News Jan 24, 2024 12:24 AM EST

Wall Street Bets on "Trillion-Dollar Company" Crown Jewel

By April Fowell

  • J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, a major event for bankers and investors, returned with over 8,300 attendees after years of pandemic disruptions.
  • Nvidia, not a healthcare company, had the largest audience, presenting a bold vision for transforming healthcare through silicon chips and AI, aiming for a trillion-dollar impact.
  • AI advancements in healthcare, showcased by Mayo Clinic, sparked discussions, with concerns raised over Nvidia's $100 million partnership with Amgen and debates on the future of biotech.

Thousands of bankers, private equity investors, venture capitalists, and other wealthy people swarm Union Square in San Francisco each year to chase transactions.

While the dealmakers squeeze into the tiny Westin St. Francis hotel and its environs to meet with cash-hungry executives from biotech and other health care businesses, scores of security officers keep the homeless, snoopers, and patent thieves at bay.

Wall Street Bets on

(Photo : by I-HWA CHENG/AFP via Getty Images)
Thousands of bankers, private equity investors, venture capitalists, and other wealthy people swarm Union Square in San Francisco each year to chase transactions.

Following many years of epidemic relaxation, the 2024 J.P. The Morgan Healthcare Conference was back to its best, with 8,304 people attending in early January to discuss science, health, and most importantly, money.

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Nvidia's Bold Vision for Healthcare Transformation and AI's Role

Among the 624 firms that spoke at the four-day conference, Nvidia had the largest overflow audience, and surprisingly it is not a health care company.

Vice President of Health Care at Nvidia Kimberly Powell claims that the company's silicon chips, with their processing capacity combined with enormous databases of genes, proteins, chemical sequences, and other data, would "revolutionize" the drug-making process. Computers will soon be able to personalize medications, she claimed, as "health care becomes a technology industry."

Although one may assume that such advancements could result in cost savings, Powell focused on the potential for wealth creation. "There's got to be a trillion-dollar pharmaceutical company out there," she said with a dreamlike expression.

AI is being hyped by several health care systems as well. For instance, the Mayo Clinic demonstrated how AI may increase the precision of patient diagnosis.

According to Matthew Callstrom, chair of radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the nonprofit hospital system has unveiled an ECG algorithm that can predict atrial fibrillation three months before an official diagnosis. Another Mayo AI model can identify pancreatic cancer on scans ahead of a provider.

Although it's hard to predict exactly where or how far artificial intelligence will advance healthcare, several conference goers expressed concern over Nvidia's newly announced $100 million partnership with Amgen, which has access to 500 million human genomes.

Sherif Hanala of contract medicine manufacturer Seqens predicted that "biotech will disappear" if Big Pharma is able to find its own medications, in a conversation with KFF Health News and other attendees over lunch.

Others dismissed that idea. In 2014, the first AI systems analyzed radiological images more accurately than physicians. However, since then, "I haven't seen a single AI company partner with pharma and complete a phase I human clinical trial," stated Alex Zhavoronkov, the CEO and creator of Insilico Medicine, one of the businesses that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to manufacture drugs. "Biology is hard."

As Zhavoronkov pointed out, many investors were asking their favorite biotech entrepreneurs whether they had a new Ozempic or Mounjaro in the works this year, given the estimates of a $100 billion yearly market for GLP-1 agonists, the new class of weight loss medications.

He responded by stating, "I have a very cool product that helps you lose weight and gain muscle," and then giving the investor a pair of bicycle racing gloves with the Insilico Medicine emblem on them.

Conventional talks on GLP-1s centered on how insurance would pay the $13,000 yearly cost that the pills currently cost for the estimated 40% of Americans who are fat and may like to use them.

However, research indicates that those who stop taking the medication usually gain back two-thirds of the weight they lost, according to Diana Thiara, MD, who oversees the University of California, San Francisco's weight control program.

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