HAS INVESTOR SCEPTICISM BEEN OVERPLAYED?
Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of bogus blood testing startup Theranos, has been sentenced to over 11 years in prison for defrauding investors.
The conclusion to Silicon Valley’s so-called Trial of the Century — which spawned its own TV series, books and a dedicated podcast — serves as a warning to investors looking to back breakthrough technologies. Theranos was shut down in 2018 after employees blew the whistle on the company’s supposedly revolutionary technology that just didn’t work, but not before deal-hungry backers had pumped $900m into it.
While the saga might have initially made VCs more wary of diagnostics startups, a recent Pitchbook report suggests that investor attitudes are shifting — a number of blood testing startups have picked up VC backing this year.
So how has Theranos’s downfall affected Europe’s diagnostics startups?
Sifted spoke to investors and founders in the sector to ask whether the fallout from the trial might have its positives, and what the future holds for the sector.
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Mark and Glenn Turchan are early investors in Refana, a company on the leading-edge of vaccine technology
SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has continued to evolve at a rapid pace in the last two years, leading to the emergence of new, tougher variants and a surge in breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated and boosted people around the world.
As a result, there is a pressing need to develop new, safe, cost-effective vaccines that provide broader coverage and are accessible to people everywhere.
Fortunately, that is entirely possible thanks to trailblazing startup Refana, which has a strong connection to the engineering faculty, dating back to the 1980s.
A private corporation that researches practical solutions for complex and urgent global medical problems, Refana has designed a leading-edge vaccine technology called RefanaVax-MV that uses a Whole Inactivated Virus (WIV)-based approach to create a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
Two graduates of Waterloo Engineering Mark Turchan (BASc '83, systems design engineering, MASc '85, systems design engineering) and his brother Glenn Turchan (BASc' 87, geological engineering, MASc '90, civil engineering) are early investors in the company.
Born and raised in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, they are actively involved in shaping the US-based company's future, with Mark serving as the acting chief operating officer and Glenn using his vast consulting experience to act as an advisor to the firm's management team.
“Our investment is part of what University of Waterloo's Faculty of Engineering built into our problem-solving DNA,” says Mark.
“It is all about solving big problems that can have a tremendous positive impact on the world while getting rewarded for doing so,” Glenn adds.
RefanaVax-MV is described as an easy-to-adjust multi-valent “vaccine cocktail.”
Unlike previous mono-valent vaccines already in use to protect against a single variant of the virus, multi-valent vaccines will protect against multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants at the same time.
RefanaVax-MV is designed as a tri-valent vaccine, therefore protecting against three variants. For example, Delta and Omicron, as well as the next dangerous variant to emerge.
Following a proven scientific development approach, the WIV vaccine is derived from a chemically-neutralized version of the whole virus (non-active or contagious) covering its full genetic structure, to provide better coverage overall.
It has other important advantages as well, including lower costs and easier distribution. WIV designs are also safe; they are based on long-standing successful vaccine design solutions in use for decades across multiple diseases.
In addition, Refana has designed a modular manufacturing system that uses automated bioreactor technologies, allowing for less expensive capital investment and lower operating costs, even for production batches as small as 40 million doses per year.
That makes localized manufacturing - especially in less-developed countries - more feasible, making vaccine technology more accessible to many parts of the world that do not have access to it. It also reduces the developing world's reliance on larger biotechnology companies and their large batch production facilities that are situated primarily in the developed world.
The RefanaVax-MV vaccine was developed in 2021-22 in co-operation with the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (ITTRI) in Chicago. The work was recently presented at the American Society for Virology (ASV) Conference.
Refana, which takes its name from a Hebrew term that translates to ‘please heal’ in English, also continues this work with a further quest to develop a single, pan-coronavirus vaccine - also known as a ‘universal vaccine’ - using computational genomics and artificial intelligence. This is a ‘next-gen’ vaccine solution.
“What we are doing is incredibly important, given that there are still over three billion people in the world who are not fully-vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2,” says Mark. “The vaccine technology platforms being developed by Refana would be useful in fighting SARS-Cov-2, and possibly future virus pandemics, according to the virology community of experts.”
“We are two brothers with two sets of engineering degrees who had two separate careers, coming together to help the world get back to normal and hopefully be a better place,” says Glenn.
BY ERIN PRATER
First-generation vaccines were not the panacea hoped for in COVID-19’s early days. Nor did herd immunity swoop in and save the day.
Could a so-called “pan-coronavirus” vaccine be the long-awaited silver bullet that ends the COVID pandemic—and the next one, too?
Answer: It’s complicated.
“The term pan-coronavirus vaccine needs an asterisk next to it,” Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins’ Department of Medicine, told Fortune.
Such a vaccine could tackle all coronaviruses, named for their crown-like appearance under a microscope. Or it could focus on COVID-19 and its myriad variants. Or it could tackle the four longstanding coronaviruses that circulate as common colds—or any combination thereof.
Read the full article.
After several long "winters," business is ready for an A.I. spring.
The age of artificial intelligence (A.I.) is finally upon us. Consumer applications of A.I., in particular, have come a long way, leading to more accurate search results for online shoppers, allowing apps and websites to make more personalized recommendations, and enabling voice-activated digital assistants to better understand us.
As impressive as these uses of A.I. are, they only hint at how this game-changing technology will be applied in business. Because the goal of business A.I. is to help the companies that drive our global economy learn from their data to become vastly more resilient, adaptive, and innovative.
We all know there is tremendous potential value in data, which continues to grow exponentially. In fact, the world is creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day (that's 2.5 followed by 18 zeros). To harness that potential, companies need A.I. to make sense of the data, and hybrid cloud computing platforms that can distribute it across organizations.
The economic opportunity behind these technologies is enormous, given that business is only about 10 percent of the way to realizing A.I.'s full potential.
By Arvind Krishna, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, IBM
Read the full article here.
By Naomi Grimley
Gordon Brown has warned that the world risks "sleepwalking" into another Covid variant crisis if it does not increase vaccinations in low-income countries.
Wealthier countries needed to share the cost of global vaccinations, tests and treatments, he told the BBC.
Speaking before an international Covid summit on Thursday, the former UK prime minister said the world had become "complacent" about the virus.
US President Joe Biden is due to host the virtual summit at the White House.
He does so at a time when Congress has failed to approve key funds earmarked for the global pandemic response.
Campaigners fear that could mean other countries will not offer extra money either, leaving the push for better vaccine coverage around the world without momentum.
Mr Brown, who is a World Health Organization (WHO) ambassador on health finance, said the numbers were "shocking".
"Only 11% have been vaccinated in low-income countries and we set a target of 70%," he said.
"Tragically, we are sleepwalking into the next variant, and political leaders are still not listening to the medical advice that is still there - that we've got to increase vaccination, continue to test at a high level, and provide the new treatments available."
Read the full article here.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is showing promising results in detecting breast cancer which may otherwise have been missed by radiologists, the largest study of its kind has found.
Researchers in Germany discovered that AI can correctly detect interval breast cancers, which develop in between routine screening rounds (usually 24 months in many countries) and can be missed and diagnosed as a false negative result.
In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The peer-reviewed study showed approximately 16 per cent of interval cancers are probably visible during a previous screening while one in five may be too subtle to the human eye and can be missed by radiologists, which is known as "minimal signs".
The findings present an opportunity to detect more cancers at a screening with AI, which may help detect breast cancer earlier.
Read the full article here.
Population-wide study of COVID-19 vaccination shows that mix-and-match approach to booster vaccination offers the best protectionRead Now
A new study on Chile’s national COVID-19 vaccination program, to be presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2022, Lisbon 23-26), and published in The Lancet Global Health, shows that giving a different type of vaccine (heterologous) for the third or ‘booster’ dose than was received for the first two doses, leads to better vaccine performance than using the same (homologous) inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for all three doses.
The study is by Dr Rafael Araos, Institute of Science and Innovation in Medicine, Clinica Alemana, Universidad del Desarrollo, Dr Alejandro Jara, and Dr Eduardo A Undurraga from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and colleagues including Dr Johanna Acevedo from the Chilean Ministry of Health.
The study assesses the effectiveness of CoronaVac (Sinovac Biotech), AZD1222 (Oxford-AstraZeneca), or BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine boosters in individuals who had completed a primary two-dose immunisation schedule with CoronaVac, an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine which accounts for about half the COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered globally, compared with no vaccination. The study assessed the nationwide vaccination program in Chile, where the two-dose Coronavac schedule was by far the most commonly given.
Individuals administered vaccines from Feb 2, 2021 to the prespecified trial end date of Nov 10, 2021 were evaluated; the team excluded individuals with a probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection (RT-PCR or antigen test) on or before Feb 2, 2021, and individuals who had received at least one dose of any COVID-19 vaccine before Feb 2, 2021. They estimated the vaccine effectiveness of booster doses against laboratory-confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 (symptomatic COVID-19) cases and COVID-19 outcomes (hospitalisation, admission to the intensive care unit [ICU], and death).
A total of 11 174 257 individuals were eligible for this study, among whom 4 127 546 completed a primary immunisation schedule (two doses) with CoronaVac and received a booster dose during the study period. 1 921 340 (46·5%) participants received a heterologous AZD1222 booster, 2 019 260 (48·9%) received a heterologous BNT162b2 booster, and 186 946 (4·5%) received a homologous booster with CoronaVac.
The authors calculated an adjusted vaccine effectiveness (using statistical modelling) in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 of 79% for a two-dose schedule plus CoronaVac booster, 97% for a BNT162b2 booster, and 93% for an AZD1222 booster. The adjusted vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19-related hospitalisation, ICU admission, and death was 86%, 92%, and 87% for a CoronaVac booster, 96%, 96%, and 97% for a Pfizer-BioNTech booster, and 98%, 99% and 98% for an Astra Zeneca booster.
Read the full article here.
Experts assumed China needed an mRNA COVID vaccine to reopen safely. New data suggest that may not be the caseRead Now
China’s inactivated Sinovac COVID vaccine may provide as much protection from death as Germany’s BioNTech mRNA jab after three doses, according to new research from Hong Kong University. The findings suggest that China, which continues to impose tough COVID-zero policies, may not need to approve or develop mRNA vaccines to emerge from the pandemic.
Hong Kong Free Press announced:
During the press conference, HKU’s medical faculty released its latest empirical analysis of the effectiveness of the two available vaccines – the Chinese-made Sinovac and German-produced BioNTech – based on data of hospitalised patients in Hong Kong as of March 8.
According to their findings, receiving three jabs of a Covid-19 vaccine, irrespective of the brand, can provide around 98 per cent of immunity against severe or fatal cases in patients aged 60 or above.
Artificial intelligence can improve medical imaging for screenings, precision medicine, and risk assessment.