[Ed. Note: Dr. KSS writes about medicine and biotech stocks for the Irregulars. He has agreed to our trading restrictions, chooses his own topics, and his words and opinions are his own. All of his past articles and most recent comments are on his Stock Gumshoe page.]
“Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky.”
― Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
In the mid-eighties, I came to work one spring Monday morning in my Ph.D. supervisor’s lab, walked past his office and dropped my satchel on my lab bench.
“Did you hear?,” he shouted after me. He mentioned a famous, powerful professor’s name at the university. “He died yesterday in the ICU. Bacterial pneumonia. 49. Never smoked. Took care of himself.” The professor was someone who’ d taught me bacteriology, and now here he was, felled by the organisms he lectured on.
“Could have been me,” my boss snarled. He flipped a switch on a cassette player on a shelf above his desk. Out flowed the languid gray vocals of Gregorian chant, his contemplative music. “Corn fritters.” In that time, we’d entered a short-lived moment of technologic adolescence where it seemed that bacterial wars were winnable…..and yet people were still dying of bacteria. And still are. And the bacteria have never been class-conscious in whom they choose to harm.
It was not a time when, in our antibacterial arms race, that we were impoverished of weapons….nothing like the situation we have found ourselves in since the recent turn of the century. But there’s never been a particular relationship between virulence, between pathogenicity, and antibiotic sensitivity among bacteria. Many bacteria are exquisitely sensitive to antibiotics, but are armed to the teeth with toxins, proteinases, and tripwires for the system such that even before they succumb, they can always do plenty of damage.
An examination of biotech, and investing in it, is like being at some eisteddfod of the human potential movement: we can trick out lymphocytes with hood widgets and deploy them to exactly where they are to release ordnance; by masking the right proteins, we can take an inured immune system and restore it to tumor-killing vibrancy; we may be able to use stem cells to reconstruct ailing organs and exosomes to broadcast orders to tissues. ...