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Wall Street Bets On Cancer

A major cancer meeting that took place today in San Francisco could herald a whole new line of attack against the disease. The bottom line, that is.

About 50 companies working on major breakthroughs gathered to show off their achievements. But it was the audience that made the meeting unprecedented, reports CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

Those in attendance were more likely to hold business degrees than medical degrees; it was an audience comprised not of doctors, but of investors.

"This is the first time a conference has focussed on a disease sector," said John McCamant, a medical stock analyst.

As many on Wall Street grow increasingly skeptical of the promise of the Internet and other high-tech investments, fighting cancer may become the next big thing. And no one needs to be convinced of the need.

"It's my view that going forward the principal driver behind returns in the medical arena is going to be this whole area of commercialization of anti-cancer treatments," said Robin Young, whose investment company Stephens Inc. organized the conference. Young's company believes the global anti-cancer market is worth $16 billion and is poised to double in the next four years

Investors at the conference are learning the nuts and bolts of cancer research with briefings on everything from anti-cancer vaccines to gene therapy.

"This business is volatile, high risk, speculative, but it has potential for unbelievable returns," said Alex McPherson of Biomira Inc.

Critics fear research might be rushed if the goal in fighting cancer becomes making money. But the National Cancer Institute believes government funding has done all it can to find a cure. Now it's up to capitalism.

"Competition implicit in this process is also good in that it will make sure the best treatments are ultimately selected," said Dr. Edward Sausville of the National Cancer Institute.

For some investors, putting their money in cancer research promises more than just high returns.

"Of course we are paid to make money for our investors," said Chris Orndorff, head of equity research at Payden & Rygel. "But it's nice if we can do something good for society on the side."

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