A mother finds her baby blithely chewing his own tongue off, impervious to the pain. Halfway around the world, in South Africa, a man walks away from bone-quaking accidents without so much as a fracture. They live among us, these aberrations. Gifted — or perhaps cursed? — with something eXtra in their DNA. Something worth billions to major drug companies searching them out. All of this is actually true; somewhere Stan Lee’s entire body is tingling.
The real-live lead of Unbreakable, for instance, is named Tim Dreyer. He lives in Johannesburg and was diagnosed with sclerosteosis at 21. It’s a condition so rare only about 100 people have it, passed down by a single mutation in each of his parents. It causes a protein deficiency resulting in superhuman bone density.
The global development lead for the osteoporosis drug Amgen calls people like Dreyer “a gift from nature.” Andreas Grauer tells Bloomberg Business, “It is our obligation to turn it into something useful.”
With the cost of gene sequencing just a fraction of what it once was, and as drug companies are buying up all the genetic information they can, outliers like Dreyer can unlock an evolution in treatments. Painkillers alone are worth more than $18 billion per year. Now all companies have to do is keep finding the mutants and convince them their special abilities should benefit all mankind.