“Black fungus” surges in India—thousands blinded, maimed, dead

A suspected mucormycosis black fungus patient receives examination at a hospital in Bhopal, India, on May 29, 2021.

Enlarge / A suspected mucormycosis black fungus patient receives examination at a hospital in Bhopal, India, on May 29, 2021. (credit: Getty| Xinhua News Agency)

So-called “black fungus” infections are surging in India in the wake of a devastating wave of COVID-19. The rare but devastating infection can destroy the eyes and spread to the brain.

Cases now top 31,000, rising from an estimate of dozens to a few hundred cases just last month. Media reports have tallied over 2,100 deaths, but federal health authorities have not released an official death count.

Past medical reviews have estimated that the fungal infection—mucormycosis—has an overall fatality rate of around 50 percent. However, mortality rates vary by patients’ underlying condition and what part of the body the mucormycetes fungi invade. Infection can take hold in the gastrointestinal tract, skin breaks, lungs, and the blood.

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#black-fungus, #covid-19, #diabetes, #india, #infectious-disease, #mucormycosis, #science

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After ruining 75M J&J doses, Emergent gets FDA clearance for 25M doses

The Emergent BioSolutions plant, a manufacturing partner for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 9, 2021.

Enlarge / The Emergent BioSolutions plant, a manufacturing partner for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Saul Loeb)

The US Food and Drug Administration is making progress in its efforts to sort out the fiasco at Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore facility, which, at this point, has ruined more than 75 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines stemming from what the regulator identified as significant quality control failures.

In March, news leaked that Emergent ruined 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as well as millions more doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. The spoilage happened when Emergent cross-contaminated batches of the two vaccines with ingredients from the other.

Last week, the FDA told Emergent to trash about 60 million more doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine due to similar contamination concerns, The New York Times reported.

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#astrazeneca, #covid-19, #emergent, #fda, #infectious-disease, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

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Experts “extremely worried” about Delta variant as US death toll hits 600,000

A serious woman in military fatigues prepares an injection.

Enlarge / Combat medics from Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps vaccinate members of the public at a rapid vaccination centre, set up outside Bolton Town Hall on June 09, 2021 in Bolton, England. (credit: Getty | Christopher Furlong )

By many metrics, the US is currently doing relatively well against the pandemic coronavirus. National tallies of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all at lows not seen since early last year. Several states have hit the goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose, and many areas are easing or lifting health restrictions in response to squashed transmission levels.

But those hard-fought gains are accompanied by a grim milestone today: the national death toll reached 600,000. That’s roughly the population size of Milwaukee or Baltimore. And experts are voicing concerns that the state of the pandemic could once again take a turn for the worse in the US.

New threat

The menacing coronavirus variant B 1.617.2 first seen in India—now dubbed Delta by the World Health Organization—is spreading rapidly around the globe, including in the US. It is estimated to be even more contagious than the worrisome B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the UK. That variant, now dubbed Alpha, is estimated to be about 50 percent more transmissible than the original coronavirus that mushroomed out of Wuhan, China, at the start of 2020. Delta is estimated to be 50 percent to 60 percent more contagious than Alpha.

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#coronavirus, #covid-19, #england, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #scotland, #vaccine, #vaccine-efficacy, #variants

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Health care CEOs raked in $3.2 billion as pandemic raged

Health care CEOs raked in $3.2 billion as pandemic raged

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Jonathan Kitchen)

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country last year, the chief executive officers of 178 US healthcare companies saw their already lofty pay soar to even higher heights.

Collectively, the 178 CEOs took home $3.2 billion in 2020, according to a new analysis by Axios. Their median pay rose to $9 million, up from about $7.7 million in 2018 and $8 million in 2019. The 2019 US median household income was $68,703, according to the US Census Bureau. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that the 2020 national median income for families was $78,500.

Thirty health care CEOs made over $30 million each. That list includes the CEOs of Regeneron ($174 million), Eli Lilly ($68 million), Teladoc ($45 million), UnitedHealth Group ($42 million), and Quest Diagnostics ($34 million).

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#ceo, #compensation, #covid-19, #for-profit, #health-insurance, #healthcare, #hospitals, #policy, #science

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Canadians are polite, but we’re still recruiting your biotech talent, America

Canada made headlines during U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration for its efforts to lure STEM workers north. Trump is gone now, but Canada hasn’t stopped trying to recruit talent from its neighbor — and one of the hottest fronts in this talent war is biotech.

For generations of Canadian engineers, coders and researchers, Silicon Valley’s better salaries and weather were a siren call. But four years of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, policy and visa restrictions gave Canadian tech companies and governments a competitive advantage.

After Trump took office in 2016, Canada’s federal government boosted the tech ecosystems of cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver by creating a program to fast-track immigration. Canadian tech leaders climbed aboard with campaigns to tempt more workers north. In Quebec, the industry even persuaded Quebec’s notoriously immigration-shy provincial government to accept as many as 14% more newcomers.

The pandemic-driven exodus from Silicon Valley has sent large numbers of Canadian expatriates flocking home. The number of Canadians applying for the U.S. H-1B program has fallen dramatically, accelerating a decade-long trend.

Canadians have been broadly supportive of government spending to beat back COVID-19 and hasten the transition to a new economy.

Still, Canadian tech and political leaders remain concerned about the inbound flow of talent to key sectors like advanced manufacturing, clean tech and biotechnology. They’re pressing every button they can to chip away at long-held American advantages.

Much of the action is in biotech. COVID-19 has exposed Canada’s lack of vaccine manufacturing capacity, but the country has a vibrant biotech and life-sciences research sector, driven by an excellent university ecosystem and several thousand startup ventures doing cutting-edge research. Many of these firms have cashed in on the pandemic biotech investment boom, racking in a record amount of venture capital in 2020.

But while this influx has changed the funding landscape, many Canadian companies are still trying to reach scale. The Canadian tech ecosystem is full of talent but it hasn’t traditionally developed, recruited and retained enough of the senior people these firms need to develop into global powerhouses.

They don’t just need scientists — they need business leaders. A recent survey of Toronto-area hubs and ventures revealed that biomedical engineering, regenerative medicine and related firms are suffering significant shortages of senior executives, top managers and scientific specialists, who gravitate toward the better pay and opportunities of the U.S. industries.

At a recent summit of Canada’s Innovation Economy Council (IEC), which both our organizations belong to, industry leaders spoke of unfilled jobs in global regulatory affairs and business development, even chief medical officers. These are hybrid roles that require the kind of technical and business acumen forged from both academic training and progressive leadership roles in the workplace.

Canadian universities, hubs and venture-capital firms are reacting to this need by building specialized training institutes and programs. And scaling Canadian companies are trying to fill the gaps by using newly raised cash to recruit heavily in the U.S. and beyond, offering remote work and flexible work hours while striking partnerships and investigating untapped talent pools.

Against this backdrop, Canada’s federal government just delivered its first full budget in two years. It’s one of the most activist tech-spending plans the country has ever rolled out, showing how seriously the federal government is about building out advanced industries and creating STEM jobs at a time when global markets are moving away from the country’s traditional energy exports, natural resources and manufactured goods. The budget includes college research partnerships, hiring subsidies, grants, and support for incubators and hubs. Critically, there is also a $2.2 billion commitment for building a life-sciences talent pipeline.

Canadians have been broadly supportive of government spending to beat back COVID-19 and hasten the transition to a new economy. An IEC/Campaign Research poll conducted in early April found 3:1 public support for investments in postsecondary STEM education and similarly strong support for government investment in advanced manufacturing, including biotech. That’s just what it takes to compete with a neighbor 10 times your size.

It’s fair to say that Canada won’t drain the U.S. of all its research scientists and Big Pharma CEOs anytime soon. But with an influx of investment capital, a burgeoning tech ecosystem and a concerted policy effort to build, recruit and retain a self-sustaining talent ecosystem, it’s flying under the radar as a place the industry increasingly wants to be.

In other words, America, take note: Canada is actively working to attract your biotech talent.

#biotech, #canada, #column, #covid-19, #health, #startups, #stem, #tc, #tcuk, #toronto

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Judge slams hospital staff for comparing COVID vaccine mandate to Nazi crimes

Multistory glass-and-steel hospital.

Enlarge / An American flag flies outside the Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

A federal judge over the weekend dismissed a lawsuit brought by 117 employees of a Houston-based hospital system, who, among other things, claimed that the hospital’s requirement that staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 was akin to medical atrocities carried out by Nazis.

US District Judge Lynn Hughes called that argument “reprehensible” and issued sweeping rejections of their other claims that the mandate violates state and federal laws. In the five-page ruling filed Saturday, Judge Hughes wrote that the lawsuit by the 117 employees—led by coronavirus-unit nurse Jennifer Bridges—contained false statements, misconstrued legal provisions, wrongly claimed coercion, and made otherwise invalid arguments.

Houston Methodist Hospital system issued a mandate April 1 that all staff must be vaccinated against the pandemic coronavirus. Though the vast majority of the hospital system’s nearly 26,000 employees readily complied, 178 did not meet the June 7 deadline and were suspended for two unpaid weeks. If they fail to get fully vaccinated in that window, they face termination.

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#covid-19, #hospital-staff, #houston, #science, #vaccination

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Hospital suspends 178 health care workers for failing to get COVID vaccine

Multistory glass-and-steel hospital.

Enlarge / An American flag flies outside the Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

As of Tuesday, 178 health care workers employed by a Houston-based hospital system are on a two-week unpaid suspension after failing to meet the hospital system’s mandate to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday, June 7.

Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom announced the mandate in April, telling hospital staffers that if they failed to get vaccinated, they would be fired. The 178 suspended employees now have the two unpaid weeks to become fully vaccinated before termination. They can do so by getting the one-shot COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson or a second dose of either of the two mRNA vaccines. Boom noted in a letter to employees sent Tuesday that 27 of the 178 suspended employees have received one dose of vaccine.

The Texas hospital system stood out in issuing the vaccination mandate. Many employers have shied away from mandates, though more employers have followed Houston Methodist’s lead in recent weeks. Overall, the mandate appears successful: about 97 percent of the hospital’s nearly 26,000 employees are fully vaccinated. Boom reported that 24,947 staffers were fully vaccinated, while 285 received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy and other reasons.

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#covid-19, #healthcare-workers, #hospital, #houston, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #science, #vaccine-mandates, #vaccines

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US may miss July 4 vaccination target as number of daily doses plummet

A mostly deserted convention center.

Enlarge / A deserted walk-in COVID-19 mass vaccination site at the Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC, on June 1, 2021. (credit: Getty | ANITA BEATTIE )

The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in the US has now slowed to a crawl after weeks of decline in the number of doses given out each day. The continued trend threatens to further drag out the devastating pandemic. It also now imperils a goal set just last month by President Joe Biden to have 70 percent of American adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.

On Monday, the country’s seven-day average of doses administered per day was again below 1 million, where it has been now for several days. The average hasn’t been this low since January 22. In mid-April, the average peaked at nearly 3.4 million doses a day, following a record of over 4.6 million doses administered in a single day.

With less than a month to go until Independence Day, there’s a real possibility that the US will fall shy of Biden’s 70-percent goal. Currently, about 63.7 percent of adults in the country have received at least one dose. But a chunk of daily doses are now going to adolescents ages 12 to 17, who became eligible for vaccination last month. And total vaccination numbers are still on a significant decline. If current trends hold, the US may only have about 67 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by the Fourth of July, according to one analysis conducted by USA Today.

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#biden, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

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China ramps up vaccinations as other countries back away from its vaccines

Vials of the Sinopharm vaccine in Beijing on June 1.

Enlarge / Vials of the Sinopharm vaccine in Beijing on June 1. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

Despite a sluggish start, China is now vaccinating its people against COVID-19 at an impressive clip, currently averaging nearly 20 million doses administered per day. As of Friday, the country had given more than 720 million vaccinations since mid-December, with nearly 400 million of those were given in May alone.

The dramatic ramp up comes at an awkward time, however. Early adopters of China’s vaccines have seen dramatic surges in COVID-19 cases—despite high vaccination rates—and are now backing away from the country’s offerings.

In Bahrain, for instance, officials are now offering high-risk people who have already received two doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine a third vaccine dose—but one made by Pfizer-BioNTech. The apparent vote of no confidence by officials is striking: Bahrain was one of the first countries to back and rollout Sinopharm’s vaccine, and it has had a highly successful vaccination campaign. Nearly 58 percent of the Persian Gulf country has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and most of the vaccines given in Bahrain are from Sinopharm. But the country is now seeing its worst wave of COVID-19 yet and the government has recently issued a two-week lockdown to try to get transmission under control.

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#china, #covid-19, #science, #sinopharm, #sinovac, #vaccine, #who

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Tech giants still aren’t coming clean about COVID-19 disinformation, says EU

European Union lawmakers have asked tech giants to continue reporting on efforts to combat the spread of vaccine disinformation on their platforms for a further six months.

“The continuation of the monitoring programme is necessary as the vaccination campaigns throughout the EU is proceeding with a steady and increasing pace, and the upcoming months will be decisive to reach a high level of vaccination in Member States. It is key that in this important period vaccine hesitancy is not fuelled by harmful disinformation,” the Commission writes today.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, TikTok and Twitter are signed up to make monthly reports as a result of being participants in the bloc’s (non-legally binding) Code of Practice on Disinformation — although, going forward, they’ll be switching to bi-monthly reporting.

Publishing the latest batch of platform reports for April, the Commission said the tech giants have shown they’re unable to police “dangerous lies” by themselves — while continuing to express dissatisfaction at the quality and granularity of the data that is being (voluntarily) provided by platforms vis-a-via how they’re combating online disinformation generally.

“These reports show how important it is to be able to effectively monitor the measures put in place by the platforms to reduce disinformation,” said Věra Jourová, the EU’s VP for values and transparency, in a statement. “We decided to extend this programme, because the amount of dangerous lies continues to flood our information space and because it will inform the creation of the new generation Code against disinformation. We need a robust monitoring programme, and clearer indicators to measure impact of actions taken by platforms. They simply cannot police themselves alone.”

Last month the Commission announced a plan to beef up the voluntary Code, saying also that it wants more players — especially from the adtech ecosystem — to sign up to help de-monitize harmful nonsense.

The Code of Practice initiative pre-dates the pandemic, kicking off in 2018 when concerns about the impact of ‘fake news’ on democratic processes and public debate were riding high in the wake of major political disinformation scandals. But the COVID-19 public health crisis accelerated concern over the issue of dangerous nonsense being amplified online, bringing it into sharper focus for lawmakers.

In the EU, lawmakers are still not planning to put regional regulation of online disinformation on a legal footing, preferring to continue with a voluntary — and what the Commission refers to as ‘co-regulatory’ — approach which encourages action and engagement from platforms vis-a-vis potentially harmful (but not illegal) content, such as offering tools for users to report problems and appeal takedowns, but without the threat of direct legal sanctions if they fail to live up to their promises.

It will have a new lever to ratchet up pressure on platforms too, though, in the form of the Digital Services Act (DSA). The regulation — which was proposed at the end of last year  — will set rules for how platforms must handle illegal content. But commissioners have suggested that those platforms which engage positively with the EU’s disinformation Code are likely to be looked upon more favorably by the regulators that will be overseeing DSA compliance.

In another statement today, Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the EU’s Internal Market, suggested the combination of the DSA and the beefed up Code will open up “a new chapter in countering disinformation in the EU”.

“At this crucial phase of the vaccination campaign, I expect platforms to step up their efforts and deliver the strengthened Code of Practice as soon possible, in line with our Guidance,” he added.

Disinformation remains a tricky topic for regulators, given that the value of online content can be highly subjective and any centralized order to remove information — no matter how stupid or ridiculous the content in question might be — risks a charge of censorship.

Removal of COVID-19-related disinformation is certainly less controversial, given clear risks to public health (such as from anti-vaccination messaging or the sale of defective PPE). But even here the Commission seems most keen to promote pro-speech measures being taken by platforms — such as to promote vaccine positive messaging and surface authoritative sources of information — noting in its press release how Facebook, for example, launched vaccine profile picture frames to encourage people to get vaccinated, and that Twitter introduced prompts appearing on users’ home timeline during World Immunisation Week in 16 countries, and held conversations on vaccines that received 5 million impressions.

In the April reports by the two companies there is more detail on actual removals carried out too.

Facebook, for example, says it removed 47,000 pieces of content in the EU for violating COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies, which the Commission notes is a slight decrease from the previous month.

While Twitter reported challenging 2,779 accounts, suspending 260 and removing 5,091 pieces of content globally on the COVID-19 disinformation topic in the month of April.

Google, meanwhile, reported taking action against 10,549 URLs on AdSense, which the Commission notes as a “significant increase” vs March (+1378).

But is that increase good news or bad? Increased removals of dodgy COVID-19 ads might signify better enforcement by Google — or major growth of the COVID-19 disinformation problem on its ad network.

The ongoing problem for the regulators who are trying to tread a fuzzy line on online disinformation is how to quantify any of these tech giants’ actions — and truly understand their efficacy or impact — without having standardized reporting requirements and full access to platform data.

For that, regulation would be needed, not selective self-reporting.

 

#code-of-practice-on-disinformation, #covid-19, #deception, #digital-services-act, #disinformation, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #fake-news, #google, #microsoft, #online-content, #online-disinformation, #policy, #social, #thierry-breton, #twitter, #vera-jourova

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EU’s COVID-19 ‘digital pass’ gateway system goes live

A technical system underpinning the European Union’s plan for a pan-EU ‘digital pass’ for verifying COVID-19 vaccination or test status across the region has gone live today, with a handful of EU Member States connected to the gateway and more expected to follow ahead of a July 1 full launch.

The idea for the EU’s COVID-19 digital certificate is to offer a single system for securely verifying EU citizens’ COVID-19 status — whether vaccination; a recent negative test; or proof of recovery from the virus — as they cross borders within the bloc to help facilitate safer travel.

The digital pass relies upon QR codes and digital signatures — verified using public key cryptography — to prevent falsification. Paper-based certificates can also be used by those who do have access to a device.

Member States that have passed technical tests and are ready to do so can start issuing and verifying certificates on a voluntary basis, the Commission said today — with seven countries (Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland) intending to do so at this point.

Other countries have decided to launch the EU Digital COVID Certificate only when all functions are deployed nationwide, it added. Further details about Member States’ status on activating the system are available via this webpage.

Since 10 May, 22 EU countries have tested the gateway successfully, according to the Commission, which wants maximum update of the system by 1 July — when the associated regulation will apply.

Although it’s allowed a “phasing-in period” of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for Member States that need additional time to get everything hooked up. That means it’s possible the tardiest implementations could happen when summer is all but over. (An earlier goal of EU lawmakers that everything would be up and running everywhere by June always looked ambitious.)

The Commission says no personal data is “exchanged or retained” during the COVID-19 digital certificate verification process, noting that the signature keys for the verification are stored on servers at a national level. These keys can be accessed — via the gateway — by national verification apps or systems all across the EU.

The Commission has also developed reference software and apps for the issuance, storage and verification of certificates — which it’s published on GitHub — to support the rollout by EU Member States. The Commission said 12 Member States have made use of this code so far.

National authorities in respective EU countries are in charge of issuing the COVID-19 digital certificate to individuals — with various potential routes for citizens to obtain one, such as from a COVID-19 test centre or from their local health authority or directly via a national eHealth portal.

Commenting on the gateway launch in a statement, Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s commissioner for health and food safety, urged Member States to get on and complete their implementations.

“The EU Digital COVID Certificate shows the value added of effective e-health solutions for our citizens,” she said. “It is important that during the coming weeks, all Member States fully finalise their national systems to issue, store and verify certificates, so the system is functioning in time for the holiday season. EU citizens are looking forward to travelling again, and they want to do so safely. Having an EU certificate is a crucial step on the way.”

Also touching on the COVID-19 digital certification launch today, Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the system will only be in place for one year — presumably that’s assuming the pandemic is actually over by summer 2022.

“The EU certificate is a prime example of digital tools that represent our values,” she said, in a speech addressing the 2021 Digital Assembly. “The EU values privacy. No personal data will be exchanged or retained. The EU is inclusive. Whoever is not vaccinated, can get a digital certificate for test or recovery. Whoever does not have a smartphone, can get it on paper. With the certificate, we want to help people to move freely in times of pandemic. This is why it will only be in place for one year. Europe is a front-runner here and can set standards at the global level.”

In the speech, the Commission’s president also trailed another incoming digital proposal which she said would provide Europeans with a trusted online ID they could use to interact with regional governments and businesses without being forced to hand over more data than is strictly necessary.

“We want to offer to Europeans a new digital identity. An identity that ensures trust and protects users online. We are about to present our proposal,” she said. “It will allow everyone to control their identity online, and to interact with governments and businesses, across the EU. Nobody should be forced to give more data away, than is necessary for the purpose at hand. To book a hotel room online, no-one needs to know where I am from and who my friends are. With our proposal, we are offering an alternative to the models of big online platforms. We believe in a human-centred digital transition.”

#covid-19, #digital-green-pass, #europe, #european-union, #health, #policy, #privacy, #public-key-infrastructure, #ursula-von-der-leyen

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3 views on the future of meetings

More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, early-stage startups across the world are re-inventing how we work. But founders aren’t flocking to build just another SaaS tool or Airtable copycat — they’re trying to disrupt the only thing possibly more annoying than e-mail: the work meeting.

On an episode of this week’s podcast, Equity hosts Alex Wilhelm, Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas discussed a flurry of funding rounds related to the future of work.

Rewatch, which makes meetings asynchronous, raised $20 million from Andreessen Horowitz, AnyClip got $47 million in a round led by JVP for video search and analytics technology, Interactio, a remote interpretation platform, landed $30 million from Eight Roads Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Storm Ventures, and Spot Meetings got Kleiner Perkins on board in a $5 million seed.

We connected the dots between these funding rounds to sketch out three perspectives on the future of workplace meetings. Part of our reasoning was the uptick of investment as mentioned above, and the other is that our calendars are full of them. We all agree that the traditional meeting is broken, so below you’ll find each of our arguments on where they go next and what we’d like to see.

  • Alex Wilhelm: Faster information throughput, please
  • Natasha Mascarenhas: Meetings should be ongoing, not in calendar invites
  • Danny Crichton: Redesign meetings for flow

Alex Wilhelm: Faster information throughput, please

I’ve worked for companies that were in love with meetings, and for companies where meetings were more infrequent. I prefer the latter by a wide margin. I’ve also worked in offices full-time, half-time and fully remote. I immensely prefer the final option.

Why? Work meetings are often a waste of time. Mostly you don’t need to align, most folks taking part are superfluous and as accidental team-building exercises they are incredibly expensive in terms of human-hours.

I am not into wasting time. The more remote I’ve been and the less time I’ve spent in less-formal meetings — the usual chit-chat that pollutes productive work time, making the days longer and less useful — the more I’ve managed to get done.

But I’ve been the lucky one, frankly. Most folks were still trapped in offices up until the pandemic shook up the world of work, finally giving more companies a shot at a whole-cloth rebuild of how they toil.

The good news is that CEOs are taking note. Chatting with Sprout Social CEO Justyn Howard this week, he explained how we have a unique, new chance to not live near where we work in 2021, but to instead bring work to where we live. He’s also an introvert, which meant that as a pair we’ve found a number of positives in some of the changes to how tech and media companies operate. Perhaps we’re a little biased.

A number of startups are rushing to fill the gap between the new expectations that Howard noted and our old digital and IRL realities.

Tandem.chat might be one such company. The former Y Combinator launch-day darling has spent its post-halo period building. Its CEO sent me a manifesto of sorts the other day, discussing how his company approaches the future of work meetings. Tandem is building for a world where communication needs to be both real-time and internal; it leaves asynchronous internal communication to Slack, real-time external communications to Zoom and asynchronous external chats to email. I agree, I think.

#covid-19, #ec-future-of-work, #ec-proptech, #equity-podcast, #podcasts, #real-estate, #remote-work, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting

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Facebook changes misinfo rules to allow posts claiming Covid-19 is man-made

Facebook made a few noteworthy changes to its misinformation policies this week, including the news that the company will now allow claims that Covid was created by humans — a theory that contradicts the previously prevailing assumption that humans picked up the virus naturally from animals.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”

The company is adjusting its rules about pandemic misinformation in light of international investigations legitimating the theory that the virus could have escaped from a lab. While that theory clearly has enough credibility to be investigated at this point, it is often interwoven with demonstrably false misinformation about fake cures, 5G towers causing Covid and most recently the false claim that the AstraZeneca vaccine implants recipients with a bluetooth chip.

Earlier this week, President Biden ordered a multi-agency intelligence report evaluating if the virus could have accidentally leaked out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Biden called this possibility one of two “likely scenarios.”

“… Shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” Biden said in an official White House statement, adding that there isn’t sufficient evidence to make a final determination.

Claims that the virus was man-made or lab-made have circulated widely since the pandemic’s earliest days, even as the scientific community largely maintained that the virus probably made the jump from an infected animal to a human via natural means. But many questions remain about the origins of the virus and the U.S. has yet to rule out the possibility that the virus emerged from a Chinese lab — a scenario that would be a bombshell for international relations.

Prior to the Covid policy change, Facebook announced that it would finally implement harsher punishments against individuals who repeatedly peddle misinformation. The company will now throttle the News Feed reach of all posts from accounts that are found to habitually share known misinformation, restrictions it previously put in place for Pages, Groups, Instagram accounts and websites that repeatedly break the same rules.

#astrazeneca, #biden, #china, #covid-19, #facebook, #government, #misinformation, #president, #social, #tc, #united-states, #white-house

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Ohio lawmakers want to abolish vaccine requirements—all vaccine requirements

A child with measles.

Enlarge / A child with measles. (credit: Greene, Charles Lyman)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s “Vax-a-Million” program began Wednesday, running the first of five $1-million weekly lottery drawings open to residents who have been vaccinated. The effort is one of many incentive programs across the country aimed at getting vaccine-hesitant groups to roll up their sleeves, get vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus, and help end the pandemic.

But, while the lottery has already been hailed as a success in boosting vaccination numbers, conservative lawmakers in the Buckeye State appear to be diligently working toward reversing that trend.

Lawmakers are working on legislation to call off the lottery immediately. They’re also trying to head off any plans for “vaccine passports.” And last month, they introduced a sweeping antivaccination bill that would essentially demolish public health and vaccination requirements in the state—and not just requirements for COVID-19 vaccines, requirements for any vaccine.

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#covid-19, #infectious-diseases, #measles, #public-health, #science, #vaccine-preventable, #vaccines

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Russia tried to spread dangerous lies about Pfizer vaccine, France suspects

Pointy towers at sunset.

Enlarge / The Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

French authorities are investigating whether the Russian government is behind an effort to spread dangerous lies about Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine as part of a disinformation campaign peddled to French bloggers and influencers.

In recent days, several French influencers have publicly noted receiving partnership proposals from a dodgy agency, called Fazze, over email or social media. The proposals, written in broken English, offered enticing lumps of money if the influencers spread entirely false claims and doubts about COVID-19 vaccines. Among the proposed claims is the dangerous falsehood that people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have a death rate three times higher than those who received the vaccine by AstraZeneca.

French news outlet Numerama obtained a copy of one of the emailed offers, which directed influencers to “Tell that mainstream media ignores this theme and you decided to share it with your subscriber [sic].” The offer also said to “put a question like ‘Why some governments actively purchasing Pfizer vaccine, which is dangerous to health of the people[sic]?’” The offer directed influencers to end their messages by encouraging subscribers to “draw their own conclusions.”

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#antivaccine, #bloggers, #covid-19, #france, #influencers, #pfizer, #russia, #science, #sputnik-v, #vaccine, #vaccine-misinformation

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Moderna’s data in kids ages 12-17 “consistent with a vaccine efficacy of 100%”

Extreme close-up photo of a gloved hand holding a tiny jar.

Enlarge / A vial of the current Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (credit: Getty | Ivan Romano)

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine appears safe and highly effective in adolescents ages 12 to 17, according to the top-line results of a small clinical trial the company announced Tuesday.

The company plans to submit the trial data to the US Food and Drug Administration early next month, seeking authorization for expanded use in the age group.

If the FDA grants the authorization, Moderna’s vaccine will be the second COVID-19 vaccine available for use in kids as young as 12 in the US. Earlier this month, the FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in adolescents ages 12 to 15. (The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was initially authorized for use in people ages 16 and up, while Moderna’s was initially authorized for use in people ages 18 and up.)

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#adolescents, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #moderan, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

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COVID cases after vaccination are still very rare—variants aren’t changing that

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest data on breakthrough COVID-19 infections, which are infections among people who have been fully vaccinated against the disease. Yet again, the data suggests that the vaccines are highly effective against infection, as well as severe disease and death. The data breakdown also hints that vaccines are winning the race against variants, which don’t seem to be breaking through at higher rates than expected.

Among approximately 101 million vaccinated people in the US as of April 30, the CDC collected reports of 10,262 breakthrough cases from 46 states and territories. That works out to about 0.01% breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated. This number is almost certainly a significant undercounting, the CDC acknowledges.

Breakthrough monitoring is passive and voluntary; vaccinated people who had asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 infections may not have gotten tested or reported their cases. Only about 27 percent of the 2,725 cases tallied by the CDC were considered asymptomatic. Transmission of COVID-19 was also very high during the monitoring period reported, with about 355,000 COVID-19 cases reported nationally in the week ending on April 30.

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#breakthrough-infections, #cdc, #covid-19, #public-health, #science, #vaccinated, #vaccines

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Interactio, a remote interpretation platform, grabs $30M after seeing 12x growth during COVID-19

Interactio, a remote interpretation platform whose customers include massive institutions like the United Nations, European Commission and Parliament along with corporates like BMW, JP Morgan and Microsoft, has closed a whopping $30 million Series A after usage of its tools grew 12x between 2019 and 2020 as demand for online meeting platforms surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Series A funding is led by Eight Roads Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Storm Ventures, along with participation from Practica Capital, Notion Capital, as well as notable angels such as Jaan Tallinn, the co-founder of Skype, and Young Sohn, ex-chief strategy officer of Samsung.

The Vilnius, Lithuania-based startup offers digital tools to connect meetings with certified interpreters who carry out real-time interpretation to bridge language divides between participants. It does also offer a video conferencing platform which its customers can use to run remote meetings but will happily integrate with thirty party software like Zoom, Webex etc. (Last year it says its digital tools were used alongside 43 different video streaming platforms.)

Interactio’s interpreters can be in the room where the meeting is taking place or doing the real-time interpretation entirely remotely by watching and listening to a stream of the meeting. (Or, indeed, it can support a mix of remote and on-site interpretation, if a client wishes.)

It can also supply all the interpreters for a meeting — and it touts a strict vetting procedure for onboarding certified interpreters to its platform — or else it will provide training to a customer’s interpreters on the use of its tools to ensure things run smoothly on the day.

At present, Interactio says it works with 1,000+ freelance interpreters, as well as touting “strong relations with interpretation agencies” — claiming it can easily quadruple the pool of available interpreters to step up to meet rising demand.

It offers its customers interpretation in any language — and in an unlimited number of languages per event. And last year it says it hosted 18,000+ meetings with 390,000 listeners spread across more than 70 countries.

Now, flush with a huge Series A, Interactio is gearing up for a future filled with increasing numbers of multi-lingual online meetings — as the coronavirus continues to inject friction into business travel.

“When we started, our biggest competition was simultaneous interpretation hardware for on-site interpretation. At that time, we were on the mission to fully replace it with our software that required zero additional hardware for attendees besides their phone and headphones. However, for institutions, which became our primary focus, hybrid meetings are the key, so we started partnering with simultaneous interpretation hardware manufacturers and integrators by working together on hybrid events, where participants use hardware on-site, and online participants use us,” a spokeswoman told us.

“This is how we differentiate ourselves from other platforms — by offering a fully hybrid solution, that can be integrated with hardware on-site basically via one cable.”

“Moreover, when we look at the market trends, we still see Zoom as the most used solution, so we compliment it by offering professional interpretation solutions,” she added.

A focus on customer support is another tactic that Interactio says it relies upon to stand out — and its iOS and Android apps do have high ratings on aggregate. (Albeit, there are bunch of historical complaints mixed in suggesting it’s had issues scaling its service to large audiences in the past, as well as sporadic problems with things like audio quality over the years.)

While already profitable, the 2014-founded startup says the  Series A will be used to step on the gas to continue to meet the accelerated demand and exponential growth it’s seen during the remote work boom.

Specifically, the funds will go on enhancing its tech and UX/UI — with a focus on ensuring ease of access/simplicity for those needing to access interpretation, and also on upgrading the tools it provides to interpreters (so they have “the best working conditions from their chosen place of work”).

It will also be spending to expand its client base — and is especially seeking to onboard more corporates and other types of customers. (“Last year’s focus was and still is institutions (e.g. European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations), where there is no place for an error and they need the most professional solution. The next step will be to expand our client base to corporate clients and a larger public that needs interpretation,” it told us.)

The new funding will also be used to expand the size of its team to support those goals, including growing the number of qualified interpreters it works with so it can keep pace with rising demand.

While major institutions like the UN are never going to be tempted to skimp on the quality of translation provided to diplomats and politicians by not using human interpreters (either on premise or working remotely), there may be a limit on how far professional real-time translation can scale given the availability of real-time machine translation technology — which offers a cheap alternative to support more basic meeting scenarios, such as between two professionals having an informal meeting.

Google, for example, offers a real-time translator mode that’s accessible to users of its smartphone platform via the Google voice assistant AI. Hardware startups are also trying to target real-time translation. The dream of a real-life AI-powered ‘Babel Fish’ remains strong.

Nonetheless, such efforts aren’t well suited to supporting meetings and conferences at scale — where having a centralized delivery service that’s also responsible for troubleshooting any audio quality or other issues which may arise looks essential.

And while machine translation has undoubtedly got a lot better over the years (albeit performance can vary, depending on the languages involved) there is still a risk that key details could be lost in translation if/when the machine gets it wrong. So offering highly scalable human translation via a digital platform looks like a safe bet as the world gets accustomed to more remote work (and less globetrotting) being the new normal.

“AI-driven translation is a great tool when you need a quick solution and are willing to sacrifice the quality,” says Interactio when we ask about this. “Our clients are large corporations and institutions, therefore, any kind of misunderstanding can be crucial. Here, the translation is not about saying a word in a different language, it’s about giving the meaning and communicating a context via interpretation.

“We strongly believe that only humans can understand the true context and meaning of conversations, where sometimes a tone of voice, an emotion and a figure speech can make a huge difference, that is unnoticed by a machine.”

#android, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #covid-19, #eight-roads-ventures, #europe, #european-commission, #european-parliament, #fundings-exits, #interactio, #jaan-tallinn, #jp-morgan, #lithuania, #machine-translation, #microsoft, #notion-capital, #online-meetings, #practica-capital, #remote-work, #saas, #samsung, #silicon-valley, #skype, #storm-ventures, #translation, #translator, #united-nations, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #webex, #young-sohn, #zoom

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Efficacy of Chinese vaccines is “not high”—officials back 3rd dose

A vial and boxes of the Sinopharm Group Co Ltd. Covid-19 vaccine.

Enlarge / A vial and boxes of the Sinopharm Group Co Ltd. Covid-19 vaccine. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Officials in Beijing are reportedly planning to roll out third doses of China’s COVID-19 vaccines. These shots have long been dogged by doubts of their efficacy.

According to a report by The Washington Post, health experts in China say that protection from the vaccines may not last after six months and that people who are at high risk of COVID-19 should get a third dose. Now, state-run media outlets suggest Beijing is on board with the suggestion and is preparing to offer the third doses.

Last week, both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said they would offer third doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to try to boost protection. UAE is offering the extra shots to anyone who was vaccinated six or more months ago. Bahrain is offering third doses to high-risk groups.

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#boosters, #china, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #inactivated-virus-vaccine, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #sinopharm, #sinovac, #vaccine, #vaccine-efficacy

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Lyft, Uber kick off free COVID-19 vaccine rides program

Uber and Lyft have officially started to offer free rides to anyone traveling to get a COVID-19 vaccine, two weeks after the ride-hailing companies announced an agreement with the White House to offer the program.

The free rides will last through July 4, the date when President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated. Lyft and Uber have previously told TechCrunch the companies will cover the costs of the free rides. The White House advised on the development and launch of the product. The White House also shared data on the more than 80,000 vaccination sites in the country, an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Uber is giving riders four one-way rides up to $25 off each. Each of these two round trips must be three weeks apart between Monday and July 4, Uber said in a blog post. Riders can access the program by opening up the Uber app and tapping “vaccine” and then “get your free ride.” The free rides are offered between 6 am and 8 pm. Riders must enter the zip code of their appointment to find the location they are going to or coming from. The rider then selects the provider location and the ride option.

Lyft Vaccine Rides Gif

Image Credits: Lyft

Lyft is offering two roundtrip rides up to $15 each trip. Lyft said if either ride costs more than $15 or if the rider tips their driver, those additional charges will hit their personal form of payment. Lyft is also requiring these free rides be three weeks apart.

The vaccine access program follows efforts by both companies to provide free and discounted rides to underserved communities as well as roll out features to make it easier to access vaccine information and point-of-distribution sites. Uber first rolled out a COVID-relief program in March to offer free rides and deliveries. In December, the company said it would give an additional 10 million free or discounted rides.

Uber announced in April that it was launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab.

Lyft kicked off in December a universal vaccine access campaign, a coalition of partners that includes JPMorgan Chase, Anthem and United Way, to provide 60 million rides to and from vaccination sites for low-income, uninsured and at-risk communities.

#automotive, #covid-19, #lyft, #ride-hailing, #transportation, #uber

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IMF says $50 billion is needed to end Covid pandemic in 2022

A vial with the Pfizer Biontech vaccine.

Enlarge / A vial with the Pfizer Biontech vaccine. (credit: Thomas Lohnes | Getty Images)

The world could “end the pandemic” in mid-2022 by vaccinating 60 percent of the population at a cost of $50 billion, the IMF has said, as rich countries and vaccine manufacturers pledged to address the inequality undermining the global response to coronavirus.

Countries with sufficient vaccine supplies could afford to donate 1 billion doses in 2021, even while continuing to prioritise the immunisation of their own populations against Covid-19, the IMF said in its report released at a virtual G20 Health Summit on Friday.

Combined with upfront financing, the vaccine donations would bring a faster end to the pandemic, saving millions of lives and yielding economic benefits of about $9tn to global gross domestic product by 2025, it estimated.

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#covid-19, #healthcare, #imf, #mrna, #pandemic, #policy, #science, #vaccination

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COVID-19 vaccinations are sparking 14% more matches on OkCupid

OkCupid will soon offer vaccination badges.

Enlarge / OkCupid will soon offer vaccination badges. (credit: OkCupid)

Money can’t buy happiness, as the cliché goes. But a vaccination could get you money and happiness.

While governors in various states are offering a chance at cash prizes to those who have gotten their COVID-19 shots, dating apps are heating things up with alluring vaccination-related features like badges, super swipes, and other “premium” perks.

In a blog post Thursday, OkCupid announced that it will release “I’m Vaccinated” profile badges starting on May 24, and anyone who applies the badge in the first 48 hours will get a free “Boost.” OkCupid will also hook up unvaccinated users with resources to get a shot.

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#andy-slavitt, #covid-19, #dating-apps, #okcupid, #science, #tinder, #vaccination

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Ohio’s 53% vaccination surge tied to $1M lottery; NY and MD announce lotteries

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan stands next to a person dressed as a lottery ball during a press conference on May 20 announcing the state's VaxCash promotion.

Enlarge / Maryland Governor Larry Hogan stands next to a person dressed as a lottery ball during a press conference on May 20 announcing the state’s VaxCash promotion. (credit: Patrick Siebert)

The governors of New York and Maryland on Thursday each announced big cash lotteries to entice their residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The announcements came as westward-neighbor Ohio celebrated the success of its “Vax-a-Million” lottery campaign, which helped boost week-to-week vaccination numbers 53 percent.

The lotteries appear to be part of a growing trend of states and officials offering cash prizes or other incentives to combat slumping vaccination rates. The country’s seven-day average for daily vaccinations has dropped to around 1.8 million, down from a peak of nearly 3.4 million in mid-April.

In a White House COVID-19 press briefing Friday, Senior White House Advisor Andy Slavitt said that, based on the data the administration has seen, the lotteries “appear to be working.”

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#covid-19, #incentives, #infectious-disease, #lottery, #maryland, #new-york, #ohio, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccination

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Need for annual COVID shots hinges on how many people get vaccinated now

A masked man rolls up his sleeve to receive an injection.

Enlarge / Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, receives the Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine during an event at the NIH Clinical Center Masur Auditorium in Bethesda, Maryland, on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

As COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue across the United States, many are wondering how long protection from the shots might last. And if protection is relatively short-lived, what does that mean for the years ahead? Will we need boosters? Will COVID-19 vaccines become an annual jab like the seasonal flu shot?

In back-to-back public interviews, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci provided the current outlook based on the latest data. Boosters are looking likely, but it’s still unclear when we’ll need them, with current speculation landing in the range of a year or so after the previous vaccination. Whether we’ll need them every year seems, for now, dependent on how many people get vaccinated this year.

Boosters

Speaking at an Axios virtual event Wednesday, Dr. Fauci emphasized that “we don’t know exactly when” a booster will be required. We know that the current vaccines remain protective for at least six months—“and likely considerably more,” Fauci added.

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#anthony-fauci, #boosters, #covid-19, #elimination, #eradication, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #science, #seasonal, #transmission, #vaccines

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Before ruining millions of vaccines, Emergent failed inspections, raked in cash

A flatscreen TV shows a serious man in a business suit.

Enlarge / Robert Kramer, President and Chief Executive Officer of Emergent BioSolutions, speaks via videoconference during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on May 19, 2021, in Washington, DC. (credit: Stefani Reynolds-Pool / Getty Images)

When contract-manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions contaminated at least 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and millions more doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine at its Baltimore facility earlier this year, the company had been collecting monthly payments of $27 million from the US government—payments intended to help Emergent avoid just such a manufacturing disaster.

That’s according to a preliminary report from a Congressional investigation, conducted by two House committees—the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis and the Committee on Oversight and Reform. The report was released today and includes a number of troubling new details about the ongoing Emergent scandal.

The monthly “reservation fees” Emergent received were paid out of a questionable $628 million contract from May 2020. The money was intended to help Emergent maintain a state of “cleanliness and readiness” to produce vaccine under proper manufacturing standards and practices. But, as Ars previously reported, an inspection by the Food and Drug Administration in April found that to be far from the case.

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#covid-19, #emergent, #fda, #johnson-johnson, #science, #vaccines

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IFA Berlin 2021 is canceled, citing ‘uncertainties’ around vaccine rollouts

After IFA became one of an extremely small number of in-person trade shows in 2020, the gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH is pulling the plug on this year’s event. Initially planned for September 3-7 at the Messe in Berlin, the large-scale consumer electronics trade show is going on hiatus.

Among other concerns, organizer are citing the emergency of Covid-19 variants and concerns around the speed and consistency with which vaccines have been rolled out globally.

“Ultimately, several key global health metrics did not move as fast in the right direction as had been hoped for – from the rapid emergence of new COVID-19 variants, for example in South Asia, to continued uncertainties about the speed of the rollout of vaccination programmes around the world,” the organization said in a press release. “This in turn is adding uncertainty for the companies that were committed or interested in coming to Berlin, as well as media and visitors – all of whom have to plan well ahead with regards to budgets, investments and travel – not just for IFA, but all similar events around the world.”

Another key issue here is the Messe Berlin (convention center) has been – and continues to be – used as both an emergency medical facility and a vaccination center. The planned Berlin Photo Week at ARENA Berlin and SHIFT Mobility events will continue. IFA, meanwhile, is set to return on September 2, 2022.

The news comes as a number of high profile exhibitors have opted not to exhibit in-person at MWC late next month in Barcelona. The list, thus far, includes Qualcomm, Google, IBM, Nokia, Sony, Oracle, Ericsson, Samsung and Lenovo. As with IFA before it, MWC’s organizers are citing a number of safety precautious and likely – given travel restrictions, MIA exhibitors and a general sense of caution even among vaccinated people – a scaled back event.

MWC will be something of a hybrid event, with both online and in-person exhibits. IFA, meanwhile, appears to be canceled outright. The Berlin show is notably different than other consumer trade shows in that it is partially open to the public.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #events, #hardware, #ifa

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Researchers show neutralizing antibodies correlate with COVID protection

Cartoon of a virus surrounded by small, Y-shaped molecules.

Enlarge / Illustration of antibodies (red and blue) responding to an infection with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (purple). (credit: Getty Images)

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of researchers’ nagging questions involved trying to understand what constitutes immunity to future infections. People who had been infected by the virus produced varying amounts of antibodies, and it wasn’t clear what levels were needed to provide protection. Similar issues applied to figuring out how long protection lasted, given that antibody levels appeared to decline over time. Those questions have implications for whether we will eventually need booster shots to maintain our immunity.

The most common way of looking at immunity at the beginning of the pandemic was to check for neutralizing antibodies, which could block the virus’s ability to infect new cells. But we’ve gone through much of the pandemic without knowing exactly how levels of these antibodies relate to protection.

Evidence has been building that neutralizing antibodies directly correlate with protection, and a new paper provides some of the most decisive evidence yet. The authors also provide some hints about the sort of decline in immunity we might expect.

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#antibodies, #biology, #covid-19, #immunology, #medicine, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science

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Biden pledges to share 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses with the world

An older man in a suit speaks casually from behind a podium.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden speaks to a member of the media after delivering remarks in the East Room of the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris, left, in Washington, DC, on Monday, May 17, 2021. Biden plans to send an additional 20 million doses of vaccines abroad by the end of June. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

President Joe Biden announced on Monday that the United States will share at least 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines with other countries over the next six weeks.

The pledged doses will be in addition to 60 million stockpiled doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine the administration has previously said it will donate after they’re cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

The announcement comes amid mounting pressure for the US and other rich nations to share doses with low- and middle-income countries, some of which are struggling with COVID-19 surges amid a dearth of doses. It also comes as the US has a glut of vaccine doses and is now struggling to convince a vaccine-hesitant portion of the population to take the available shots.

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#biden, #covax, #covid-19, #public-health, #science, #unicef, #vaccine-equity, #vaccines, #who

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CDC defends its abrupt reversal on masks after backlash from experts

A woman adjusts her face mask while sitting in front of a microphone.

Enlarge / Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adjusts her protective mask during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Criticism and confusion have erupted following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s abrupt recommendation last Thursday that fully vaccinated people can immediately shed masks in most settings. The agency is yet again on the defense over its mask guidance.

Mask usage has been one of the most contentious issues throughout the pandemic—and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon. Just last Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky faced a grilling from Senate Republicans, who suggested that the agency was being too slow and too conservative in its health guidance, particularly on the issue of outdoor mask use.

At the time, the agency recommended that fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks in many uncrowded indoor settings as well as in crowded outdoor settings. “We will continue to recommend this until widespread vaccination is achieved,” Walensky said in an April 27 briefing. On that day, around 29 percent of the US population was fully vaccinated.

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#cdc, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health-policy, #infectious-disease, #masks, #public-health, #science, #vaccination, #walensky

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Vaccinated people can now go maskless in most indoor locations

A masked woman walks along a treelined city street.

Enlarge / If you’ve been vaccinated, the CDC now says you can skip the mask and spacing. (credit: Luis Alvarez / Getty Images)

As part of an ongoing press conference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded to recent data on the effectiveness of vaccines and updated its guidance on mask use and physical distancing. Under the new guidance, anyone who is fully vaccinated (meaning two weeks after the final dose of their vaccine) can now skip mask use and social distancing both indoors and outdoors.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities—large or small—without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. There are some exceptions; vaccinated people should still mask up in places like hospitals, airplanes, and other forms of public transport. But for the most part, people who have been vaccinated can return to normal activities.

The press conference is ongoing, and we’ll update this story once it’s over.

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#covid-19, #medicine, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #vaccines

0

Worksome pulls $13M into its high skill freelancer talent platform

More money for the now very buzzy business of reshaping how people work: Worksome is announcing it recently closed a $13 million Series A funding round for its “freelance talent platform” — after racking up 10x growth in revenue since January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a remote working boom.

The 2017 founded startup, which has a couple of ex-Googlers in its leadership team, has built a platform to connect freelancers looking for professional roles with employers needing tools to find and manage freelancer talent.

It says it’s seeing traction with large enterprise customers that have traditionally used Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to manage and pay external workforces — and views employment agency giants like Randstad, Adecco and Manpower as ripe targets for disruption.

“Most multinational enterprises manage flexible workers using legacy MSPs,” says CEO and co-founder Morten Petersen (one of the Xooglers). “These largely analogue businesses manage complex compliance and processes around hiring and managing freelance workforces with handheld processes and outdated technology that is not built for managing fluid workforces. Worksome tackles this industry head on with a better, faster and simpler solution to manage large freelancer and contractor workforces.”

Worksome focuses on helping medium/large companies — who are working with at least 20+ freelancers at a time — fill vacancies within teams rather than helping companies outsource projects, per Petersen, who suggests the latter is the focus for the majority of freelancer platforms.

“Worksome helps [companies] onboard people who will provide necessary skills and will be integral to longer-term business operations. It makes matches between companies and skilled freelancers, which the businesses go on to trust, form relationships with and come back to time and time again,” he goes on.

“When companies hire dozens or hundreds of freelancers at one time, processes can get very complicated,” he adds, arguing that on compliance and payments Worksome “takes on a much greater responsibility than other freelancing platforms to make big hires easier”.

The startup also says it’s concerned with looking out for (and looking after) its freelancer talent pool — saying it wants to create “a world of meaningful work” on its platform, and ensure freelancers are paid fairly and competitively. (And also that they are paid faster than they otherwise might be, given it takes care of their payroll so they don’t have to chase payments from employers.)

The business started life in Copenhagen — and its Series A has a distinctly Nordic flavor, with investment coming from the Danish business angel and investor on the local version of the Dragons’ Den TV program Løvens Hule; the former Minister for Higher Education and Science, Tommy Ahlers; and family home manufacturer Lind & Risør.

It had raised just under $6M prior to thus round, per Crunchbase, and also counts some (unnamed) Google executives among its earlier investors.

Freelancer platforms (and marketplaces) aren’t new, of course. There are also an increasing number of players in this space — buoyed by a new flush of VC dollars chasing the ‘future of work’, whatever hybrid home-office flexible shape that might take. So Worksome is by no means alone in offering tech tools to streamline the interface between freelancers and businesses.

A few others that spring to mind include Lystable (now Kalo), Malt, Fiverr — or, for techie job matching specifically, the likes of HackerRank — plus, on the blue collar work side, Jobandtalent. There’s also a growing number of startups focusing on helping freelancer teams specifically (e.g. Collective), so there’s a trend towards increasing specialism.

Worksome says it differentiates vs other players (legacy and startups) by combining services like tax compliance, background and ID checks and handling payroll and other admin with an AI powered platform that matches talent to projects.

Although it’s not the only startup offering to do the back-office admin/payroll piece, either, nor the only one using AI to match skilled professionals to projects. But it claims it’s going further than rival ‘freelancer-as-a-service’ platforms — saying it wants to “address the entire value chain” (aka: “everything from the hiring of freelance talent to onboarding and payment”).

Worksome has 550 active clients (i.e. employers in the market for freelancer talent) at this stage; and has accepted 30,000 freelancers into its marketplace so far.

Its current talent pool can take on work across 12 categories, and collectively offers more than 39,000 unique skills, per Petersen.

The biggest categories of freelancer talent on the platform are in Software and IT; Design and Creative Work; Finance and Management Consulting; plus “a long tail of niche skills” within engineering and pharmaceuticals.

While its largest customers are found in the creative industries, tech and IT, pharma and consumer goods. And its biggest markets are the U.K. and U.S.

“We are currently trailing at +20,000 yearly placements,” says Petersen, adding: “The average yearly spend per client is $300,000.”

Worksome says the Series A funding will go on stoking growth by investing in marketing. It also plans to spend on product dev and on building out its team globally (it also has offices in London and New York).

Over the past 12 months the startup doubled the size of its team to 50 — and wants to do so again within 12 months so it can ramp up its enterprise client base in the U.S., U.K. and euro-zone.

“Yes, there are a lot of freelancer platforms out there but a lot of these don’t appreciate that hiring is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reducing the friction in working with freelancers,” argues Petersen. “Of the time that goes into hiring, managing and paying freelancers, 75% is currently spent on admin such as timesheet approvals, invoicing and compliance checks, leaving only a tiny fraction of time to actually finding talent.”

Worksome woos employers with a “one-click-hire” offer — touting its ability to find and hire freelancers “within seconds”.

If hiring a stranger in seconds sounds ill-advised, Worksome greases this external employment transaction by taking care of vetting the freelancers itself (including carrying out background checks; and using proprietary technology to asses freelancers’ skills and suitability for its marketplace).

“We have a two-step vetting process to ensure that we only allow the best freelance talent onto the Worksome platform,” Petersen tells TechCrunch. “For step one, an inhouse-built robot assesses our freelancer applicants. It analyses their skillset, social media profiles, profile completeness and hourly or daily rate, as well as their CV and work history, to decide whether each person is a good fit for Worksome.

“For step two, our team of talent specialists manually review and decline or approve the freelancers that pass through step one with a score of 85% or more. We have just approved our 30,000th freelancer and will be able to both scale and improve our vetting procedure as we grow.”

A majority of freelancer applicants fail Worksome’s proprietary vetting processes. This is clear because it says it has received 80,000 applicants so far — but only approved 30,000.

That raises interesting questions about how it’s making decisions on who is (and isn’t) an ‘appropriate fit’ for its talent marketplace.

It says its candidate assessing “robot” looks at “whether freelancers can demonstrate the skillset, matching work history, industry experience and profile depth” deemed necessary to meet its quality criteria — giving the example that it would not accept a freelancer who says they can lead complex IT infrastructure projects if they do not have evidence of relevant work, education and skills.

On the AI freelancer-to-project matching side, Worksome says its technology aims to match freelancers “who have the highest likelihood of completing a job with high satisfaction, based on their work-history, and performance and skills used on previous jobs”.

“This creates a feedback loop that… ensure that both clients and freelancers are matched with great people and great work,” is its circular suggestion when we ask about this.

But it also emphasizes that its AI is not making hiring decisions on its own — and is only ever supporting humans in making a choice. (An interesting caveat since existing EU data protection rules, under Article 22 of the GDPR, provide for a right for individuals to object to automated decision making if significant decisions are being taken without meaningful human interaction.) 

Using automation technologies (like AI) to make assessments that determine whether a person gains access to employment opportunities or doesn’t can certainly risk scaled discrimination. So the devil really is in the detail of how these algorithmic assessments are done.

That’s why such uses of technology are set to face close regulatory scrutiny in the European Union — under incoming rules on ‘high risk’ users of artificial intelligence — including the use of AI to match candidates to jobs.

The EU’s current legislative proposals in this area specifically categorize “employment, workers management and access to self-employment” as a high risk use of AI, meaning applications like Worksome are likely to face some of the highest levels of regulatory supervision in the future.

Nonetheless, Worksome is bullish when we ask about the risks associated with using AI as an intermediary for employment opportunities.

“We utilise fairly advanced matching algorithms to very effectively shortlist candidates for a role based solely on objective criteria, rinsed from human bias,” claims Petersen. “Our algorithms don’t take into account gender, ethnicity, name of educational institutions or other aspects that are usually connected to human bias.”

“AI has immense potential in solving major industry challenges such as recruitment bias, low worker mobility and low access to digital skills among small to medium sized businesses. We are firm believers that technology should be utilized to remove human bias’ from any hiring process,” he goes on, adding: “Our tech was built to this very purpose from the beginning, and the new proposed legislation has the potential to serve as a validator for the hard work we’ve put into this.

“The obvious potential downside would be if new legislation would limit innovation by making it harder for startups to experiment with new technologies. As always, legislation like this will impact the Davids more than the Goliaths, even though the intentions may have been the opposite.”

Zooming back out to consider the pandemic-fuelled remote working boom, Worksome confirms that most of the projects for which it supplied freelancers last year were conducted remotely.

“We are currently seeing a slow shift back towards a combination of remote and onsite work and expect this combination to stick amongst most of our clients,” Petersen goes on. “Whenever we are in uncertain economic times, we see a rise in the number of freelancers that companies are using. However, this trend is dwarfed by a much larger overall trend towards flexible work, which drives the real shift in the market. This shift has been accelerated by COVID-19 but has been underway for many years.

“While remote work has unlocked an enormous potential for accessing talent everywhere, 70% of the executives expect to use more temporary workers and contractors onsite than they did before COVID-19, according to a recent McKinsey study. This shows that businesses really value the flexibility in using an on-demand workforce of highly skilled specialists that can interact directly with their own teams.”

Asked whether it’s expecting growth in freelancing to sustain even after we (hopefully) move beyond the pandemic — including if there’s a return to physical offices — Petersen suggests the underlying trend is for businesses to need increased flexibility, regardless of the exact blend of full-time and freelancer staff. So platforms like Worksome are confidently poised to keep growing.

“When you ask business leaders, 90% believe that shifting their talent model to a blend of full-time and freelancers can give a future competitive advantage (Source: BCG),” he says. “We see two major trends driving this sentiment; access to talent, and building an agile and flexible organization. This has become all the more true during the pandemic — a high degree of flexibility is allowing organisations to better navigate both the initial phase of the pandemic as well the current pick up of business activity.

“With the amount of change that we’re currently seeing in the world, and with businesses are constantly re-inventing themselves, the access to highly skilled and flexible talent is absolutely essential — now, in the next 5 years, and beyond.”

#adecco, #artificial-intelligence, #copenhagen, #covid-19, #employment, #enterprise, #europe, #european-union, #fiverr, #flexible-work, #freelance-marketplace, #freelancer, #fundings-exits, #kalo, #labor, #london, #new-york, #personnel, #remote-work, #saas, #telecommuting, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #upwork, #work, #worksome

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CDC advisory committee recommends COVID vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds

A masked child watches a healthcare worker perform an injection.

Enlarge / With new data, we’re able to expand vaccinations to ever-younger populations. (credit: Roberto Jimenez Mejias / Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the CDC approve the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the 12- to 15-year age group. The decision comes two days after the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for the same age group and will help the US further limit the pool of people who can spread infections or foster the evolution of new viral variants. Formal CDC approval could come quickly, given recent history.

Given the FDA’s earlier decision, the move might seem anticlimactic. But having the FDA and CDC officially on the same page is reassuring, and several state-run vaccination programs are awaiting the CDC’s OK before expanding into that age group. Private providers and insurance companies were also varied in their response to the FDA’s decision and were waiting for the CDC.

The data that supported the approval was pretty decisive, as a small Phase III clinical trial of 2,260 adolescents saw 16 cases of COVID-19, with every single one occurring in the placebo group. Side effects were similar to those experienced by older people, with a brief period of flu-like symptoms. The committee was tasked with considering whether the benefits outweighed the risks; given the minor side effects and the increasingly obvious benefits of vaccination, it’s not a surprise that the vote in favor of approval by the committee was 14 in favor, none opposing, and a single recusal. The CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, is overwhelmingly likely to follow the committee’s recommendation, most likely before the day is over. (We’ll update this story if and when this occurs.)

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#cdc, #covid-19, #fda, #medicine, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccines

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States won’t receive J&J doses next week amid ongoing production failures

The Emergent BioSolutions plant, a manufacturing partner for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 9, 2021.

Enlarge / The Emergent BioSolutions plant, a manufacturing partner for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Saul Loeb)

States will not receive shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine next week, according to a report by Politico.

White House officials told governors in a call Tuesday that there are no new doses available for order. It’s unclear if the federal government will be able to distribute doses through other channels, such as those that provide vaccines directly to pharmacies and community health centers.

The dried-up supply is just the latest trouble for Johnson & Johnson, which has consistently struggled to produce its vaccine in the US.

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#astrazeneca, #covid-19, #emergent-biosolutions, #fda, #johnson-johnson, #public-health, #science, #vaccine

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Holidu books $45M after growing its vacation rentals business ~50% YoY during COVID-19

Vacation rental startup Holidu has tucked $45 million in Series D funding into its suitcase — bringing its total raised since being founded back in 2014 to more than $120M.

The latest funding round is led by 83North with participation from existing investors Prime Ventures, EQT ventures, Coparion, Senovo, Kees Koolen, Lios Ventures and Chris Hitchen. Also participating, with both equity and debt, is Claret Capital (formerly Harbert European Growth Capital).

The financing will be ploughed into product development; doubling the size of the tech team; and on building out partnerships to keep expanding supply, Holidu said.

While the global pandemic clearly hasn’t been kind to much of the travel industry, the Munich-headquartered startup has been able to benefit from coronavirus-induced shifts in traveller behavior.

People who may have booked city breaks or hotels pre-COVID-19 are turning to private holiday accommodation in greater numbers than before — so they can feel safer about going on holiday and perhaps enjoy more space and fresh air than they’ve had at home during coronavirus lockdowns.

Having flexible cancelation options is also now clearly front of mind for travellers — and Holidu credits moving quickly to build in flexible cancellation and payment solutions with helping fuel its growth during the pandemic.

Holidu’s meta search engine compares listings on sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, HomeAway and Vrbo and provides holidaymakers with tools to zoom in on relevant rentals — offering granular filters for property amenities; property type; and distances to the beach/lake etc.

It can also be used to search only for listings with a free cancelation policy.

“We see that many travellers have chosen vacation rentals in rural destinations over hotels or cities,” confirms CEO and co-founder Johannes Siebers. “In spite of this shift in preference, the overall European vacation rental market declined in 2020 due to the strong travel restrictions in many months. Holidu managed to grow against this trend by responding very quickly to the increased demand for domestic lodging and for flexible cancellation options.”

The startup saw year-over-year growth of circa 50% in 2020 — and greater than 2x growth in its contribution margin, per Siebers.

“[That] enabled us to become profitable with our search business,” he adds. “Revenues for 2021 are still difficult to forecast due to the uncertain pandemic and political outlook but we expect a significantly higher growth rate compared to 2020.”

Holidu is active in 21 countries with its search engine — which now combines more than 15M vacation rental offers from over a thousand travel sites and property managers. In July 2020 alone, it said that more than 27M travellers used the product.

Its search engine business has a mixed business model, with Holidu taking a commission per click with a minority of its partners and earning a commission for each booking generated with the majority.

In another strand of its business, under the Bookiply brand, it works directly with property owners to help them maximize bookings via a software-and-service solution — offering to take the digital management strain in exchange for a cut of (successful) bookings.

Back in 2019 it was managing 5,000 properties via Bookiply. Now Siebers says it’s “on track” to grow to more than 10,000 properties by the end of this year.

Bookiply has become the largest supplier of vacation rentals in what it described as “important leisure destinations” such as the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands and Sardinia (which are all very popular holiday destinations with German travellers).

Part of the Series D funding will go on opening more Bookiply offices across Europe so it can grow its service offering for regional vacation rental owners.

The division aims to reach property owners whose properties are not yet online, as well as optimizing digital listings that aren’t doing as well as they might, so having physical service locations is a strategy to help with onboarding owners who may be newbies to digital listing.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Laurel Bowden, partner at 83North said: “Vacation rentals are a very competitive market and Holidu’s growth throughout the pandemic has been highly impressive. We are attracted by their strong operating efficiency and proven ability to grow market by market.”

Last year Holidu was among scores of startups in the travel, accommodation and jobs sectors that signed a letter to the European Commission urging antitrust action against Google.

The coalition accused the tech giant of unfairly leveraging its dominant position in search in order to elbow into other markets via tactics like self-preferencing, warning EU lawmakers that homegrown businesses were at risk without swift enforcement to rein in abusive behaviors.

Although in Holidu’s case it’s managed to grow despite the pandemic — and despite Google.

Asked how much of an ongoing concern Google’s behavior is for the growth of its business, Siebers told TechCrunch: “Given its size and market position, we believe Google carries a special responsibility in the search market. Furthermore, we believe in merit based competition to drive innovation and provide users with the best products. We have joined the letter to the EC as in our view, Google does not fully live up to its responsibilities in all areas of its product.

“The way Google displays specialized search products in many travel verticals does, in our view, not comply with the principle of fair, merit based competition. It gives Google’s own product eyeballs which no other player could attract in the same way.”

“We have not yet seen noticeable changes in Google’s search box integration but we are confident that Google will eventually provide a level playing field. Even if this would take some time and is important, we are not overly worried as we have a very diversified business. Among others, with Bookiply we have a strongly growing offering towards homeowners which is independent of Google’s activities in the market,” he added.

Since the coalition wrote the letter the Commission has unveiled a legislative proposal to apply ex ante regulations to so called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms — a designation that looks highly likely to apply to Google, although the Digital Markets Act (DMA) is still a long way off becoming pan-EU law.

Siebers said Holidu supports this plan for a set of ‘dos and don’ts’ that the most powerful platforms must abide by.

“We are supportive of the commission’s proposal and believe not only the act itself but also enforcement will drive innovation and better products for customers,” he added. “Enabling free and fair competition is a core deliverable for a regulator in a market place and we have high expectations towards the EU in this regard. If we achieve this, I am certain we will  see an  increase in innovation, investments and activities in areas which are currently impacted by gatekeeper’s activities.”

#83north, #airbnb, #booking-holdings, #booking-com, #covid-19, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #holidu, #homeaway, #kees-koolen, #laurel-bowden, #munich, #payment-solutions, #prime-ventures, #search, #search-engine, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #travel-industry, #travel-sites, #vacation-rental, #vrbo

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Huma, which uses AI and biomarkers to monitor patients and for medical research, raises $130M

While much of the world eagerly watches to see if the vaccination rollout helps curb and eventually stamp out Covid-19, one of the companies that has been helping to manage the spread of the virus is announcing a big round of funding on the heels for strong demand for its technology.

Huma, which combines data from biomarkers with predictive algorithms both to help monitor patients, and uses the same technology to help researchers and pharmaceutical companies run clinical trials, has closed an equity round of $130 million, a Series C that the company can extend to $200 million by way of a $70 million debt line if it chooses.

Huma can pick up data that patients contribute via smartphones, or by way of diagnostic devices that measure glucose, blood pressure or oxygen saturation, and the plan will be to use the funding to augment that in a couple of ways: to continue investing in R&D to both expand the kinds of biomarkers that Huma can measure and to work on more research and trials; to continue expanding London-based Huma’s business particularly in newer geographies like the US, alongside a strong wave of business it’s been seeing in Europe, specifically the UK and the DACH region.

The funding includes a number of high-profile strategic and financial backers that speak to some of the opportunities coming down the pike. Co-led by Leaps by Bayer, the VC division of the pharmaceutical and life sciences giant, and Hitachi Ventures, it also includes Samsung Next, Sony Innovation Fund by IGV (one of Sony’s investment funds), Unilever Ventures and HAT Technology & Innovation Fund, Nikesh Arora (the former president of SoftBank and ex-Google exec) and Michael Diekmann (Chairman of Allianz) all in the round. Bayer also led Huma’s $25 million Series B in 2019, when the startup was still called Medopad.

Medopad rebranded to Huma last year in April, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was really taking hold across the world. In the year since, CEO and founder Dan Vahdat said that the company has been on a growth tear, working hard across the spectrum of areas where its technology could prove useful, since it provides a bridge to monitoring patients remotely, at a time when it’s been significantly more challenging to see people in person.

“Last year when the pandemic first hit, it made everyone’s lives miserable not just from the health aspect but also research aspect,” he said. “The whole idea is how to decentralize care and research.”

Its work has included partnering with the NHS early on to ship some 1 million oxygen saturation devices to monitor how patients’ levels were faring, since that was early on discovered to be a leading indicator of whether a patient would need urgent medical care: this was essential way to triage people remotely at a time when hospitals were quickly getting overwhelmed with people. Vahdat said this directly helped reduce readmissions by one-third.

It is also playing a role in helping to monitor all the many patients who had been due to have operations but found those postponed. In the UK alone, there were 4.8 million people waiting as a result for their procedures, “a shocking number,” Vahdat said. How to handle that queue? The idea here, he said, is that when you are a patient at home waiting for cardiac surgery, your condition might deteriorate quickly. Or it may not. Huma set up a system to provide diagnostics for those patients to monitor how they were doing: signs that they were not doing well meant they would get moved up and brought in to be seen by a specialist before they deteriorated and became urgent rather than managed cases.

Alongside this clinical work, Huma has also been working on a number of trials and research, including a phase 4 study on one of the Covid-19 vaccines that has been getting distributed under emergency authorization (this is a regulatory process that comes in the wake of that authorization).

It’s also been continuing to contribute essential data to ongoing medical research. One that the company can disclose that is not directly related to Covid-19 is a heart study for Bayer; and one that is related to Covid-19 — finding better biomarkers (specifically in looking at digital phenotypes) to detect Covid-19 infections earlier — called the Cambridge Fenland study.

This long list of work has meant that Huma still has much of its Series B in the bank, and so it’s also been turning its attention to humanitarian work, donating resources to India and other countries still in the throes of their own Covid-19 crises.

Although startups that bridge the worlds of medicine and technology can be very long plays, the last year has shown not just how vital it is to invest in the smartest of these to see out their ambitions for the greater good of all of us, but that, when they do have their breakthroughs, it can prove to be a huge thing for the companies and investors. BioNTech’s last year has been nothing short of a stratospheric turnaround, going from a loss-making business to one producing more than $1 billion in profit in the last quarter on the back of its Covid-19 vaccine research and work with Pfizer.

It’s for that reason that so many investors are keen to continue supporting the likes of Huma and the insights it provides.

“Aligned with the vision of Leaps by Bayer, Huma’s expertise and technology will help drive a global paradigm shift towards prevention and care and may boost research efforts using data and digital technology,” said Juergen Eckhardt, Head of Leaps by Bayer, in a statement. “We invest into the most disruptive technologies of our time that have the potential to change the world for the better. As an early investor into Huma we know how perfectly the company fits into that frame as one of the leading digital innovators in healthcare and life sciences.”

“Huma has built a comprehensive remote patient monitoring platform and established a strong track-record and we are excited to be working with Huma to bring its world-leading health technology to new markets in Asia. We believe that together we can advance new digital health products to power better care and research for all,” added Keiji Kojima, EVP of Hitachi’s Smart Life division.

#artificial-intelligence, #biomarkers, #biotech, #covid-19, #europe, #funding, #health, #huma

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Rare, flesh-eating “black fungus” rides COVID’s coattails in India

A person wrapped in white protective gear steps out of the back of a van.

Enlarge / A health worker exits an ambulance outside a quarantine center in the Goregaon suburb of Mumbai, India, on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

As the pandemic coronavirus continues to ravage India, doctors are reporting a disturbing uptick in cases of a rare, potentially fatal fungal infection among people recovered or recovering from COVID-19.

The infection is called mucormycosis, or sometimes “black fungus” in media reports, and it appears to be attacking COVID-19 patients through the nose and sinuses, where it can aggressively spread to facial bones, the eyes, and even the brain (rhinocerebral mucormycosis). In other cases, the fungus can also attack the lungs, breaks in the skin, and the gastrointestinal system or spread throughout the body in the blood stream.

A classic feature of mucormycosis is tissue necrosis—the death of flesh, essentially—which, in the rhinocerebral form of the disease, can lead to black, discolored lesions on and in the face, particularly on the bridge of the nose and the roof of the mouth. Mucormycosis is fatal in around 50 percent of cases.

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#black-fungus, #covid-19, #diabetes, #immunocompromised, #india, #infectious-disease, #mucormycosis, #public-health, #science

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As tech offices begin to reopen, the workplace could look very different

The pandemic forced many employees to begin working from home, and, in doing so, may have changed the way we think about work. While some businesses have slowly returned to the office, depending on where you live and what you do, many information workers remain at home.

That could change in the coming months as more people get vaccinated and the infection rate begins to drop in the U.S.

As that happens, it is likely that more offices will reopen. We’ve already heard from major employers like Salesforce, which indicated it will be allowing a percentage of its workforce back to the office this month, starting with the company’s San Francisco headquarters. The CRM giant plans to move slow and follow the government’s lead, allowing 20% capacity at first and hoping to build to 70% over time.

Most companies aren’t the size of Salesforce, which boasts a worldwide workforce of more than 50,000 employees. These smaller companies often don’t control entire skyscrapers, as Salesforce does in San Francisco. That creates complicating factors, including managing people who aren’t willing to be vaccinated, dealing with social distancing and masking, and sharing buildings or floors with other companies.

Even more, many companies have discovered that their employees work just fine at home. And some workers don’t want to waste time stuck on congested highways or public transportation now that they’ve learned to work remotely. But other employees suffered in small spaces or with constant interruptions from family. Those folks may long to go back to the office.

On balance, it seems clear that whatever happens, for many companies, we probably aren’t going back whole-cloth to the prior model of commuting into the office five days a week.

Last August, we spoke to a number of tech company executives about what returning to the office could look like. We recently went back to most of those same executives, as well as a Rhode Island state official and a medical expert we spoke to then to revisit the idea and talk about what’s changed and what work could look like as move slowly toward the post-pandemic era.

The office will never be the same

While their approaches vary, all of the executives I spoke to said that they foresee adopting a hybrid model when they can return in earnest, although there were definitely different interpretations of what that means, and what the office structure will look like.

#covid-19, #ec-future-of-work, #ec-real-estate-and-proptech, #health, #real-estate, #startups, #work-from-home

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AstraZeneca’s troubled vaccine not renewed in EU; Pfizer gets big, new deal

Vials with COVID-19 Vaccine labels showing logos of pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech.

Enlarge / Vials with COVID-19 Vaccine labels showing logos of pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech. (credit: Getty | Photonews)

The European Union has declined to renew orders for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, an EU official said Sunday. The decision comes after a series of production and safety troubles with AstraZeneca’s vaccine—and news on Saturday that the EU signed a deal to have Pfizer and BioNTech provide up to 1.8 billion doses of their vaccine between 2021 and 2023.

Last month, the EU took legal action against AstraZeneca, alleging that the company had failed to live up to its contract to supply the bloc with doses. The contract ends in June.

“We did not renew the order after June,” European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a Sunday French radio interview, which was reported by Reuters. “We’ll see what happens,” he added, leaving open the possibility of future orders.

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