personal Narrative
I chose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. – Angelina Jolie
Jolie demonstrates the power personal narrative can have in advancing health innovation – as does investor David Lee of SV Angel. I first discovered Lee on Twitter in early 2012, after he wrote about his experience clearing the “10-year mark” as a cancer survivor in “Getting Older.” It is his story that made me curious to learn more about this angel investor, and what he aspired to do.
I am a cancer survivor so I have a selfish reason to accelerate this vision. Scientists are more confident than ever that genetic mutations play a huge role in why cancer happens. I believe that great software companies in the mold of Google, PayPal and Palantir will help make cancer a chronic condition and quite possibly, cured. – David Lee
The Next Megatrend and a New Era
In a recent post, Lee points to Steve Jobs who, in 2010, saw the intersection of biology and technology beginning a new era for innovation. Lee also sees a massive opportunity while defining SV Angel’s next megatrend:
We believe that there is a massive opportunity in the intersection of software and biology, which we broadly define as “Health Informatics.” This term has a formal definition but we tweaked it to make our own. It is a software-first approach to solving problems in human biology, medical research and ultimately, patient care. We think the timing is right for software developers to make an impact in these areas. The ultimate goal is to use software, IT and data science to help diagnose, treat, reduce and cure disease – at the physical, mental and emotional levels. If we see a bright founder working in this area, the opportunity will move to the ‘top of the pile’ as if it’s in one of our other preferred trends.
In his post, Lee cites the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) who tracks the costs associated with DNA sequencing performed at the sequencing centers funded by the Institute.
“On the molecular front, the costs of sequencing technology is falling almost 5x faster than Moore’s Law.” – David Lee
According to NHGRI, “Technology improvements that ‘keep up’ with Moore’s Law are widely regarded to be doing exceedingly well, making it useful for comparison.”
To be clear, while this megatrend has philanthropic and personal benefits, this is not a philanthropic or personal venture. We believe this is a massive market opportunity for young hackers and founders. – David Lee
SV Angel invests heavily in 4 to 6 investment themes that they identify as megatrends. Those inhealthcare technology may be interested to know SV Angel’s interests include:
- real-time data
- online-to-offline consumption
- social commerce
- collaborative consumption
- the Internet of Things.
Aspiring startups and founders should research angel investors, and their VC partnerships, to see if there is a fit between their idea and the investment firm’s themes. Lee also offers entrepreneurs great advice for “Starting v. Building a Company.” (See Lee’s post, along with advice from other investors and founders I curated, in “Startup Culture.”)
Will DNA Sequencing Soon Be Universally Accessible?
In “The Future of Medicine is Now”, The Wall Street Journal reports that Oxford Nanopore Technologies is working on a series of tiny DNA sequencing devices whose low cost, portability, and ease of use may soon make DNA sequencing universally accessible. Although no launch date has been set yet, ONT’s smallest device, the “MinION”, is the size of a USB memory stick and is expected to retail around $900.