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The Next Cancer Cure: Gene Therapy

Nearly one in ten people are expected to develop a genetic disease as a consequence of carrying defective genes. More than 7,000 distinct rare diseases exist, and approximately 80 percent are caused by faulty genes. And, of the rare diseases, 50 percent of the people affected are children, making rare diseases one of the most debilitating for children worldwide.   This focus on curing diseases via the use of what is called “gene therapy” has evolved into of the most exciting developments in medical research. By correcting an underlying genetic defect, gene therapy can provide for transformative effects based on only a single treatment.   What is gene therapy? In the simplest terms, gene therapy involves the replacement of a gene that is defective. The process involves the packaging of a functioning copy of the defective gene into a viral vector. This vector is based on a naturally occurring virus (such as HIV), which has been modified so that the virus cannot spread within the person’s body. A virus has a natural ability to introduce genes into human cells, and thus, its role in the delivery of the gene is critical in the gene therapy process. This vector acts as the delivery mechanism for transporting the functioning gene into the blood stem cells taken from the patient. Rather than offering solutions that only address a patient’s symptoms, gene therapy corrects the underlying genetic defect that is the actual cause of the disease.   The first out-and-out-cure: During 2016, Italian scientists at Milan’s San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy reported that they had cured 18 children of a rare but terrible immune deficiency disease, ADA-SCID. They removed the children’s bone marrow, added a gene to make the ADA enzyme their bodies lack, and replaced it. It took 14 years to develop and test and was approved in May of last year in Europe.   Rewiring the Eye: RetroSense, a company that was quickly acquired by Allergan (AGN) for $60 million is currently injecting genes from light-sensing algae into the eyes of a blind person. This was the first time a whole gene from a different species had been used in a human being. It was also the first test in a human of optogenetics, the technique of using light and gene therapy to control nerve cells.   From Gene Replacement to Gene Editing: Today’s gene therapy is about adding genes, to replace one in your body that isn’t working.  Gene editing could be a way to erase such diseases, with a one-time, permanent alteration of a person’s DNA. A scientific resolute, known as the CRISPR technique is often likened to a “search and replace” function for DNA.   It’s a step beyond conventional gene therapy— The gene for dystrophin, for instance, is too large to fit inside a virus, as CRISPR’s DNA-snipping proteins can. And sometimes a faulty gene that’s doing harm needs to be silenced, so adding a new one won’t help. CRISPR’s ability to delete and swap out genetic letters makes a huge new range of treatments possible. Some doctors are now calling CRISPR “gene therapy 2.0.”   In early-stage lab experiments, academic scientists are showing that gene editing offers new ways to attack cancer, to knock out HIV and hepatitis infections, even to reverse blindness and deafness. Companies aren’t far behind. Three startups in the Boston area have already raised a combined $1 billion and partnered with some of the world’s biggest drug companies, like Bayer (BAYN) and Novartis (NVS).   CAR T-cell therapy in cancer: Another exciting development in gene therapy involves the use of the patient’s own immune system to fight off cancer. Known as CAR T-cell therapy, the process involves genetically engineering a patient’s T cells outside the body to produce special receptors called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). Thus far, there has been tremendous progress made with CAR T-cell therapy as it relates to treating blood cancers. Because of this, many of the bigger biotech companies have been scrambling to partner with specialists in the space. Celgene (CELG) announced a $1 billion deal with Juno Therapeutics (JUNO) to collaborate on several CAR T-cell cancer therapies. The big question is whether or not the early indications for success in blood cancer can translate to successful treatment of solid tumors.   The optimism is based not only on the game-changing potential for the related therapies, but also for the need of big biotechnology companies to diversify their portfolios and how this could lead to more M&A activity in the space. .   Although the gene therapy field has had its share of ups and downs, this once-questionable method of treating diseases now seemingly has the potential to become one of the most game-changing advancements in medical history.
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Credit Scores are Rising: What Does That Mean for Consumer Lending

Credit scores for U.S. consumers just hit a record high. Average scores hit 700 in April 2017, the highest the scores have been since 2005, according to Fair Isaac Corporation. Accompanying the credit score good news is that the share of risky borrowers has hit record lows. Consumers with a score below 600, traditionally considered “risky,” accounted for 20 percent of U.S. adults in the spring of 2017, down from a peak of 25.5 percent in 2010.   Boosting credit scores are the sloughing off of financial mishaps from tarnished credit reports. Over six million U.S. adults will see past personal Chapter 13 bankruptcies disappear from their record over the next five years, a blister that can aggravate an individual’s credit report for seven to 10 years. Chapter 7 bankruptcies too are finally disappearing from credit histories. Around 500,000 Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases were filed in 2007 and over one million in 2010, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. But those who filed in 2007 for Chapter 7 protection can breathe a sigh of relief as cases are being expunged from their histories. Mortgage foreclosures, another bane, remain on credit reports for up to seven years, but these are waning. According to Attom Data Solutions, foreclosures peaked in 2009 at 2.1 million, reached 1.8 million in 2010, and remained above the one million mark through 2012.   The Landscape of Lending   The financing industry has experienced a sea change since the financial crisis. Traditional lenders, who rely on credit scores for lending decisions, have faced fierce competition from Fintechs, who use big data to provide rapid financing through apps to iPhone-wielding Gen-Xers and Millennials. Following the recession, qualifying for a loan was difficult, and many people turned to alternative lenders such as Lending Club and OnDeck. With refreshed credit reports, consumer may return to conventional lenders once again, and the competition in this space is palpable.   What does this mean for consumers and the financing industry? How will it affect the alternative lenders, who have thrived since the recession, versus conventional lenders? How will better credit scores affect baby boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials?   Baby Boomer Borrowing Baby boomers typically have the best credit scores having been fiscally conservative over the years. Baby boomers have held steady jobs and bought houses during better times. However, many are now having to supplement and care for aging parents, which is adding to their financial burden.   As many baby boomers delay retirement and live frugally, they will be encouraged by the economy, improved credit environment, and their access to financing.   Gen-Xer Libation ... At Last   Gen-Xers have struggled to bring up families in difficult economic times. This generation has experienced student loan and credit card debt, a weak job market, and little support from strapped parents. Many are saddled with debt, and Millennial home owners have seen their properties drop in value.   This generation will be happy to see a freer lending market, and Gen-Xers will likely take advantage of their improved scores. With a sensible financial plan, this generation can recover from debt by tackling highest interest loans first.   Millennials Alt-lending Maneuvers   Millennials have been risk-averse and far from eager to jump into debt after seeing the fate of their parents. A 2016 study by FICO found that only 67 percent of 18 and 24-year-old Millennials have a credit card – less than any other age group. But the reluctance to borrow among Millennials has prevented the generation from building a credit history. Consequently, many Millennials are excluded from traditional lending markets because providers base decisions on credit scores.   This group is the most likely to turn to alternative lending when financing a home or a car because they lack a credit profile and face high-interest rates from traditional lenders.   Something for Everyone   While alternative lending might be by-passed by those with a strong credit history, all generations will be affected by a change in regulations expected to occur around the beginning of July. The Consumer Data Industry Association reports that most tax liens and civil judgments will be removed from people's credit scores by July 1, or thereabouts, making the latter half of 2017 rosy for those feeling a little credit-pinched. Almost 1 million Americans could see their credit score improve by up to 20 points, and 700,000 Americans could see their FICO score increase by up to 40 points.  
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INVESTMENT FEES: HOW MUCH IS YOUR ADVISOR CHARGING YOU?

It’s always a good idea to check exactly how and how much you are getting charged in fees from your investment advisor in relation to your wealth management strategies. If your advisor is on a Fee-Only basis, then they are getting paid only for the advice they give. They do not earn commissions by selling financial products such as life insurance or mutual funds. However, they tend to focus on only the assets under their control, which usually means ignoring your big financial picture.   Dual-registered advisors earn fees from advice and they may make commissions on some of the products they sell, while Commission-Based advisors make money only from the products sold. In these two areas, be aware of what the standard fee is when your advisor wants to make a purchase.   Many advisors hire other advisors to choose assets like mutual funds for them, which they then turn around and sell you. These means you are paying for your advisor, at least one more advisor you know nothing about, and the standard fees associated with the product you are buying.   In the long run, these stacked costs can have the negative effect of chipping away at your wealth accumulation. Talk to your advisor to see what fee-plan they utilize so you can get an idea of what to expect on your next statement, and possibly, what change in the investment plan you need to apply.   As a private investment group specializing in wealth management, Midwest Wealth Management, Inc. offers a proprietary trading platform, alternative investment offerings and dedicated advisory support for our clients. For more information, please visit www.midwest-wealth.com.
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The Macron Victory in France: Great News for US Investors

  “Catastrophe averted” were the words used by the French writer and filmmaker, Romuald Sciora, to describe Emmanuel Macron’s victory against right-wing nationalist, Marine Le Pen, in the recent French presidential election. And he wasn’t just referring to France, he meant for the whole world.   Elected at age 39, Macron is the youngest ever president in French history and the head of a party less than two years old. His presidency is calming the political and financial global seas and, while US investors are coping with recent market turbulence from domestic and foreign relations missteps, Macron is a shining beacon across the Atlantic guiding investors to European markets.   From Rags to Rogue   Somewhat of an anomaly, Macron began his career as a civil servant, quickly became a millionaire investment banker, and then donned the hat of a government minister. He had a privileged education at the Lycée Henry IV before entering the Ecole National d'Administration, where many of France’s political elite are formed.   In 2012, he joined the staff of President Francois Hollande and in two years became the economy minister. Economically, Macron favored liberal reforms that benefited businesses but were unpopular with his own party. Ultimately, the “Macron Law” had to be pushed through the National Assembly, which spurred Macron to change the system itself.   He resigned in August 2016 and launched his party En Marche!   Macron’s Manifesto   Macron's policies appeal to conservative voters. He plans to cut corporate taxes from 33 percent to 25 percent, cut payroll taxes that some economists believe keep companies from hiring, and simplify the tax and pension schemes.   However, he is also proposing ways to boost slow economic growth that appeal to the left. Macron plans to increase pay for teachers who work in poorer areas, for example, and introduce labor reforms to reduce unemployment.   Macron has pledged to reform France's welfare and pensions systems, boost defense spending, and to fight terrorism by hiring thousands more police officers and establishing a round-the-clock task force against ISIS. But his most beneficial policies as far as US investors are concerned are those that apply to trade.   Trade Tantrums   The EU has the second largest global GDP, and France has the 3rd highest GDP in Europe. Trade is paramount in “across-the-pond” relations.   A “Frexit” was a priority for Macron’s opponent, Le Pen, and was making many investors fractious leading up to the French elections. But a huge sigh of relief met Macron’s assumption of the Presidency because he is extremely pro-European. Macron intends to put France front and center of the EU and defend the single market.   The EU is a huge market for US goods and is the biggest single US trading partner. France’s support for the bloc has bolstered US investor confidence that was sorely downtrodden following the Brexit vote.   As far as Britain’s exit from the EU is concerned,  Macron is a deal-maker, and while he is not expected to give the UK a free pass, he is likely to seek a way to avoid a catastrophic outcome for the suffering Brits across the channel.   This all round positive news from Europe has US investors bullish on the French stock market as part of global portfolios. According to pundits, the French money supply and bank lending have already rebounded.   Diplomacy Conducive to Stability   Macron’s tact and diplomacy could also influence western approaches to global conflicts. The French president has reached out to the more politically volatile President Donald Trump and the leaders of Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to find a political solution to problems such as Syria and the refugee crisis.   Unlike Le Pen, Macron supports traditional defense structures such as NATO, continuing the efforts to defeat ISIS, and sharing intelligence with the US and European allies further stabilizing US and European relations.   As a newcomer, Macron attracted many first-time voters of all ages, and his party now has over 200,000 members. US investors could, arguably, be added to his list of supporters who appreciate his disdain for international isolationism and division and his stabilizing influence on trade, foreign relations, and the global economy.
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