Put your city on the TC map — TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put your city on the Techcrunch Map!

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last 6 or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service which unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys (as you can see below) the cities we wrote about were largely capitals.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and generally how your city will evolve.

We leave submissions mostly un-edited, and generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Austria: Graz, Linz
Belgium: Antwerp
Croatia: Zagreb, Osjek
Czech Republic: Brno, Ostrava, Plzen
England: Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester
Estonia: Tartu
France: Toulouse, Lyon, Lille
Germany: Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Bielefeld, Frankfurt
Greece: Thessaloniki
Ireland: Cork
Israel: Jerusalem
Italy: Trieste, Bologna, Turin, Florence, Milan
Netherlands: Delft, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Utrecht
Northern Ireland: Belfast, Derry
Poland: Gdańsk, Wroclaw, Krakow, Poznan
Portugal: Porto, Braga
Romania: Cluj, Lasi, Timisoara, Oradea, Brasov
Scotland: Edinburgh, Glasgow
Spain: Valencia
Sweden: Malmo
Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher

Here are the cities that previously participated in The Great TechCrunch Survey of Europe’s VCs:

Amsterdam/Netherlands

Athens/Greece

Berlin/Germany

Brussels/Belgium

Bucharest/Romania

Copenhagen/Denmark

Dublin/Ireland

Helsinki/Finland

Lisbon/Portugal

London/UK

Madrid & Barcelona/Spain (Part 1 & Part 2)

Oslo/Norway

Paris/France

Prague/Czech Republic

Rome, Milan/Italy

Stockholm/Sweden

Tel Aviv/Israel

Vienna/Austria

Warsaw/Poland (Part 1 & Part 2)

Zurich/Switzerland

#articles, #austria, #bristol, #business, #cambridge, #cologne, #economy, #edinburgh, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #florence, #hamburg, #munich, #oxford, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #trieste, #verizon-media

Moderna says it’s making variant-specific COVID-19 vaccines, but its existing vaccine should still work

Moderna has detailed some of the steps it’s taking to ensure that its vaccine remains effective in the face of emerging strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19. These include testing how adding a second booster, for a total of three shots, works with its existing COVID-19 vaccine, and also developing a strain-specific variant designed to target spike proteins on the new variants of the virus that were first identified in the UK and in South Africa.

The company is pursuing these measures “out of an abundance of caution,” the biotech firm said in a press release, since early studies show that the existing vaccine continues to prove effective against these new strains, albeit with some loss of efficacy specifically with the B.1.351 variant which was first identified in patients in South Africa. Even so, it’s heartening to see the company moving quickly to address the virus’ mutation, since it’s likely that similar adaptations will be required longer term to keep COVID-19 in control even once the current pandemic is ended.

Further, Moderna says that in fact, it expects both its forthcoming candidate and its existing booster vaccine should be able to provide additional immunity posting capabilities when used in combination with “all of the leading vaccine candidates” on the market. That means the company believes it could be used in combination with the Oxford or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to boost immunity, which could be helpful in cases where supplies of one or the other are low and there’s an urgent need to provide a booster in a timely manner.

The best news of all of this is, of course, that Moderna now has evidence that suggests the mRNA-based vaccine it’s already providing to people globally will still provide protection against SARS-CoV-2, and by extension, COVID-19. Specifically for the UK variant in particular, the study data shows no reduction in immune performance in patients who received the vaccine. As for the South African variant, that reduction in efficacy mostly translates to a potential of quicker waning of immunity provided by the jab – which hopefully just means people will need another jab sooner than expected, but shouldn’t lead to any dramatic changes in our combined global approach to providing inoculations, especially initially.

#biontech, #biotech, #clinical-trials, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #oxford, #pfizer, #south-africa, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vaccine

FDA authorizes Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, as expected after an independent panel commissioned by the administration recommended its approval earlier this week. This is the second vaccine now authorized for use in the U.S. under EUA, after the Pfizer -BioNTech vaccine was approved last week.

Moderna’s vaccine could begin being administered to Americans by “Monday or Tuesday” next week, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci speaking to NBC’s Today show in a new interview. That’s in keeping with the timelines between the Pfizer EUA and the first patients actually receiving the vaccine last week.

Like Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s is an mRNA therapy. That means that it contains no actual virus — just genetic instructions that tell a person’s body to create a specific protein. That protein is more or less identical to the one that SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, uses to attach to a host’s cells and replicate. Moderna’s vaccine causes a person to create just the protein, which on its own is harmless, and then their natural defenses via their immune system react to that and develop a method for fighting it off. That defense system is “remembered” by the body, while the vaccine itself naturally dissolves after a brief time, leaving a person with immunity but nothing else.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has yet to be approved for use in the U.S., uses a weakened and modified common cold virus that doesn’t spread in humans to create the spike protein in recipients, resulting in the body generating its own immune response. That’s a much more tried-and-tested method for creating a vaccine, but both Moderna and Pfizer’s mRNA therapies have shown to be very effective in preliminary data from their large Phase 3 clinical trials.

#astrazeneca, #biontech, #biotech, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #moderna, #oxford, #pfizer, #science, #tc, #united-states, #vaccine

Magdrive secures Seed funding for new propulsion system which could take us to the stars

A startup with a new type of spacecraft propulsion system could make the interplanetary travel seen in Star Trek a reality. Magdrive has just closed a £1.4M seed round led by Founders Fund, an early investor in SpaceX, backed by Luminous Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Entrepreneur First.

Magdrive is developing a next generation of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. The startup says its engine’s thrust and efficiency are a “generational leap” ahead of any other electrical thrusters, opening up the space industry to completely new types of missions that were not possible before, without resorting to much larger, expensive and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make fast and affordable interplanetary space travel possible, as well as operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would also make orbital manufacturing far more possible than previously.

Existing electrical solutions are very efficient but have very low thrust. Chemical thrusters have high thrust but lack efficiency and are hazardous and expensive to handle. Magdrive says its engine can deliver both high thrust and high efficiency in one system.

Magdrive prototype render

Magdrive prototype render

If it works, the Magdrive engine could make spacecraft go faster for longer. This could open up the industry to new space missions, such as a satellite (or X-wing fighter?) that can make multiple, fast maneuvers, without worrying about conserving fuel. In order to do this right now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a significant payload in fuel for launch. A 200kg satellite would require 50kg of hydrazine fuel, which would cost £1,350,000 in launch mass alone.

Co-founder (and Star Trek fan) Dr Thomas Clayson did a PhD in plasma physics, working on advanced electromagnetic fields. He realized this could be a cornerstone for developing a plasma thruster that could achieve the accelerations required for interplanetary space travel. After meeting Mark Stokes, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London with similar dreams of space travel, they decided to build a small scale thruster for satellites.

But Magdrive is not alone. Other companies are developing so-called ‘Hall Effect Thrusters’, which is a technology that has existed since the 1960’s. Much of the development is towards miniaturization and mass reduction, but thrust and efficiency remain the same. These companies include Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. Meanwhile, large international companies with huge technology portfolios are working on improving chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to handle, such as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.

They plan to scale up our technology to power larger manned spacecraft (once in orbit) to long-distance destinations such as the Moon and Mars. Our system would present a much more affordable than a chemical or nuclear solution, due to the huge reduction in fuel costs, and because it is reusable.

Andrew J Scott, Founding Partner, 7percent Ventures: “At 7percent we seek founding teams with ‘moonshot’ ambitions. With Magdrive this is not just a metaphor: their revolutionary plasma thruster will soon be powering satellites, but in the future could take us to deep space. While the UK’s expertise in constructing satellites is world-renowned, there has been far less focus on propulsion. In fact, Great Britain is the only country to have successfully developed and then, in the 1970’s abandoned, an indigenous satellite launch capability, which undoubtedly curbed the UK’s space sector. So we’re excited to be backing Magdrive, one of a new generation of British space startups, which has the vision and ambition to become a world-beating company in this burgeoning sector.”

The satellite industry is worth $5 Billion in 2020, predicted to grow to USD$30Billion by 2030, due to the rise in mega-constellations. Some 5,000 satellites are due to be launched in the next two years and 75% of all the companies launching these satellites have already flown something in space.

Magdrive is at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.

#aerojet-rocketdyne, #apollo-fusion, #busek, #co-founder, #emerging-technologies, #entrepreneur, #europe, #founders-fund, #imperial-college-london, #ion-engines, #isp, #luminous-ventures, #moog, #outer-space, #oxford, #space-travel, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-kingdom

Bristol entrepreneur who exited for $800M doubles-down on the city with deep-tech incubator and VC fund

Harry Destecroix co-founded Ziylo while studying for his PhD at the University of Bristol. Ziylo, a university spin-out company, developed a synthetic molecule allowing glucose to bind with the bloodstream more effectively. Four years later, and by then a Phd, Destecroix sold the company to Danish firm Novo Nordisk, one of the biggest manufacturers of diabetes medicines, which had realized it could use Ziylo’s molecule to develop a new type of insulin to help diabetics. He walked away with an estimated $800m.

Destecroix is now embarking on a project, “Science Creates”, to repeat the exercise of creating deep-tech, science-based startups, and it will once more be based out of Bristol.

To foster this deep tech ecosystem it will offer a specialized incubator space able to house Wet Labs, a £15 million investment fund and a network of strategic partners to nurture science and engineering start-ups and spin-outs.

The Science Creates hub, in partnership with the University of Bristol and located in the heart of the city, is aspiring to become a sort of ‘West Coast’ for England, and the similarities, at least with an earlier version of Silicon Valley, are striking.

The Bay Area of old was cheaper than the East Coast of the US, had a cornerstone university, access to capital, and plenty of talent. Bristol has all that and for capital, it can access London, less than 90 minutes by train. But what it’s lacked until now is a greater level of “clustering” and startup-focused organization, which is clearly what Destecroix is planning to fix.

In a statement for the launch, he explained: “Where a discovery is made has a huge bearing on whether it’s successfully commercialized. While founding my own start-up, Ziylo, I became aware of just how many discoveries failed to emerge from the lab in Bristol alone. No matter the quality of the research and discovery, the right ecosystem is fundamental if we are going to challenge the global 90% failure rate of science start-ups, and create many more successful ventures.”

Science Creates is be grown out of the original incubator, Unit DX, that Destecroix set up in collaboration with the University of Bristol in 2017 to commercialize companies like his own.

The Science Creates team

The Science Creates team

The ‘Science Creates ecosystem’ will comprise of:

Science Creates Incubators: Unit DX houses 37 scientific and engineering companies working on healthtech, the environment and quality of life. The opening of a second incubator, Unit DY, close to Bristol Temple Meads train station, will mean it can support 100 companies and an estimated 450 jobs. The Science Creates’ physical footprint across the two units will reach 45,000 sq ft.

Science Creates Ventures: This £15 million EIS venture capital fund is backed by the Bristol-based entrepreneurs behind some of the South-West’s biggest deep tech exits.

Science Creates Network: This will be a portfolio of strategic partners, mentors and advisors tailored to the needs of science and engineering start-ups.

Destecroix is keen that the startups nurtured there will have more than “Wi-Fi and strong coffee” but also well-equipped lab space as well as sector-specific business support.

He’s betting that Bristol, with its long history of academic and industrial research, world-class research base around the University of Bristol, will be able to overcome the traditional challenges towards the commercialization of deep tech and science-based startups.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President at the University of Bristol, commented: “We are delighted to support the vision and help Science Creates to build a thriving deep tech ecosystem in our home city. Great scientists don’t always know how to be great entrepreneurs, but we’ve seen the impact specialist support can have in helping them access the finance, networks, skills, and investment opportunities they need. Working with Science Creates, we aim to support even more ground-breaking discoveries to progress outside the university walls, and thrive as successful commercial ventures that change our world for the better.”

Ventures in Unit DX so far include:
– Imophoron (a vaccine tech start-up that is reinventing how vaccines are made and work – currently working on a COVID vaccine)
– Cytoseek (a discovery-stage biotech working on cell therapy cancer treatment)
– Anaphite (graphine-based science for next gen battery technology).

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Destecroix went on to say: “After my startup exited I just got really interested in this idea that, where discovery is actually founded has a huge bearing on whether something is actually commercialized or not. The pandemic has really taught us there is a hell of a lot more – especially in the life sciences, and environmental sciences – that has still yet to be discovered. Vaccines are based on very old technology and take a while to develop.”

“Through this whole journey, I started trying to understand it from an economic perspective. How do we get more startups to emerge? To lower those barriers? I think first of all there’s a cultural problem, especially with academically-focused universities whereby entrepreneurship a dirty word. I had to go against many of my colleagues in the early days to spin out, then obviously universities own all the IP. And so you’ve got to go through the tech transfer office etc and depending on what university you are at, whether it’s Imperial, Cambridge or Oxford, they’re all different. So, and I put the reason why there were no deep terch startups in Bristol down to the fact that there was no incubator space, and not enough investment.”

“I’ve now made about 14 angel investments. Bristol has now catapulted from 20th in the league tables for life sciences to six in the country in the last three years and this is largely due to the activities that we’ve been helping to encourage. So we’ve helped streamline licensing processes for the university, and I’ve helped cornerstone a lot of these deals which has resulted in a wave of these technology startups coming in.”

“I thought, now’s the time to professionalize this and launch a respectable Bristol-based venture capital firm that specializes in deep technologies.”

#advisors, #articles, #bristol, #business, #cambridge, #cancer-treatment, #deep-tech, #east-coast, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #finance, #london, #oxford, #private-equity, #start-up, #start-ups, #startup-company, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #venture-capital, #west-coast, #wi-fi

AstraZeneca says it will likely do another study of COVID-19 vaccine after accidental lower dose shows higher efficacy

AstraZeneca’s CEO told Bloomberg that the pharmaceutical company will likely conduct another global trial of the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine trial, following the disclosure that the more effective dosage in the existing Phase 3 clinical trial was actually administered by accident. AstraZeneca and its partner the University of Oxford reported interim results that showed 62% efficacy for a full two-dose regimen, and a 90% efficacy rate for a half-dose followed by a full dose – which the scientists developing the drug later acknowledged was actually just an accidental administration of what was supposed to be two full doses.

To be clear, this shouldn’t dampen anyone’s optimism about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The results are still very promising, and an additional trial is being done only to ensure that what was seen as a result of the accidental half-dosage is actually borne out when the vaccine is administered that way intentionally. That said, this could extend the amount of time that it takes for the Oxford vaccine to be approved in the U.S., since this will proceed ahead of a planned U.S. trial that would be required for the FDA to approve it for use domestically.

The Oxford vaccine’s rollout to the rest of the world likely won’t be affected, according to AstraZeneca’s CEO, since the studies that have been conducted, including safety data, are already in place from participants around the world outside of the U.S.

While vaccine candidates from Moderna and Pfizer have also shown very strong efficacy in early Phase 3 data, hopes are riding high on the AstraZeneca version because it relies on a different technology, can be stored and transported at standard refrigerator temperatures rather than frozen, and costs just a fraction per dose compared to the other two leading vaccines in development.

That makes it an incredibly valuable resource for global inoculation programs, including distribution where cost and transportation infrastructures are major concerns.

#astrazeneca, #biotech, #ceo, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #health, #medical-research, #moderna, #oxford, #pfizer, #pharmaceutical, #tc, #united-states, #vaccine, #vaccines

AstraZeneca’s best COVID vaccine result was a fluke. Experts have questions

Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford made an exciting announcement Monday: the COVID-19 vaccine they developed together appeared up to 90 percent effective at preventing disease. But in the days since, that exciting news melted into a pool of confusion after it became clear that the 90 percent figure came about from a complete accident. Now, experts are scratching their heads over what actually happened in the trial and what it means for the vaccine’s future.

The questions all swirl around the vaccine’s dosage regimen. In initial press releases, AstraZeneca and Oxford explained that researchers had used two different dosage regimens to test their experimental vaccine, AZD1222. In one regimen, trial participants received two “full” vaccine doses, 28 days apart. In the other, participants received a half dose of vaccine followed by a full dose 28 days later.

Pooling results from trials in the United Kingdom and another in Brazil, the researchers found the two-full-dose regimen was 62 percent effective at preventing COVID-19—a good, but not great result. The half-dose/full-dose regimen, on the other hand, appeared 90 percent effective—a rather impressive result.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astrazeneca, #covid-19, #operation-warp-speed, #oxford, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shows success: Here’s how it stacks up to others

Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

AstraZeneca announced in a press release on Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine showed positive results in an interim analysis of clinical trial data.

The announcement marks the third vaccine to show strong efficacy in late-stage trials against the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Though AstraZeneca’s vaccine efficacy numbers are not as impressively high as those for the vaccines before it—mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—AstraZeneca’s does offer some advantages over those vaccines.

In all, the news adds to ballooning optimism that effective vaccines could bring an end to the global crisis in the coming year.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#adenovirus, #astrazeneca, #clinical-trial, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #oxford, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine

New Oxford machine learning-based COVID-19 test can provide results in under 5 minutes

Oxford scientists working out of the school’s Department of Physics have developed a new type of COVID-19 test that can detect SARS-CoV-2 with a high degree of accuracy, directly in samples taken from patients, using a machine learning-based approach that could help sidestep test supply limitations, and that also offers advantages when it comes to detecting actual virus particles, instead of antibodies or other signs of the presence of the virus which don’t necessarily correlate to an active, transmissible case.

The test created by the Oxford researchers also offer significant advantages in terms of speed, providing results in under five minutes, without any sample preparation required. That means it could be among the technologies that unlock mass testing – a crucial need not only for getting a handle on the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also on helping us deal with potential future global viral outbreaks, too. Oxford’s method is actually well-designed for that, too, since it can potentially be configured relatively easily to detect a number of viral threats.

The technology that makes this possible works by labelling any virus particles found in a sample collected by a patient using short, fluorescent DNA strands that act as markers. A microscope images the sample and the labelled viruses present, and then machine learning software takes over using algorithmic analysis developed by the team to automatically identify the virus, using differences that each one produces in terms of its fluorescent light emitted owing to their different physical surface makeup, size and individual chemical composition.

This technology, including the sample collection equipment, the microscopic imager and the flourescence insertion tools, as well as the compute capabilities, can be miniaturized to the point where it’s possible to be used just about anywhere, according to the researchers – including “businesses, music venues, airports,” and more. The focus now is to create a spinout company for the purposes of commercializing the device in a format that integrates all the components together.

The researchers anticipate being able to form the company, and start product development by early next year, with the potentially of having a device approved for use and ready for distribution around six months after that. It’s a tight timeline for development of a new diagnostic device, but timelines have changed already amply in the face of this pandemic, and will continue to do so as we’re unlikely to see if fade away anytime in the near future.

#articles, #biotech, #health, #influenza, #machine-learning, #medicine, #occupational-safety-and-health, #oxford, #science, #tc, #virus

Apple launches COVID-19 ‘Exposure Notification Express’ with iOS 13.7 – Android to follow later this month

Apple and Google are continuing to make good on their planned roll-out of exposure notification technology for helping with COVID-19 contact tracing efforts. The two partners are introducing new tools that make it much easier for public health authorities to implement digital exposure notification, without the need for developing and maintaining their own individual apps. Apple makes this possible via the iOS 13.7 system update, out today, while Google is implementing it with an automatically-generated application on Android 6.0 and up coming later this month, a workaround required because of the very different method through which it manages system services and OS updates.

This change in the way the technology works means that users won’t have to actually download and install a dedicated app created by the public health authority (PHA) in their jurisdiction to participate. Instead, you’ll receive a notification that provides information supplied by your local health authority about the exposure notification system and what it does, from which you can choose to opt-in. On iOS, that’ll mean installing a provisioning profile, while on Android, it’ll result in that auto-generated app, which is installed via the Google Play store. Apple and Google clarified that Exposure Notification Express co-exists with existing dedicated PHA apps, rather than replacing it.

“PHAs using Exposure Notifications Express do not need to develop or maintain their own apps,” the companies explained in a press release. “Instead, they can simply provide Apple and Google with information about how to reach the PHA, guidance for residents, and recommendations on potential actions. Through an easy-to-use interface, PHAs provide their name, logo, criteria for triggering an exposure notification and the materials to be presented to users in case of exposure. Apple and Google will use this information to offer a fully operational Exposure Notifications System on behalf of and under the control of the PHA, to both iOS and Android users.”

Local health authorities will still have to elect to participate, and customize the text and messaging delivered to users in their regions when the receive this notification and onboarding info, but they’ll no longer have to develop and distribute their own applications in order to set up a digital exposure notification system based on the combined Apple/Google tech to supplement their contact tracing efforts. The health authority will also be responsible for determining how they calculate exposure risk, which is what they were able to do with dedicates apps, too. That’s huge, since while Apple and Google note that 20 countries globally have already introduced apps based on their API, and 25 U.S. states are “exploring” use of the system, with six states having launched apps so far, making this a system level feature with a lower technical barrier to entry on the developer/health agency side should help expedite roll-out.

To start, Apple and Google say they expect DC, Maryland, Nevada and Virginia will be the first to implement Exposure Notification Express sometime soon, with others likely to follow. The companies also said they’re working with the U.S. Association of Public Health Laboratories on a national key server that will effectively allow users to have exposure tracking work across state lines when they’re traveling out of their home health agency district.

There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about contact tracing requiring a threshold of 60% or higher adoption to be effective; that’s based on a misinterpretation of an Oxford study published earlier this year. The researchers behind the study subsequently clarified that in fact, any level of contact tracing, as aided by apps that support digital contact tracing, has a positive effect on reducing the spread of COVID-19, as well as resulting deaths.

The system includes the same privacy protections that Apple and Google have provided throughout, which means your location information is not collected or connected to any exposure notifications. Instead, the tech uses a randomly-generated key to track when and where a device has come into Bluetooth range with other devices also using the software. It maintains a log of these random identifiers, and checks against reported confirmed diagnoses (also fully anonymized) to see if there has been any exposure risk – as determined by the definition of exposure in terms of duration and distance as established by each region’s governing public health authority.

#android, #apple, #computing, #contact-tracing, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #exposure-notification, #google, #health, #ios-13, #mass-surveillance, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #oxford, #privacy, #smartphones, #software, #tc, #united-states

COVID-19 vaccine trials from the University of Oxford and Wuhan both show early positive results

There are more promising signs from ongoing efforts to develop a vaccine that’s effective in preventing COVID-19: Two early trials, one from the University of Oxford, and one from a group of researchers in Wuhan funded in part by the National Key R&D Programme of China. Both early trials showed efficacy in increasing the presence of antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19, and also indicated that these prospective vaccines were safe to administer based on available information.

The University of Oxford study is one of the leading vaccine development efforts in the world, and among those that are furthest along in development. The results of their study covered 1,077 participants, all of whom were health adults aged between 18 and 55 with no prior confirmed history of having contracted SARS-CoV-2. That’s important because they received double randomized trials of the vaccine candidate, or an existing vaccine for meningitis as a control acting as a placebo. The results showed that across the group, 100 percent of the participants had demonstrated neutralizing antibody responses by the end of the course, which include a booster does.

Additionally, while some participants exhibited side effects, including “pain, feeling feverish, chills, muscle ache, headache and malaise,” none of these represented what the researchers consider serious reactions, and these were also mitigated with use of paracetamol (standard painkillers available over the counter). Patient reactions were monitored for 28 days following the administration of the vaccine.

Oxford’s team is now ready to move on to its Phase 3 trial, which is a large-scale human trial that is effectively the last major step before it moves on to potential approval, production and distribution. That’s a time consuming process, but it does put this development on pace for a remarkably fast research and development process relative to prior vaccines.

Meanwhile the study in China covered health adults 18 or older, and included 603 participants, screened down to 508 who received either the vaccine candidate or a placebo. The participants also showed no adverse reactions, according to the researchers, and they’re also now likely to move on to a phase 3 development program.

Earlier this month, Moderna also announced promising early results from its phase 1 trial, but that was limited to just 45 participants between 18 and 55, and indicated some potentially serious side effects that will need to be watched in later, larger trials. These new results, while also early and requiring further development and research, are much more encouraging given the scale of both trials.

It is very early to make too many assumptions about what these early trials indicate, however. For instance, we still don’t really know how effective antibodies are in patients that have recovered from having COVID-19 once, so a lot more investigation is required by scientists in better understanding the efficacy of antibodies, and potentially vaccines, over the long term.

#biotech, #china, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #moderna, #oxford, #pain, #science, #tc, #vaccination, #vaccine, #vaccines

State-backed COVID-19 disinfo spreads faster and farther than local news outlets in 4 languages

Questionable stories on COVID-19 from state-backed outlets in Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran are being shared more widely than reporting by major news organizations around the world, according to Oxford analysts. French German, Spanish and English news sites see far less social engagement than these foreign-originated ones in their languages.

The study is part of ongoing monitoring of COVID-19 disinformation campaigns by the Computational Propaganda Project. The group found that major outlets like Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El Pais are being outshared four or five to one in some metrics by content from Russia Today, China Radio International, and other state-backed organizations.

Earlier reports focused on English-language sharing of this type of media, which can be generally described as act-adjacent with a strong emphasis on certain narratives. The repeated finding was that although mainstream news outlets have an overall stronger presence, state-backed and junk news is way ahead in engagement per post or article. In the latest report it is shown that on average, mainstream articles collect about 25 engagements per post, while state-backed items get 125. When multiplied by millions of users and followers, that becomes an enormous discrepancy.

There is more nuance to the data than that, of course, but it gives a general idea of what’s happening: disinformation is being spread widely, whether by bots or organic reach, while ordinary news sources only reach a similar amount of people through more output and wider initial reach. It wasn’t, however, clear whether this was the case outside English-language media.

It certainly seems to be, according to data collected over three weeks from a variety of news sources. Mainstream media had a larger overall reach but state-backed media often produced far higher engagement per article. This is perhaps explained by the fact that the state-backed organizations tended to pursue and push controversies and divisive narratives. As the study puts it:

  • Russian outlets working in French and German consistently emphasized weak democratic institutions and civil disorder in Europe, but offered different kinds of conspiracy theories about the pandemic;
  • Chinese and Turkish outlets working in Spanish promoted their own countries’ global leadership in combating the pandemic, while Russian and Iranian outlets generated polarizing content targeted at Latin America and Spanish-speaking social media users in the United States.

That sort of clickbait spreads like wildfire on social media, of course, and few of those who thoughtlessly hit that share button will have the inclination to check whether the source is a government-backed news agency plainly attempting to sow discord.

On the other hand, it seems as if some consider turnabout fair play. For example: a Chinese state-backed news countering the flourishing U.S. conspiracy theory that the virus is a Chinese bioweapon with a counter-theory that it is a U.S. bioweapon released in and blamed on China.

“Many of these state-backed outlets blend reputable, fact-based reporting about the coronavirus with misleading or false information, which can lead to greater uncertainty among public audiences trying to make sense of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Oxford’s Katarian Rebello in a news release.

The countries and state-backed outlets mentioned also have a major presence in Arabic language markets and the researchers are working on a follow-up study inclusive of those.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #oxford, #oxford-university, #pandemic, #science, #social

Oxwash bags $1.7M for a cleaner spin on laundry

Oxwash, a UK-based laundry startup that’s aiming to disrupt traditional but environmentally costly washing and dry-cleaning processes by using ozone to sterilize fabrics at lower temperatures, along with electric cargo bikes for hyper local pick ups and deliveries, has bagged a £1.4 million (~$1.7M) seed.

Backers in the funding round include TrueSight Ventures, Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter), Paul Forster (founder of Indeed.com), Founders Factory and other unnamed angel investors.

Prior to this, Oxwash was working with a £300k pre-seed round — which it used to fund building its first washing hubs (which it calls “Lagoons”) and to test its reengineered washing process.

The startup’s pitch is that its applying “space age” technology to clean dirty laundry, burnished by the claim that its co-founder and CEO, Kyle Grant, is a former NASA engineer — having spent two years as a systems engineer where he researched the use and effect of microorganisms for extended space travel.

That said, it’s packing its reengineered cleaning system into standard (but “massively” modified) industrial washing machines. Just add coronavirus-safe ‘space suits’ (er, PPE)….

“Washing still has crazy carbon emissions, pollution and collection/delivery services cause large amounts of congestion. We saw a way to re-engineer the laundry process from the ground up and to be the first truly sustainable, space-age laundry company in the world,” says Grant, discussing the opportunity he and his co-founder spied to rethink laundry.

“We’re developing processes to have zero net carbon emissions for the whole laundry process — from collection to washing and back to delivery.”

The team is developing “chemistry that works at 20˚C better than at 40˚C or higher, integrating ozone disinfection to remove microorganisms by oxidation rather than using heat and developing water recycling and filtration systems to reduce water consumption and remove microfibre pollution at the same time”, per Grant.

It’s also structuring business operations to locate washing hubs in city centres, where its customers are based, so it can make use of electric bikes for moving the laundry around — allowing for a next day service with 30 minute collection and delivery windows.

“Traditional washing processes use huge amounts of water, energy to heat said water, harsh chemicals and normal petrol/diesel vans for the collections and deliveries. These process warehouses are usually located outside of cities and there are large lags in when items are returned to the customers (up to two weeks),” he further claims.

While ozone itself is a pollutant that degrades air quality, and can even be dangerous if released, Grant says the ozone used in its cleaning machines — which is produced from oxygen in the atmosphere — degrades back to oxygen “within minutes and is therefore inert and safe”.

“After extensive analysis ozone is far safer to use in commercial laundry processes than heat and harsh chemicals such as peroxides (bleach),” he suggests.

On safety, he also says their washing machines are modified to be sealed whilst “washing and disinfecting”, and can only be opened after the ozone has degraded. “Our lagoons are also fitted with ozone sensors that will cut off our generators if the ozone concentration in the air ever goes over the safe limit,” he adds. “Thankfully this has never occurred. The risks to our staff are far lower than when working with boiling water tanks, harsh chemicals and manual handling, the usual work flow in commercial laundries.”

Oxwash launched in the UK in early 2018 and now has more than 4,000 individual customers, per Grant, along with “several hundred” business customers — including the Marriott Hotel Chain, NHS GP practices, London Marathon and Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

It’s executed a slight pivot of focus over the past two months — spying an opportunity to target risks related to the coronavirus. “We’ve developed a service in the last 2 months that is available to provide coronavirus disinfection,” he says in a statement. “We are working closely with [the UK’s National Health Service] NHS and vulnerable groups to provide support when needed.”

“We have adopted laboratory-grade PPE [personal protective equipment] processes, heavily inspired and adapted from my time working at NASA but also from guidelines from the NHS and HSE England,” Grant adds. “For example, we now perform contactless collections and deliveries whereby the customers pre-bag their items in supplied dissolvable bags. Our rider then has gloves, goggles and a respirator to perform the transfer back to the lagoon where a member of our team in full hazmat gear will load and unload the machines where disinfection is performed.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he says the startup was getting traction from customers wanting to remove allergens that caused them allergic reactions.

“We were confident of moving into the healthcare market in the years to come but usually the tender process for such contracts is not conducive to a startup,” says Grant. “However since the advent of COVID-19 and our ongoing healthcare certification, we have seen a huge increase in the value of proper hygiene to both the individuals and businesses we serve. The Marriott Hotel chain and Airbnb have both expressed serious intent to work on a non-healthcare hygiene rating much like that of the Food Standards Authority. We are working with CINET (the international textile committee) to bring this to market with our technology and processes.”

The seed funding will be used to expand to more cities within the UK and Europe — with London and other European hubs, such as Paris and Amsterdam, in its sights. Its initial two locations are Oxford and Cambridge.

It’s also going to spin up on the hiring front, planning to add a head of growth and head of tech, as well as new operational roles in London.

Ploughing more resource into software dev is another focus, with funding going to expand the tech stack and the software systems which run its logistics and integrate with its digitised washing process. More work on its app is also planned. 

Asked what makes Oxwash a scalable business, Grant points to the development of this proprietary software alongside the reengineered washing service. “This iteration of technology and service allows us to develop our washing technology rapidly and get real-time feedback on the end-product and service from our customers,” he says. “The scalable technology element is the proprietary washing process driven by our bespoke software stack and process algorithms.”

On the labor side, Grant says Oxwash is “working towards a B Corp accreditation”.

“[We] have long held that our team should be properly reimbursed for their work but also as ambassadors for our brand out on our bikes. To that end all of our riders (couriers) are fully employed and like the rest of the team they are paid in excess of the national living wage,” he adds.

#biz-stone, #europe, #founders-factory, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #laundry, #nasa, #national-health-service, #oxford, #oxwash, #ozone, #recent-funding, #startups, #truesight-ventures, #twitter, #united-kingdom

University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial aims to have 500 people in testing by mid-May

One of the largest COVID-19 vaccine trials currently underway will have over 500 volunteers actively testing its solution by the middle of next month. Researchers at the University of Oxford have already secured that number of participants, including a representative sample of people between the ages of 18 to 55, for a large-scale randomized clinical early and mid-stage trial of its potential vaccine, which uses a harmless, modified virus to trigger an immune response that is also effective against the novel coronavirus.

The trial will divide a total of 510 participant sent five groups, with one group receiving a follow-up, booster shot of the vaccine after the original does. The technology behind the vaccine has already been used in developing about 10 different other treatments, but will require an approach that includes setting up different test groups in different countries to ensure representative results, since infection rates are varying greatly place to place with prevention measures in place, study lead Sarah Gilbert told Bloomberg.

The team behind the vaccine is also still seeking additional funding to help scale manufacturing, since it aims to begin producing it in volume following the six month period this human trial phase will span. The goal is to have mass production up and running by this fall, under the assumption that the trial proves the potential vaccine effective, with a final stage trial of 5,000 people and the potential to begin providing some doses for use by frontline healthcare workers by as early as September.

The Oxford trial is one of just a handful that have progressed to the human testing phase, but more are coming online all the time. Existing clinical human trials from Moderna and Inovio are underway in the U.S., and those have also expressed the potential for earlier access for emergency use prior to broad rollout following the initial clinical results.

Even if there is some availability by fall of some of these vaccine candidates (and that assumes they even prove effective), that doesn’t mean they’ll be broadly available: That will still require further testing, and scaling manufacturing, as well as working out distribution and administration – all processes that will add months of work. Already, however, the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new efficiencies in the development process, and more could follow in these extraordinary times.

#biotech, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health, #infection, #inovio, #medicine, #moderna, #oxford, #science, #tc, #united-states, #vaccine, #vaccines