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What AlphaFold Solving Protein Folding Means For The Future Of Health & Wellness Products

What Will Change About Wellness In The Next 20 Years? Everything.

Like much of the past few years, the summer of 2021 stands at a unique moment in history. We will remember this summer in ways we don’t others (do you remember what you did in the summer of 2013?), because of a world-changing pandemic. But this summer is also unique in the way it looks forward. We are not through COVID-19 yet, but we can start to contemplate the ways it will shape our future.

Now is therefore a good time to look ahead. The wellness industry exists to help people be better, with the focus on the “being” – our health, fitness, and nutrition, our sleep, the character of our minds. People want to feel good, which is why wellness is massive – $1.5 trillion dollars, and expected to grow 5-10% annually.

In every major market, wellness is becoming a bigger and bigger consumer priority. So here we sit, at a moment of cultural and technological inflection. Of course people care to be more well after a global disaster reminds us of our fragility. At the same time, technology is racing ahead across a dizzying array of disciplines, ensuring our future will look much different than our past, and soon.

This and our next newsletter attempt to give The Unwinder’s community of wellness professionals and enthusiasts an introduction to that future, and ideas of what it could mean in light of the consumer’s overwhelming desire to be well.

“The Protein Folding Problem” And The Beginning Of The End Of Clinical Trial

The protein folding problem is perhaps the single most important problem in biology. Solving it would mean we could create accurate models of parts of our cells, and then our whole cells, and then our whole bodies, inside a computer. This would allow humanity to test infinite drugs and supplements, to model disease, and to (eventually) solve chronic disease and perhaps stop death entirely. This may seem like science fiction, but given recent breakthroughs, this future is more likely than not.

A protein is a sequence of amino acids, and these sequences are easily knowable and well-known to science. There are 22 types of amino acids, which combine to make, say, the protein of a muscle cell, or the proteins that make up a neuron cell. Amino acids are building-block molecules with names like Lysine or Aspartic acid. You often hear of the 10 “essential” amino acids: they are essential because your body cannot produce them, you have to eat them.

Anyway, proteins make up most of the human body (not counting water, and most of the rest is fat), and they count for almost all of the biologically interesting stuff. The problem has always been getting from a sequence of amino acids on a piece of paper to a correct, 3-dimensional “folded” structure of a protein. It’s the difference between knowing a few geometric shapes (a line, an “L”, a circle), and the entire richness and meaning of a human language.

I suppose the section heading spoiled this, but, Google DeepMind AI has essentially solved the protein folding problem, to ~90% accuracy (and everyone expects it will hit 99% shortly). This is an earth-shattering advance in our ability to understand the human body. Today, modeling any protein in our body, in 3D, can be done on a laptop. Tomorrow, entire functioning cells will be modeled, and from there, organs, systems, and entire human bodies.

This will bring humanity what’s called a “virtual physiological human – a functioning human body, biologically perfectly accurate, modeled in a computer.

All the things we wish we could know, but can’t for ethical reasons, all the trials we wish we could run, will be known. This is crazy science fiction in our lifetimes.

What does this mean? This means that the long-run future of wellness converges with conventional medicine and computer science. Want to know how an adaptogen regulates body systems? Trivial. Want to custom-design your own adaptogenic molecule that is 100x more effective than ashwagandha or CBD? Not hard. Want to customize those adaptogens so they uniquely fit each one of your customers individually? Again, this will happen.

When, is the question. But this is the type of fundamental breakthrough that a field hits once in a century. Everything about how we understand our bodies and minds is about to change.

News & Notes – July 28, 2021

Supplements maker Thorne Healthtech filed for an IPO. The company is focused on personalizing supplements and claims $150M in annual sales.

⚕️ A study of severe liver injury in Australians found an increase in the percentage of these injuries that are caused by supplements. However, the sample size of this study is small.

The FDA released a statement recommending against the use of red yeast rice as a supplement, specifically those advertised under the name “Cholestene”. Red yeast rice products advertised as such were found to contain significant amounts of monacolin K, which lowers cholesterol on the same level as a statin (a prescription drug). As such, taking these types of red yeast rice can lead to dangerous drug interactions or drops in cholesterol levels. This is an example of a natural supplement’s power being drug-like.

🧫 Nature’s Fynd, a seller of plant-based meats, cheeses, and other products, has raised $350M from investment giant SoftBank, among others. The interest in Nature’s Fund is not just the consumer products, but also Fy, their sci-fi protein manufacturing process. Fy is an amino-acid complete protein produced by a fungus found in the extreme heat of the thermal super volcano under Yellowstone National Park. It was discovered in 2009 by NASA researchers searching for ways to produce biofuel in outer space. The company has raised $500M since its 2012 founding.

🏻 Jessica Biel launched a health and wellness product brand called Kinderfarms. Their first product is a Pedialyte-like electrolyte beverage. It is already available in 25,000 U.S. stores.

Supplements and topicals company The Nue Co. raised $25M and shared details on their business (500% 2 year growth rate, 70% repeat purchase) with WWD.

Oatly, which IPO’ed in May to a $13B valuation, is facing short seller pressure and accusations of “shady accounting” and “greenwashing” on Wall Street. CNBC’s report is a concerning must-read for Oatly investors.

Social Growth Leaderboard

Strong summer growth amongst our 200 tracked wellness IG accounts only got stronger over the last period, with the top-10 average growth rate coming in at 3.42%.

Blueland held their #2 spot, Ka’Chava, Olipop, and Roman all maintained leaderboard positions. In the coming weeks, we will dive into what is driving the Instagram growth of wellness brands, what is organic versus paid versus [??] and the type of growth that creates the most engagement.

About the author

The Unwinder's Wellness Insider Newsletter is published every other week. You can sign up at https://the-unwinder.com/newsletter/

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