In August, I went to the annual European Society of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona, Spain. What I saw impressed me...
If you're asking why I made the trip, well, there's nothing like boots-on-the-ground research. It lets you see opportunities that most others in the investment community don't.
Drugs and medical devices are a global business. Plus, the European meetings are four months ahead of the American Heart Association conference. This gives biotech investors who pay attention a head start on finding investment opportunities... since the Wall Street guys don't come to the European conference.
There were hundreds of presentations at the meeting...
But three medical breakthroughs for investors stood out to me. And they're important to watch as innovation in heart health continues...
First, the development of medical devices was striking...
In a session sponsored by medical-device company Medtronic (MDT), I saw implantable pacemakers that can reset heart rhythms. They're now individually tailored to patients. And this technology is adaptive... The device can change its tune based on the data it collects per minute.
This saves battery life – and it also greatly improves patient outcomes. Clinically, there's a 50% survival advantage with the new gear.
For folks who don't have implanted pacemakers, a hospital in Portugal is giving out gadgets – basically smartwatches that also record your blood pressure, activity levels, heart rate, and oxygen saturation. Nurses review the data and call you if needed – to keep you from being rushed to the hospital with heart failure.
I was equally impressed by the smartwatches from Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL). These devices already track your heart rate and activity – and now, they're on the cusp of adding oxygen-saturation rates.
Not only that, but I learned they will eventually add a new health tool...
Earlier in August, Apple filed a patent application to add a blood-pressure monitor to its watches. Here's an illustration from its patent application. The monitor is in yellow...
We've seen early attempts at these kinds of devices already. But a watch that can take your blood pressure hasn't gone mainstream... yet.
In a few years, world-class heart monitoring will be available on your wrist. And no offense to Swiss watchmakers – or Swiss watch collectors – but even their fine-tuned mechanical devices can't do that.
Second, there's new data on heart pills that investors should know about...
Some pills designed to treat diabetes (so-called SGLT2 drugs) looked like they helped with heart failure, too. And at the European Society of Cardiology meeting, some of the clinical data were presented for the first time...
One trial for a pill called Farxiga, made by AstraZeneca (AZN), spent two years tracking more than 11,000 patients with less-severe heart failure. The study concluded that Farxiga reduced the risk of death by 10%.
One twist for investors is that Eli Lilly (LLY) and the privately held Boehringer Ingelheim make a competing drug, Jardiance. Both are already widely sold for treating Type 2 diabetes... In other words, there's competition.
Farxiga generated $2 billion in topline revenue for AstraZeneca in the first half of 2022, up 67% year over year. Meanwhile, Jardiance made $880 million just for Eli Lilly over the same period – and as of August, Jardiance sales are up 32% year over year.
But there's upside for both, too. These drugs' use to treat heart failure is just winning regulatory approval. So sales of both these SGLT2 drugs could easily double from here.
Third, I saw a "salvation" protein drug that's being used in heart patients for the first time...
I call it a "salvation" protein because it turns up during times of starvation, so you survive. This natural human protein rips fat out of your liver and even your muscle beds, helping you get stronger even in extremely troubling times.
The formal name of this protein is Fibroblast Growth Factor 21 ("FGF 21"). Right now, a series of drug companies is changing this natural human signal to let it stay inside the human bloodstream for days rather than just hours. Thanks to this, people can take the drug just once per week.
This salvation-protein drug already has potential uses in liver treatment. (I've been tracking that story in my Venture Technology investment letter.) But in heart patients, the focus was on reducing triglycerides.
In the trial data I saw, those who took this drug for eight weeks saw their triglyceride levels drop 57% – whereas the control group only saw a 12% drop.
More to the point, 80% of people on treatment had their triglycerides return to normal, healthy levels, versus 2% of the control group... the one person who suddenly became an exercise freak. Mind you, these data are still early in the review process – but the salvation protein is in people for a reason. Exploring it as a pathway to better health makes sense to me.
Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) is the furthest along in clinical trials for bringing a polyethylene glycol-style salvation protein to the market. But Novo Nordisk (NVO) is also running a pivotal trial for the salvation protein that could work with the company's fat-cutting drug, Wegovy. Even though Novo Nordisk is running behind Bristol-Myers, it offers a great combination therapy – probably better than what Bristol-Myers can achieve with one drug alone.
So for investors, Bristol-Myers gets first-mover advantage. But never count out Novo Nordisk.
All in all, this conference showed me that the worlds of science and medicine are recovering from COVID-19 disruptions...
All of us stand to gain from this – heart patients, their families... and yes, even investors.
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