Investing in brain health

As a retired NFL athlete, I have been able to witness firsthand the vast changes our culture has implemented when it comes to the importance of brain health. I have watched this "silent epidemic" grow into one of the loudest outcries for action that the health-care market has seen in years.

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No more than 10 years ago, I played for a league where I felt the pressures both internally and externally to return to the field and keep playing no matter what. The words "concussion" and "TBI" (traumatic brain injury) were not frequently used among the medical staff. My teammates and I had no idea that seeing stars or blurred vision after a hard hit were signs of brain damage.

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But all that's changing. Recently, we've seen professional NFL athletes donating their brains toward research. Chris Borland, a 24-year-old player, retired after a stellar rookie season at the San Francisco 49ers. And Jack Miller, a star player at the University of Michigan, dropped out before his senior year — both citing concerns about concussions.

Beyond concussions in professional sports, millions of people suffer from brain-health issues, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, or traumatic brain injury. I'm sure most of us probably know a family member or loved one who has suffered from one of these. And the cost of health care for these conditions is huge: Caring for patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia is expected to reach $226 million in 2015 and a whopping $1.1 trillion (in 2015 dollars) by 2050, according the Alzheimer's Association.

Awareness of these serious brain issues and research is encouraging. And there are a couple of publicly-traded companies that had big developments recently in their brain-health research.

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Among the most promising new treatment technologies, Biogen recently reported that its Alzheimer's drug helped to slow cognitive decline in a clinical trial. Shares jumped 10 percent in intraday trading the day of the announcement to an all-time high of $480.13, though have since fallen back below $415.

Meanwhile, Prothena reported that the Parkinson's treatment it's developing with Roche safely reduced a protein that is thought to be linked to the disease in a clinical trial. Shares shot up more than 30 percent the day of that announcement to $38.66 and are currently holding around that level.

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Of course, these are early-stage studies and there's still a long way to go to FDA approval. Still, I am excited to see the continued inflow of positive results coming out of this division and am confident that we will be witnessing major milestones in brain health over the next decade.

Commentary by Jack Brewer, a former NFL safety who played for the Vikings, Giants, Eagles and Cardinals. He is also the founder and CEO of the Brewer Group. He has a master's degree in sports management from the University of Minnesota. He serves as an ambassador for peace and sport for the United States Federation of Middle East Peace at the United Nations. Follow him on Twitter@JackBrewerBSI.

Disclosure: Neither Jack Brewer nor the Brewer Group have invested in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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