Google AI on track to revolutionize drug development

It might seem like a particularly bad time to be an investor in big tech.

President Trump casually announced yesterday morning that his administration would look into accusations Google has been secretly working with the Chinese military.

The charge, characterized as treasonous, came from Peter Thiel, a PayPal (PYPL) co-founder and dogged supporter of the president.

As news flow goes, the headline couldn’t be worse for Alphabet. And it’s not surprising to see the stock dip as a result.

But what sellers are missing is that this business is onto something really big …

Using data, machine learning and AI, Alphabet managers are incubating vibrant new businesses with innovative business models. One or more of these will become exciting standalone businesses.

Already, some smart analysts are doing sum-of-the-parts analysis, and they like what they see.

A Jefferies analyst pegged the value of Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car business, at $250 billion in December 2018, according to a Business Insider story.

Alphabet’s current market capitalization is $798 billion. However, the pieces include YouTube, Google Search, Google Cloud, Android, the Nest security camera and peripheral businesses, Google Capital, and Stadia, its new video game streaming service set to launch in November.

Together, these parts are probably worth well over $1 trillion.

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Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that DeepMind, the artificial intelligence arm of Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL), might be on the cusp of a major breakthrough in the way new drugs are discovered.

It’s an important innovation hiding inside the search giant.

And it couldn’t come at a better time.

The business opportunity for DeepMind has not even on investors’ radar. Until now …

This subsidiary has its roots in DeepMind Technologies, a British AI startup that was making progress teaching computers the quirks of human short-term memory. In 2014, Alphabet acquired the business.

Two years later, its custom AlphaGo code was so advanced that it became the first computer program to defeat a human in a match of Go, the ancient Chinese strategy game. That human happened to be 18-time world champion Lee Sedol.

Related post: Alphabet spells big future profits with just two letters: AI

At the December 2018 CASP13 meeting in Mexico, DeepMind was at it again. This time, its human challengers were the brightest minds in biology.

The task: predicting the shapes of proteins.

Understanding protein structures is important because they govern how diseases form. The problem is there are more possible protein shapes than there are atoms in the universe, Bloomberg notes.

The math has vexed computational biologists for the past 25 years. They have been trying to build more predictive software models for protein-folding, the process that leads to proteins taking three-dimensional shapes.

Despite its limited experience with folding, AlphaFold, DeepMind’s entrant, predicted the most accurate structure for 25 out of 43 proteins. It took the top spot over 98 participating teams, according to a report in The Guardian.

For perspective, the second-place team accurately predicted only three of the 43 proteins.

This does not mean Alphabet has an inside track to the next big drug discovery. It doesn’t work that way. Developing new drugs is both expensive and fraught with regulatory hurdles, patient trials and marketing expenses.

A 2013 study, published by Nature Review Drug Discovery, found that only 10% of medicines in development ever reach patients.

But, this business opportunity is increasing those odds.

In “The Future Awakens,” a November 2017 research study by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, analysts posit that by 2022, medicine will be predictive, preventive (based on risk), personalized and participatory.

Computational biologists in hoodies and jeans will build personalized drug treatments based on what they know about the patient’s individual genomic makeup. Behind the scenes, data scientists using AlphaFold will comb through algorithmic models, looking for previously unseen biomarkers.

DeepMind has come out of nowhere to be a major player in that ecosystem. And it is hiding inside Alphabet shares, practically for free.

The parent company stock trades at 21x forward earnings and 5.6x sales. These metrics reflect the consensus view that Alphabet is an advertising business, subject to regulatory attacks.

The regulation is coming, it’s true. However, the story of the stock is its valuable pieces. Investors are fretting a potential breakup of Alphabet. They should be embracing that possibility. It will lead to much higher stock prices as the value of its businesses come to light.

Growth investors should consider buying Alphabet  shares into any material weakness.

Best wishes,
Jon D. Markman

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