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One thing you have to say about Dr Andy Clark of Close Finsbury – his enthusiasm knows no bounds. So wrapped up in his subject was he that, when addressing an audience of stockbrokers, IFAs and other investors on the topic of the Universal Life Sciences fund, his presentation travelled way ahead of his slides. To catch up, he had to click through much of the support material at speed without any relevant comment. It was lucky the audience had copies of the slides before he started talking.

The occasion was one of the regular seminars organised by G&N Collective Services. This Edinburgh-based organisation acts for a number of leading investment trust groups, putting managers in front of an audience of professional and semi-professional investors.

Citing that genetic re-engineering would affect both food and textiles as well as medicines, Dr Clark pointed to a period of rapid development, during which many current shortages around the world could be dealt with. Of course, this presupposes that this research will continue without interference and that we do not learn to our costs that meddling with nature can produce problems as well as benefits.

The Close Finsbury Life Sciences fund is, of course, only concerned with the medical aspects of genomic development and not solely with that either. Mapping the human gene is, by all accounts, very nearly complete. This is despite estimates that it would be a project taking many years and costing billions of dollars. The implications are enormous. Understanding the genetic make-up of each individual&#39s body will lead to individually targeted medicines, which should have fewer side effects and will be much more cost-effective. At present, Dr Clark told his audience, medicines are designed to cope with a particular illness or condition.

Not everyone who requires treatment will react to a medicine in the same way. He cited Aids as an example. At present, there are more than 20 different drugs that can help alleviate the symptoms of this modern plague. Knowing the gene make-up of someone ill with this dire complaint could mean that you start immediately with the appropriate drugs.

This approach does, of course, have massive implications for the pharmaceutical industry in general. At present, there are believed to be only 500 prescription drugs in production around the world – a number I found amazingly small. Individually targeted drugs will certainly boost this number massively.

Equally fewer of each will be used and the amount of wastage should fall dramatically. It all suggests that the major pharmaceutical companies will need to re-engineer themselves if this is the way medicine is moving. The speed of development is, of course, uncertain. Only last week, people were taking sides on the moral issue of embryo research, arguably an important component in developing these targeted medicines.

As to the investment implication of all this new biotechnology, I am afraid you will have to draw your own conclusions. Rather like the computer industry, developments are now taking place at such a speed that it is hard to be certain of the winners and losers.

The Close Finsbury team should have as good a chance as any of picking the winners. Apart from anything else, they are industry professionals running highly specialised money rather than part of a more conventional model of marketing-led investment professionals. One thing is certain. Biotechnology will not prove a smooth ride for investors.


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