It sounds like something right out of a science fiction movie, but the reality is a burgeoning billion dollar industry that could include cures to osteoporosis and other diseases. It is called the Quest for Rare Genes and it is the exclusive domain of biotech companies looking for “genetic outliers”— people with rare genetic mutations whose DNA sequences may serve as templates for prodigious new medical advancements.
Companies like Amgen, Genentech, the Google-owned Calico, and others are investing hundreds of millions into genetic samples that can be crafted into powerful pharmaceutical solutions.
The most salient examples, at least according to a recent Bloomberg article, spotlight two men with genetic anomalies some scientists refer to as “superhuman.” Steven Pete has congenital analgesia, or congenital insensitivity to pain. Steven can literally hold his hand in fire and not feel anything. Timothy Dreyer has sclerosteosis, a condition so rare only 100 people have it in the world. Timothy’s bones are so dense he is impervious to most accidents.
Could pharmaceutical companies harness the increasing viability of gene sequencing in order to transform superhuman gene mutations into serviceable drugs for osteoporosis and pain?
In the case of sclerosteosis—besides diminishing the need for painkillers, which has ballooned into a destructive $18 billion a year industry—such gene sequencing could have far more widespread ramifications for the human race.
Genetic testing trailblazer 23andMe owns patented genotypes of over 1 million customers, 80% of whom have granted their permission for genetic testing. The company has partnered with over 10 drugmakers, including Pfizer, to investigate different options for monetizing the human gene sequence.
With human genes themselves increasingly patented by companies, it’s hard to know how extensively this scenario could devolve into a dystopian world in which corporations, and perhaps even the government, control human traits. After all, how far off are we from a world where certain “radical” gene expressions could be considered national security threats?
Another bit of food for thought: how long it will take before the world’s military scientists begin integrating selective gene sequencing into the creation of “super soldiers?”
Jake Anderson joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in April of 2015. His topics of interest include social justice, science, corporatocracy, and dystopian science fiction. He currently resides in Escondido, California. Learn more about Anderson here!