The map to the human genome has just been completed, and tiny mutual fund
is already offering to follow the map's path to stock-market riches.
While there are a number of companies working on gene therapies for diseases, this $13.9 million offering invests solely in the burgeoning field of genomics, making it the only mutual fund that invests specifically in this area.
But this road not taken by others, so far, has already proven extremely bumpy. And the risks are fairly obvious: If it works, the fund could yield enormous riches; if the investment goes the other way, it can sink even faster than a dot-com fund.
Portfolio manager Steve Newby of
, the fund's adviser, acknowledges it's not an investment for the faint of heart, and goes as far as to counsel investors to only apportion a small portion of their investment portfolio in his fund.
Other observers express more skepticism, suggesting placing their genomics bets on broader avenues, such as biotech funds.
The tiny offering has had mixed results, as genomics-related stocks have soared and crashed and soared again on various kernels of news. Since its March launch, the fund is down 9.9%, though it's up 45.1% since the beginning of the month, Newby says. Neither
track the fund yet because it's so new.
"I think it's better to get a pure play,'' Newby says. "Why dilute it with companies that may be pharmaceuticals?''
The fund has certainly loaded up on some recent winners. The biggest subsector within the fund is what GenomicsFund.com calls the pharmagenomics arena -- companies that are working on drugs or therapies using gene knowledge. That portion of the portfolio is about 45%, according to the firm. Its biggest stake in that subsector is
Human Genome Sciences
, which has risen 75.6% since the beginning of the year.
Its second-largest group is in what it calls bioinformatics, which includes companies that are developing knowledge of the human genome for sale. There its biggest holding is
, which is up 32.6% year-to-date.
There are currently 18 holdings in the no-load fund, which requires a minimum investment of $5,000; Newby says he plans to expand the list of holdings to 25. "We're trying to stay with the leaders,'' he says. "We're not going to invest with the guy who's cooking up some genomics project in his garage.'' The fund's Web site also says it reserves the right to invest in nongenomics stocks.
Before grabbing the checkbook, there are some things to consider. Newby, 53, is a "newbie" to the biotech area. Before this post, he ran his own brokerage firm,
Newby & Co.
His investment ideas come from a scientific advisory board, but so far there is only one member on that team, Michael J. Manyak, a professor of urology at
George Washington University Medical Center
"There are some really complex issues in this field,'' says Jonas Ferris of
, a Web site that tracks small and young funds. "If you're not getting a real level of expertise, then it's no better than picking your own stocks.''
Newby, though, is convinced that his scientific advisory board will steer investors through the scientific miasma. He cautions that these are scary investments and advises that no more than 5% of an investor's total portfolio be allocated to the fund.
Mike Howard, a financial planner with
Emery & Howard
, says he's putting only 2% of his total portfolio in the biotech sector -- and he recommends a similar ceiling for most investors.
"A lot of the products are still anywhere from three to 10 years away,'' he says. What's more, the fortunes of the genomics companies that are now riding the wave of the investor hype "will probably parallel the e-tailers or the dot-coms,'' he adds.
If investors really want some exposure to the genomics area, biotech funds have loaded up on some of those stocks already, Howard says. During choppy times, they can duck into some slower-moving pharmaceutical companies that are trying to use genomics knowledge in drug developments.
Funds such as
Dresdner RCM Biotech are heavy on many of the same stocks. Others in the field include
Rydex Biotechnology, which invests in a wide range of biotech stocks.
For an offering from a small fund family, being in a turbo-charged area may be the only way to get attention, says Ferris of MaxFunds.com. "Being an independent fund family, you're not going to bring in any money by having a large-cap growth fund, not until you have some kind of track record,'' he says.
The upshot for the fund company is that the big fund companies aren't likely to get into the space unless it's proved successful, much the same way they treated the Internet.