Weekend: Betting on a Miracle

Brian Hicks

Updated April 16, 2011

Welcome to the Wealth Daily Weekend Edition — our insights from the week in investing and links to our most-read Wealth Daily and sister publication articles.

No one ever plans to become a statistic… or the subject of one of the most important human medical trials of all time, for that matter.

Yet that’s exactly what fate handed Alabama’s T.J. Atchison.

Paralyzed from the chest down in a September car crash, T.J. is the first person to ever receive a carefully designed embryonic stem cell therapy.

Thirteen days after his tragic accident, he agreed to let doctors inject more than 2 million stem cells into his spine with hope that the cells would restore function in his damaged spinal column.

The trial draws upon the work of Dr. Hans Keirstead, Associate Professor at the University of California-Irvine, who has restored hind movement to paralyzed rats in hundreds of earlier tests. These stem cell therapies, Keirstead believes, are the type of medical milestones only seen once every 100 years.

“I have never seen in my career a biological tool as powerful as the stem cell,” Keirstead explains.

“It addresses every single human disease.

That’s a claim that, if proven true, has the power to create a whole new world… a gigantic leap that may begin with this small step taken by a young man whose life was turned upside down in an instant.

“This is a first for the spinal cord field, a first for the stem cell field,” Keirstead said when the FDA lifted the clinical hold on the spinal trial last July.

“Most importantly, it’s a victory for the patient community, which really has nowhere to turn. There are no treatments for spinal cord injury.”

Carried out by California-based biotech company Geron Corporation (NASDAQ: GERN), these clinical trials are one of the only hopes for the 250,000 plus Americans already living with a spinal cord injury. (That number continues to grow, as a spinal cord injury is sustained by an individual every 41 minutes.)

And I don’t have to tell you that the cost of this national tragedy — both emotional and financial — is one that cannot possibly be measured.

For Geron shareholders, that leaves the possibility of a “billion-dollar toe wiggle” if Keirstead’s work can be duplicated, and if Geron’s GRNOPC1 works in human paraplegics like T.J. Atchison.

At this point, it’s too soon for scientists to know whether the injected cells have helped Atchison or not.

The only public face out of 10 approved candidates, T.J. is one of the most watched patients in the world in the first-ever trial using controversial embryonic stem cell therapy.

Like all initial trials, this one has more to do with whether or not the therapy is safe. In T.J.’s case, efficacy would be an added bonus.

In the meantime, Atchison told the Washington Post last week: “I feel really good about everything. I’ve got a positive attitude. I’m trying to live life to the fullest right now.”

Needless to say, these therapies (if successful) have the power to change the world — earning early investors life-changing profits.

Bullish on Biotech Stocks

That’s why I’ve been bullish on biotech for some time now.

These and other disruptive discoveries have created a steady stream of biotech buyouts, earning some lucky shareholders triple-digit gains in the blink of an eye.

This is reflected in the recent surge in shares of the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (NYSE: XBI) that I recommended to Wealth Daily subscribers in late 2009 as a less risky way to play this trend. At the time, shares were trading for just $47.00.

Its holdings include stakes in Theravance Inc. (NASDAQ: THRX), Dendreon Corp. (NASDAQ: DNDN), and Savient Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: SVNT), to name just a few…

Over the course of the last eight months, this exchange traded fund is up over 25% — and is now threatening to breakout to all-time highs at over $70/share:


That’s a trend that will undoubtedly continue as the biotech bull market gathers more steam. And for investors who would rather spread out their risk across the sector, XBI is the perfect way to ride this wave higher.

But whether you decide to invest in a potential moonshot like Geron or make a bet across the sector, one thing is certain…

This is a trend that has plenty of room to run.

I recently recommended a regenerative medicine company that’s about to make organ donor lists a thing of the past. (Learn more about this by company here.)

As for T.J., he’s doing his best to get on with his life, and is making plans to return to nursing school in August. Here’s hoping that someday he can walk through those doors…

As for more great investment ideas, check out the week’s top-read Wealth Daily and Energy & Capital articles, below.

Your bargain-hunting analyst,

steve sig

Steve Christ
Editor, Wealth Daily

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