How gene-editing breakthroughs are revolutionizing disease treatments

Jeff Spiegel Mar 3, 2022

Video 1:11


How could recent breakthroughs in genomics shape the future of the healthcare industry?
Jeff Spiegel, U.S. Head of iShares Megatrend and International ETFs, explains on BLKBottomLine.

JEFF SPIEGEL: Genomics is transforming the health care industry through essentially enabling personalized medicine. Today, for less than $1,000, you can map the human genome and actually understand and prescribe to a patient in a way tailored exactly to their DNA. These amazing breakthroughs are enabling gene editing not just to tailor treatments to specific diseases but also to actually edit DNA inside the human body through in vivo gene editing. The pace of technological change in this space is enabling the market to grow 34% annually, to ultimately reach $36 billion as access to this technology becomes available to more patients and as new vaccines are created. The bottom line is more treatments for more diseases, more personalized medicine. And that's great news not just for investors who can capture transformational growth in their portfolios but for all of us as we seek medical care today and into the future.

Key Takeaways

  • Recent breakthroughs in genomics are helping drive next-generation breakthroughs in medicine.
  • Gene therapies could transform the healthcare industry and could become a $36 billion market by 2027.1
  • Megatrend ETFs can help capture potential medical breakthroughs and keep investors diversified across numerous stocks.

    Earlier this month, the Biden-Harris administration announced the reinstatement of the Cancer Moonshot program – aimed at reducing the cancer death rate by at least 50% over the next 25 years2. The program will provide for enhancements in cancer diagnostics and prevention, much of which is being driven by new tools such as mRNA technology. The program will also help speed the clinical trial processes for bringing these therapies to market –allowing for potentially earlier-than-expected commercialization for many cancer drugs, presenting potential growth opportunities for investors.

    The pandemic has demonstrated how drugmakers can quickly and effectively harness medical innovations. The mRNA technology used in vaccines to fight COVID-19 is being studied for potential deployment against rabies, influenza, Zika, HIV and cancer.3

    For investors, modern medicine breakthroughs could represent potential long-term growth opportunities. Consider that the market for gene therapies is expected to grow 34% annually, to $36 billion, by 2027.4 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that by 2025 it will be approving anywhere from 10-20 cell and gene therapy products per year.5

    CRISPR-Cas9: A Cut and Paste Job

    CRISPR-Cas9: A Cut and Paste Job

    Source: BlackRock and Mayo Clinic. For illustrative purposes only.

    Genetic sequencing at scale

    Advances in genetic sequencing underpin many advancements in life sciences, and the sequencing of millions of DNA codes has become cheaper and easier.

    Over the past two decades, the cost of genetic sequencing has come down more than 100-fold — from $100,000 in 2001 to less than $1,000 in 2020 — which allows for scalable scientific use and paves the way for a new generation of personalized therapies, particularly in areas such as oncology.6

    Sequencing costs ($) per Human Genome

    Genetic sequencing at scale

    Source: National Human Genome Research Institute, “DNA Sequencing Costs: Data,” August 2020.

    One revolutionary gene-editing technology is the CRISPR-Cas9 system. This technology allows researchers to isolate and manipulate parts of the human DNA that have “defects.” CRISPR-Cas9 consists of two components: a guide RNA, which can locate and recognize the sequence of DNA to be edited, and the Cas9 protein, which can cut out the part of DNA that is faulty. A guide RNA and Cas9 protein work together like Clippy, the iconic digital assistant in the office program Microsoft Word, locating and removing the faulty parts of the gene and replacing them with the correct ones.

    Falling costs of genetic sequencing technology, combined with the successful application of gene-editing, is bringing potential cures to these diseases much faster and cheaper than the last generation of drug discovery.


    Given the remarkable groundbreaking results in genomics research, investors may want to consider a megatrends approach to investing in targeted themes like genomics. Index-tracking megatrend ETFs can help capture the potential of medical breakthroughs, while still diversifying across the many companies that are poised to potentially benefit from growth in the theme.

    Advances in biological sciences with the use of computing, data and artificial intelligence are opening new doors in healthcare that can provide more precise therapies for a broad array of diseases.

    Jeff Spiegel

    Jeff Spiegel

    Head of U.S. iShares Megatrend and International ETFs

    Tanya Chanda

    Vice President


    Mark Orans