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Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky just raised another $200 million for his newest company, Tempus

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Baillie Gifford, Biotech, drug development, eric lefkofsky, Groupon, Recent Funding, Revolution Growth, Science, Startups, TC, Tempus | 0 comments

When serial entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky grows a company, he puts the pedal to the metal. When in 2011 his last company, the Chicago-based coupons site Groupon, raised $950 million from investors, it was the largest amount raised by a startup ever. It was just over three years old at the time, and it went public later that same year.

Lefkofsky seems to be stealing a page from the same playbook for his newest company, Tempus. The Chicago-based genomic testing and data analysis company was founded a little more than three years ago, yet it has already hired nearly 700 employees and raised more than $500 million — including through a new $200 million round that values the company at $3.1 billion.

According to the Chicago Tribune, that new valuation makes it — as Groupon once was — one of Chicago’s most highly valued privately held companies.

So why all the fuss? As the Tribune explains it, Tempus has built a platform to collect, structure and analyze the clinical data that’s often unorganized in electronic medical record systems. The company also generates genomic data by sequencing patient DNA and other information in its lab.

The goal is to help doctors create customized treatments for each individual patient, Lefkofsky tells the paper.

So far, it has partnered with numerous cancer treatment centers that are apparently giving Tempus human data from which to learn. Tempus is also seemingly generating data “in vitro,” as is another company we featured recently called Insitro, a drug development startup founded by famed AI researcher Daphne Koller. With Insitro, it is working on a liver disease treatment owing to a tie-up with Gilead, which has amassed related human data over the years from which Insitro can use to learn. As a complementary data source, Insitro is trying to learn what the disease does in a “dish,” then determine if it can use what it observes using machine learning to predict what it sees in people.

While’s Tempus genomic testing is centered on cancers for now, Lefkofsky already says that Tempus wants to expand into diabetes and depression, too.

In the meantime, he tells Crain’s Chicago Business that Tempus is already generating “significant” revenue. “Our oldest partners, have, in most cases, now expanded to different subgroups (of cancer). What we’re doing is working.”

Investors in the latest round include Baillie Gifford; Revolution Growth; New Enterprise Associates; funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price; Novo Holdings; and the investment management company Franklin Templeton.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Scientists pull speech directly from the brain

Posted by on Apr 24, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, Biotech, brain-computer interface, Health, Science, synthetic speech, TC, UCSF | 0 comments

In a feat that could eventually unlock the possibility of speech for people with severe medical conditions, scientists have successfully recreated the speech of healthy subjects by tapping directly into their brains. The technology is a long, long way from practical application but the science is real and the promise is there.

Edward Chang, neurosurgeon at UC San Francisco and co-author of the paper published today in Nature, explained the impact of the team’s work in a press release: “For the first time, this study demonstrates that we can generate entire spoken sentences based on an individual’s brain activity. This is an exhilarating proof of principle that with technology that is already within reach, we should be able to build a device that is clinically viable in patients with speech loss.”

To be perfectly clear, this isn’t some magic machine that you sit in and its translates your thoughts into speech. It’s a complex and invasive process that decodes not exactly what the subject is thinking but what they were actually speaking.

Led by speech scientist Gopala Anumanchipalli, the experiment involved subjects who had already had large electrode arrays implanted in their brains for a different medical procedure. The researchers had these lucky people read out several hundred sentences aloud while closely recording the signals detected by the electrodes.

The electrode array in question.

See, it happens that the researchers know a certain pattern of brain activity that comes after you think of and arrange words (in cortical areas like Wernicke’s and Broca’s) and before the final signals are sent from the motor cortex to your tongue and mouth muscles. There’s a sort of intermediate signal between those that Anumanchipalli and his co-author, grad student Josh Chartier, previously characterized, and which they thought may work for the purposes of reconstructing speech.

Analyzing the audio directly let the team determine what muscles and movements would be involved when (this is pretty established science), and from this they built a sort of virtual model of the person’s vocal system.

They then mapped the brain activity detected during the session to that virtual model using a machine learning system, essentially allowing a recording of a brain to control a recording of a mouth. It’s important to understand that this isn’t turning abstract thoughts into words — it’s understanding the brain’s concrete instructions to the muscles of the face, and determining from those what words those movements would be forming. It’s brain reading, but it isn’t mind reading.

The resulting synthetic speech, while not exactly crystal clear, is certainly intelligible. And set up correctly, it could be capable of outputting 150 words per minute from a person who may otherwise be incapable of speech.

“We still have a ways to go to perfectly mimic spoken language,” said Chartier. “Still, the levels of accuracy we produced here would be an amazing improvement in real-time communication compared to what’s currently available.”

For comparison, a person so afflicted, for instance with a degenerative muscular disease, often has to speak by spelling out words one letter at a time with their gaze. Picture 5-10 words per minute, with other methods for more disabled individuals going even slower. It’s a miracle in a way that they can communicate at all, but this time-consuming and less than natural method is a far cry from the speed and expressiveness of real speech.

If a person was able to use this method, they would be far closer to ordinary speech, though perhaps at the cost of perfect accuracy. But it’s not a magic bullet.

The problem with this method is that it requires a great deal of carefully collected data from what amounts to a healthy speech system, from brain to tip of the tongue. For many people it’s no longer possible to collect this data, and for others the invasive method of collection will make it impossible for a doctor to recommend. And conditions that have prevented a person from ever talking prevent this method from working as well.

The good news is that it’s a start, and there are plenty of conditions it would work for, theoretically. And collecting that critical brain and speech recording data could be done preemptively in cases where a stroke or degeneration is considered a risk.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Our 9 favorite startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 2

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in Apps, Biotech, Food, funding, GreenTech, Hardware, Health, Logistics, Startups, TC | 0 comments

Heathcare kiosks, a home-cooked food marketplace, and a way for startups to earn interest on their funding topped our list of high-potential companies from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 2. 88 startups launched on stage at the lauded accelerator, though some of the best skipped the stage as they’d already raised tons of money.

Be sure to check out our write-ups of all 85 startups from day 1 plus our top picks, as well as the full set from day 2. But now, after asking investors and conferring with the TechCrunch team, here are our 9 favorites from day 2.

Shef 

Two months ago, California passed the first law in the country legalizing the sale of home cooked food. Shef creates a marketplace where home chefs can find nearby customers. Shef’s meals cost around $6.50 compared to $20 per meal for traditional food delivery, and the startup takes a 22 percent cut of every transaction. It’s been growing 50 percent week over week thanks to deals with large property management companies that offer the marketplace as a perk to their residents. Shef wants to be the Airbnb of home cooked food.

Why we picked Shef: Deregulation creates gold rush opportunities and Shef was quick to seize this one, getting started just days after the law passed. Food delivery is a massive megatrend but high costs make it unaffordable or a luxury for many. If a parent is already cooking meals for their whole family, it takes minimal effort to produce a few extra portions to sell to the neighbors at accessible rates.

Handle

This startup automates the collection process of unpaid construction invoices. Construction companies are often forced to pay for their own jobs when customers are late on payments. According to Handle, there are $104 billion in unpaid construction invoices every year. Handle launched six weeks ago and is currently collecting $22,800 in monthly revenue. The founders previously launched an Andreessen Horowitz-backed company called Tenfold.

Why we picked Handle: Construction might seem like an unsexy vertical, but it’s massive and rife with inefficiencies this startup tackles. Handle helps contractors demand payments, instantly file liens that ensure they’re compensated for work or materials, or exchange unpaid invoices for cash. Even modest fees could add up quickly given how much money moves through the industry. And there are surely secondary business models to explore using all the data Handle collects on the construction market.

Blueberry Medical

This pediatric telemedicine company provides medical care instantly to families. Blueberry provides constant contact, the ability to talk to a pediatrician 24/7 and at-home testing kits for a total of $15 per month. They’ve just completed a paid consumer pilot and say they were able to resolve 84 percent of issues without in-person care. They’ve partnered with insurance providers to reduce ER visits.

Why we picked Blueberry: Questionable emergency room visits are a nightmare for parents, a huge source of unnecessary costs, and a drain on resources for needy patients. Parents already spend so much time and money trying to keep their kids safe that this is a no-brainer subscription. And the urgent and emotional pull of pediatrics is a smart wedge into telemedicine for all demographics.

rct studio

Led by a team of YC alums behind Raven, an AI startup acquired by Baidu in 2017, rct studio is a creative studio for immersive and interactive film. The platform provides a real time “text to render “engine (so the text “A man sits on a sofa” would generate 3D imagery of a man sitting on a sofa) that supports mainstream 3D engines like Unity and Unreal, as well as a creative tool for film professionals to craft immersive and open-ended entertainment experiences called Morpheus Engine.

Why we picked rct studio: Netflix’s Bandersnatch was just the start of mainstream interactive film. With strong technology, an innovative application, and proven talent, rct could become a critical tool for creating this kind of media. And even if the tech falls short of producing polished media, it could be used for storyboards and mockups.

Interprime

Provides “Apple level” treasury services to startups. Startups are raising a lot of money with no way to manage it, says Interprime. They want to help these businesses by managing these big investments by helping them earn interest on their funding while retaining liquidity. They take a .25 percent advisory fee for all the investment they oversee. So far, they have $10 million in investment capital they are servicing.

Why we picked Interprime: The explosion of early stage startup funding evidenced by Y Combinator itself has created new banking opportunities. Silicon Valley Bank is ripe for competition and Interprime’s focus on startups could unlock new financial services. With Interprime’s YC affiliation, it has access to tons of potential customers.

 

Nabis

Nabis is tackling the cannabis shipping and logistics business, working with suppliers to ship out goods to retailers reliably. It’s illegal for FedEx to ship weed so Nabis has swooped in and is helping ship and connect while taking cuts of the proceeds, a price the suppliers are willing to pay due to their 98 percent on-time shipping record.

Why we picked Nabis: Quirky regulation creates efficiency gaps in the marijuana business where incumbents can’t participate since they’re not allowed to handle the flower. As more states legalize and cannabis finds its way into more products, moving goods from farm to processor to retailer could spawn a big market for Nabis with a legal moat. It’s already working with many top marijuana brands, and could sell them additional services around business intelligence and distribution.

WeatherCheck

This startup measures weather damage for insurance companies. WeatherCheck has secured $4.7 million in annual bookings in the five months since it launched to help insurance carriers reduce their overall claims expense. To use the service, insurers upload data about their properties. WeatherCheck then monitors the weather and sends notifications to insurance companies, if, for example, a property has been damaged by hail.

Why we picked WeatherCheck: Extreme weather is only getting worse due to climate change. With 10.7 million US properties impacted by hail damage in 2017, WeatherCheck has found a smart initial market from which to expand. It’s easy to imagine the startup working on flood, earthquake, tornado, and wildfire claims too. Insurance is a fierce market, and old-school providers could get a leg up with WeatherCheck’s tech.

 

Upsolve

Upsolve wants to help low-income individuals file for bankruptcy more easily. The non-profit service gets referral fees from pointing non low-income families to bankruptcy lawyers and is able to offer the service for free. The company says that medical bills, layoffs and predatory loans can leave low-income families in dire situations and that in the last 6 months, their non-profit has alleviated customers from $24 million in debt.

Why we picked Upsolve: Financial hardship is rampant. With the potential for another recession and automation threatening jobs, many families could be at risk for bankruptcy. But the process is so stigmatized that some people avoid it at all costs. Upsolve could democratize access to this financial strategy while inserting itself into a lucrative transaction type.

Pulse Active Stations Network

This startup makes health kiosks for India, meant to be installed in train stations. Co-founder Joginder Tanikella says that there are 600,000 preventable deaths in India as many in the region don’t get regular doctor checkups. “But everyone takes trains,” he says. Their in-station kiosk measures 21 health parameters. The company made $28,000 in revenue last month. Charging $1 per test, Tanikella says each machine pays for itself within 3 months. In the future, the kiosks will allow them to sell insurance and refer users to doctors.

Why we picked Pulse: Telemedicine can’t do everything, but plenty of people around the world can’t make it in to a full-fledged doctor’s office. Pulse creates a mid-point where hardware sensors can measure body fat, blood pressure, pulse, and bone strength to improve accuracy for diagnosing diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiac problems, and more. Pulse’s companion app could spark additional revenue streams, and there’s clearly a much bigger market for this than just India.

Honorable Mentions

-Allo, a marketplace where parents can exchange babysitting and errand-running

-Shiok, a lab-grown shrimp substitute

-WithFriends, a subscription platform for small retail businesses

More Y Combinator coverage from TechCrunch:

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Lucas Matney, and Greg Kumparak


Source: The Tech Crunch

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VCs have growing appetite for ‘AgriFood’

Posted by on Mar 7, 2019 in AgFunder, agriculture, agriculture tech, AgTech, Asia, Biotech, CrunchBase, economy, entrepreneurship, farming, Finance, Food, food delivery, food tech, funding, GreenTech, groceries, grocery, McKinsey, money, Naspers, Private Equity, restaurant tech, Restaurants, Softbank, Startup company, Startups, TC, Venture Capital, Zume Pizza | 0 comments

Venture investors are pouring billions of dollars into feeding their hunger for food and agriculture startups. Whether that trend line is due to enthusiasm for the sector or just broader heavy investing in the VC space is much less clear.

According to a recent report published by AgFunder – a VC and investing marketplace focused on the agriculture and food sectors – the “AgriFood” space is booming. Using data from Crunchbase and several other data partners, the organization published its “2018 AgriFood Tech Investing Report” this morning, finding that investment in AgriFood companies increased 43% year-over-year, reaching $16.9 billion in 2018.

AgFunder classifies AgriFood tech as “the small but growing segment of the startup and venture capital universe that’s aiming to improve or disrupt the global food and agriculture industry.” Their definition is intentionally broad, encompassing everything from crop and livestock biotech, property management systems, and payments, to biomaterials and meat alternatives, all the way up to tech platforms for restaurants, grocers, deliveries and at-home cooks.

While some of the AgriFood tech categories – such as delivery or restaurant software – have long been popular destinations for venture capital, we’re now seeing a more diverse array of startups innovating across the entire food supply chain. According to the report, expansion in AgriFood is fairly consistent across upstream (agricultural and farming) subsectors to downstream (more consumer-facing) subsectors, with each group growing roughly 44% and 42% year-over-year respectively.

The data also shows growth occurring across almost all deal stages. AgriFood saw huge increases in the average deal size and total investment for late-stage companies in particular, as venture-backed startups have grown to global scale. And penetrating and attracting capital from international markets seems more feasible than ever. AgriFood investing, which traditionally has been largely US-centric, is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon, with more than half of total funding – and some of the largest rounds – now coming from companies and investors outside the US.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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A nanoparticle injection is all it takes to let these mice see in infrared

Posted by on Feb 28, 2019 in Bio, Biotech, infrared, nanoparticles, nanotech, Science | 0 comments

I know it’s everyone’s dream to see outside the wavelengths allotted to our visual systems. Well, as usual, mice have gotten there first, with the help of some clever scientists. By injecting specialized light-tweaking nanoparticles into a mouse’s retina, that mouse is suddenly and clearly able to perceive near-infrared light — suggesting the same could be possible for us, assuming you don’t mind a needle in the eye.

The advance involves what the researchers, from the University of Science and Technology in China, call “ocular injectable photoreceptor-binding upconversion nanoparticles.” It’s actually not as complicated as it sounds. Well… actually, it is pretty complicated.

The human eye can only see wavelengths of light between about 430 and 770 nanometers; above that is ultraviolet and below it is infrared. We don’t see infrared but in great enough quantities we can sense the heat it imparts. All objects give off IR, increasingly so the warmer they are, which is the basis for heat vision goggles.

But while some infrared is well outside our ability to sense, a band known as near-infrared (NIR) is just below the reds we can detect. What if you could shift that NIR upwards with some kind of optical trickery? We do it all the time, of course — convert one kind of light or energy into another.

In fact, it turns out that these researchers had already created the necessary trickery for a different reason, namely as a molecule for optogenetic triggers that would absorb infrared light (which conveniently penetrates many tissues) and emit visible spectrum light instead.

The nanoparticles bind to rods and cones, coating them and changing the wavelengths they are sensitive to.

These “nanoantennae,” as the researchers call them, are biocompatible and can be combined with proteins that encourage them to bind with the photoreceptive cells in our retinas. What happens when you coat a cell that normally detects green light with a molecule that absorbs NIR radiation (900-1000 nm) and outputs something 500 nm shorter? That cell can effectively now sees IR as a shade and intensity of green.

Transmission electron microscopy image of the nanoparticles.

That’s exactly what happened when the team injected these molecules into the eyes of mice (such subretinal injections are already done in humans with some eye problems); the animals were instantly able to detect NIR in a variety of circumstances. Not only did a beam of IR cause their pupils to constrict, but patterns projected in IR indicating a reward were reliably sought by the mice, indicating this was not just a general awareness but detailed perception in the wavelength.

Note that this is different from the colorful “heat vision” we see in movies — night vision goggles use electronic sensors to amplify and categorize incoming radiation outside the visual range, producing those interesting noisy rainbow images. This would be more like seeing something warm as slightly more bright (and greener) than a cooler item of the same color. You’d also be able to see the TV clicker blinking its little patterns.

The molecules also seemed to cause no serious problems in the retina, such as cell death or irritation — and the mice were still able to see in IR some 10 weeks after injection.

The team explains the importance of their findings:

It is important to note that these injected nanoantennae did not interfere with natural visible light vision. The ability to simultaneously detect visible and NIR light patterns suggests enhanced mammalian visual performance by extending the native visual spectrum without genetic modification and avoiding the need for bulky external devices. This approach offers several advantages over the currently used optoelectronic devices, such as no need for any external energy supply, and is compatible with other human activities.

In other words, this could be a simple, safe, and reversible way to extend human vision well beyond our present capabilities — no batteries required. Not exactly something you’d want done on a whim, but you better believe the military would be interested. Of course a great deal of further work and testing needs to be done, but this does seem like a particularly promising application of nanotech.

The research was published today in the journal Cell.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Work on world’s first CRISPR gene-edited babies declared illegal by China

Posted by on Jan 21, 2019 in Asia, Biology, Biotech, China, CRISPR, Emerging-Technologies, Genetics, Science, shenzhen, United States | 0 comments

Chinese authorities have declared the work of He Jiankui, who shocked the scientific community by claiming he successfully created the world’s first gene-edited babies, an illegal decision in pursuit of “personal fame and gain.” Investigators have completed preliminary steps in a probe that began in November following He’s claims and say they will “seriously” punish the researcher for violations of the law, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

He, who taught at Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology, had led a team to research the gene-editing technique CRISPR since mid-2016 in attempts to treat cancers and other diseases. The incident drew significant attention to the professor’s own biotech startups that are backed by local and overseas investors.

The official probe shows that He fabricated ethics approvals which he used to recruit eight couples to participate in clinical procedures between March 2017 and November 2018. The attempt led to two pregnancies, including one that resulted in the birth of twins and the other embryo yet to be born. Five couples failed to achieve fertilization and one pair dropped out of the experiment.

He’s project has sparked a wave of criticism among scientists across the world. CRISPR is still dangerously unethical at this point for it may cause serious genetic damage. Some researchers have proposed a moratorium on CRISPR until more guidelines become clear while others call for developing safer and more ethical methods to propel the technology forward. Many countries, including the United States and China, prohibit gene-editing of human embryos for reproductive purposes.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Bumblebees bearing high-tech backpacks act as a living data collection platform

Posted by on Dec 11, 2018 in Bees, Biotech, Gadgets, Hardware, Internet of things, IoT, Science, TC, university of washington, Wearables | 0 comments

There’s lots of research going into tiny drones, but one of the many hard parts is keeping them in the air for any real amount of time. Why not hitch a ride on something that already flies all day? That’s the idea behind this project that equips bumblebees with sensor-filled backpacks that charge wirelessly and collect data on the fields they visit.

A hive full of these cyber-bees could help monitor the health of a field by checking temperature and humidity, as well as watching for signs of rot or distress in the crops. A lot of this is done manually now, and of course drones are being set to work doing it, but if the bees are already there, why not get them to help out?

The “Living IoT” backpack, a tiny wafer loaded with electronics and a small battery, was designed by University of Washington engineers led by Shyam Gollakotta. He’s quick to note that although the research does to a certain extent take advantage of these clumsy, fuzzy creatures, they were careful to “follow best methods for care and handling.”

Part of that is minimizing the mass of the pack; other experiments have put RFID antennas and such on the backs of bees and other insects, but this is much more sophisticated.

The chip has sensors and an integrated battery that lets it run for seven hours straight, yet weighs just 102 milligrams. A full-grown bumblebee, for comparison, could weigh anywhere from two to six times that.

They’re strong fliers, if not graceful ones, and can carry three-quarters of their body weight in pollen and nectar when returning to the hive. So the backpack, while far from unnoticeable, is still well within their capabilities; the team checked with biologists in the know first, of course.

“We showed for the first time that it’s possible to actually do all this computation and sensing using insects in lieu of drones,” explained Gollakotta in a UW news release. “We decided to use bumblebees because they’re large enough to carry a tiny battery that can power our system, and they return to a hive every night where we could wirelessly recharge the batteries.”

The backpacks can track location passively by monitoring the varying strengths of signals from nearby antennas, up to a range of about 80 meters. The data they collect is transferred while they’re in the hive via an energy-efficient backscatter method that Gollakotta has used in other projects.

The applications are many and various, though obviously limited to what can be observed while the bees go about their normal business. It could even help keep the bees themselves healthy.

“It would be interesting to see if the bees prefer one region of the farm and visit other areas less often,” said co-author Sawyer Fuller. “Alternatively, if you want to know what’s happening in a particular area, you could also program the backpack to say: ‘Hey bees, if you visit this location, take a temperature reading.’ ”

It is of course just in prototype form right now, but one can easily imagine the tech being deployed by farmers in the near future, or perhaps in a more sinister way by three-letter agencies wanting to put a bee on the wall near important conversations. The team plans to present their work (PDF) at the ACM MobiCom conference next year.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Hospital in China denies links to world’s first gene-edited babies

Posted by on Nov 26, 2018 in Asia, Baidu, Biotech, Cancer, China, Genetics, hiv, MIT, shenzhen, TC | 0 comments

News of the world’s first ever gene-edited human babies being born in China caused a huge stir on Monday after the MIT Technology Review and the Associated Press brought the project to light. People in and outside China rushed to question the ethical implications of the scientific breakthrough, reportedly the fruit of a Chinese researcher named He Jiankui from a university in Shenzhen.

There’s another twist to the story.

According to the AP, He had sought and received approval from Shenzhen HarMoniCare Women’s and Children’s Hospital to kick off the experiment. The MIT Technology Review’s report also linked to documents stating that He’s research received the green light from HarMoniCare’s medical ethics committee.

When contacted by TechCrunch, however, a HarMoniCare spokesperson said she was not aware of He’s genetic test and that the hospital is probing the validity of the circulated documents. TechCrunch will update when the case makes progress.

“What we can say for sure is that the gene editing process did not take place at our hospital. The babies were not born here either,” the spokesperson said of He’s project.

He, who studied at Rice and Standford Universities, led a research team at Southern University of Science and Technology which set out to eliminate the gene associated with HIV, smallpox, and cholera by utilizing the CRISPR gene-editing tool, according to the MIT Technology Review. The technology is ethically fraught because changes to the embryo will pass on to future generations. He’s daring initiative is set to cause debate at the upcoming Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, which he will attend.

It’s also noteworthy that HarMoniCare belongs to the vast Putian network, a fold of 8,000 private healthcare providers originated from Putian, Fujian province. That’s according to a list compiled by DXY.cn, a Chinese online community for healthcare professionals. Putian hospitals expanded across China quickly over the years with little government oversight until the death of a college student. In 2016, 21-year-old Wei Zexi died of cancer after receiving dubious treatment from a Putian hospital. The incident also provoked a public outcry over China’s largest search engine Baidu, which counted Putian hospitals as a major online advertiser.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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China is funding the future of American biotech

Posted by on Oct 20, 2018 in alibaba, Asia, Bio, Biotech, biotechnology, China, Chinese venture capital, founders fund, funding, Fundings & Exits, google ventures, Government, GV, Health, HealthTech, IDG Capital, legend capital, life science, Life Sciences, Matrix Partners China, patents, Policy, qiming, Science, Sequoia Capital China, Startups, TC, Tencent, Tencent Holdings, VC, Venture Capital | 0 comments

Silicon Valley is in the midst of a health craze, and it is being driven by “Eastern” medicine.

It’s been a record year for US medical investing, but investors in Beijing and Shanghai are now increasingly leading the largest deals for US life science and biotech companies. In fact, Chinese venture firms have invested more this year into life science and biotech in the US than they have back home, providing financing for over 300 US-based companies, per Pitchbook. That’s the story at Viela Bio, a Maryland-based company exploring treatments for inflammation and autoimmune diseases, which raised a $250 million Series A led by three Chinese firms.

Chinese capital’s newfound appetite also flows into the mainland. Business is booming for Chinese medical startups, who are also seeing the strongest year of venture investment ever, with over one hundred companies receiving $4 billion in investment.

As Chinese investors continue to shift their strategies towards life science and biotech, China is emphatically positioning itself to be a leader in medical investing with a growing influence on the world’s future major health institutions.

Chinese VCs seek healthy returns

We like to talk about things we can interact with or be entertained by. And so as nine-figure checks flow in and out of China with stunning regularity, we fixate on the internet giants, the gaming leaders or the latest media platform backed by Tencent or Alibaba.

However, if we follow the money, it’s clear that the top venture firms in China have actually been turning their focus towards the country’s deficient health system.

A clear leader in China’s strategy shift has been Sequoia Capital China, one of the country’s most heralded venture firms tied to multiple billion-dollar IPOs just this year.

Historically, Sequoia didn’t have much interest in the medical sector.  Health was one of the firm’s smallest investment categories, and it participated in only three health-related deals from 2015-16, making up just 4% of its total investing activity. 

Recently, however, life sciences have piqued Sequoia’s fascination, confirms a spokesperson with the firm.  Sequoia dove into six health-related deals in 2017 and has already participated in 14 in 2018 so far.  The firm now sits among the most active health investors in China and the medical sector has become its second biggest investment area, with life science and biotech companies accounting for nearly 30% of its investing activity in recent years.

Health-related investment data for 2015-18 compiled from Pitchbook, Crunchbase, and SEC Edgar

There’s no shortage of areas in need of transformation within Chinese medical care, and a wide range of strategies are being employed by China’s VCs. While some investors hope to address influenza, others are focused on innovative treatments for hypertension, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

For instance, according to the Chinese Journal of Cancer, in 2015, 36% of world’s lung cancer diagnoses came from China, yet the country’s cancer survival rate was 17% below the global average. Sequoia has set its sights on tackling China’s high rate of cancer and its low survival rate, with roughly 70% of its deals in the past two years focusing on cancer detection and treatment.

That is driven in part by investments like the firm’s $90 million Series A investment into Shanghai-based JW Therapeutics, a company developing innovative immunotherapy cancer treatments. The company is a quintessential example of how Chinese VCs are building the country’s next set of health startups using their international footprints and learnings from across the globe.

Founded as a joint-venture offshoot between US-based Juno Therapeutics and China’s WuXi AppTec, JW benefits from Juno’s experience as a top developer of cancer immunotherapy drugs, as well as WuXi’s expertise as one of the world’s leading contract research organizations, focusing on all aspects of the drug R&D and development cycle.

Specifically, JW is focused on the next-generation of cell-based immunotherapy cancer treatments using chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) technologies. (Yeah…I know…) For the WebMD warriors and the rest of us with a medical background that stopped at tenth-grade chemistry, CAR-T essentially looks to attack cancer cells by utilizing the body’s own immune system.

Past waves of biotech startups often focused on other immunologic treatments that used genetically-modified antibodies created in animals.  The antibodies would effectively act as “police,” identifying and attaching to “bad guy” targets in order to turn off or quiet down malignant cells.  CAR-T looks instead to modify the body’s native immune cells to attack and kill the bad guys directly.

Chinese VCs are investing in a wide range of innovative life science and biotech startups. (Photo by Eugeneonline via Getty Images)

The international and interdisciplinary pedigree of China’s new medical leaders not only applies to the organizations themselves but also to those running the show.

At the helm of JW sits James Li.  In a past life, the co-founder and CEO held stints as an executive heading up operations in China for the world’s biggest biopharmaceutical companies including Amgen and Merck.  Li was also once a partner at the Silicon Valley brand-name investor, Kleiner Perkins.

JW embodies the benefits that can come from importing insights and expertise, a practice that will come to define the companies leading the medical future as the country’s smartest capital increasingly finds its way overseas.

GV and Founders Fund look to keep the Valley competitive

Despite heavy investment by China’s leading VCs, Silicon Valley is doubling down in the US health sector.  (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JASON LEE)

Innovation in medicine transcends borders. Sickness and death are unfortunately universal, and groundbreaking discoveries in one country can save lives in the rest.

The boom in China’s life science industry has left valuations lofty and cross-border investment and import regulations in China have improved.

As such, Chinese venture firms are now increasingly searching for innovation abroad, looking to capitalize on expanding opportunities in the more mature US medical industry that can offer innovative technologies and advanced processes that can be brought back to the East.

In April, Qiming Venture Partners, another Chinese venture titan, closed a $120 million fund focused on early-stage US healthcare. Qiming has been ramping up its participation in the medical space, investing in 24 companies over the 2017-18 period.

New firms diving into the space hasn’t frightened the Bay Area’s notable investors, who have doubled down in the US medical space alongside their Chinese counterparts.

Partner directories for America’s most influential firms are increasingly populated with former doctors and medically-versed VCs who can find the best medical startups and have a growing influence on the flow of venture dollars in the US.

At the top of the list is Krishna Yeshwant, the GV (formerly Google Ventures) general partner leading the firm’s aggressive push into the medical industry.

Krishna Yeshwant (GV) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

A doctor by trade, Yeshwant’s interest runs the gamut of the medical spectrum, leading investments focusing on anything from real-time patient care insights to antibody and therapeutic technologies for cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.

Per data from Pitchbook and Crunchbase, Krishna has been GV’s most active partner over the past two years, participating in deals that total over a billion dollars in aggregate funding.

Backed by the efforts of Yeshwant and select others, the medical industry has become one of the most prominent investment areas for Google’s venture capital arm, driving roughly 30% of its investments in 2017 compared to just under 15% in 2015.

GV’s affinity for medical-investing has found renewed life, but life science is also part of the firm’s DNA.  Like many brand-name Valley investors, GV founder Bill Maris has long held a passion for the health startups.  After leaving GV in 2016, Maris launched his own fund, Section 32, focused specifically on biotech, healthcare and life sciences. 

In the same vein, life science and health investing has been part of the lifeblood for some major US funds including Founders Fund, which has consistently dedicated over 25% of its deployed capital to the space since at least 2015.

The tides may be changing, however, as the recent expansion of oversight for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) may severely impact the flow of Chinese capital into areas of the US health sector. 

Under its extended purview, CFIUS will review – and possibly block – any investment or transaction involving a foreign entity related to the production, design or testing of technology that falls under a list of 27 critical industries, including biotech research and development.

The true implications of the expanded rules will depend on how aggressively and how often CFIUS exercises its power.  But a lengthy review process and the threat of regulatory blocks may significantly increase the burden on Chinese investors, effectively shutting off the Chinese money spigot.

Regardless of CFIUS, while China’s active presence in the US health markets hasn’t deterred Valley mainstays, with a severely broken health system and an improved investment environment backed by government support, China’s commitment to medical innovation is only getting stronger.

VCs target a disastrous health system

Deficiencies in China’s health sector has historically led to troublesome outcomes.  Now the government is jump-starting investment through supportive policy. (Photo by Alexander Tessmer / EyeEm via Getty Images)

They say successful startups identify real problems that need solving. Marred with inefficiencies, poor results, and compounding consumer frustration, China’s health industry has many

Outside of a wealthy few, citizens are forced to make often lengthy treks to overcrowded and understaffed hospitals in urban centers.  Reception areas exist only in concept, as any open space is quickly filled by hordes of the concerned, sick, and fearful settling in for wait times that can last multiple days. 

If and when patients are finally seen, they are frequently met by overworked or inexperienced medical staff, rushing to get people in and out in hopes of servicing the endless line behind them. 

Historically, when patients were diagnosed, treatment options were limited and ineffective, as import laws and affordability issues made many globally approved drugs unavailable.

As one would assume, poor detection and treatment have led to problematic outcomes. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and chronic lung disease accounts for 80% of deaths in China, according to a recent report from the World Bank

Recurring issues of misconduct, deception and dishonesty have amplified the population’s mounting frustration.

After past cases of widespread sickness caused by improperly handled vaccinations, China’s vaccine crisis reached a breaking point earlier this year.  It was revealed that 250,000 children had been given defective and fallacious rabies vaccinations, a fact that inspectors had discovered months prior and swept under the rug.

Fracturing public trust around medical treatment has serious, potentially destabilizing effects. And with deficiencies permeating nearly all aspects of China’s health and medical infrastructure, there is a gaping set of opportunities for disruptive change.

In response to these issues, China’s government placed more emphasis on the search for medical innovation by rolling out policies that improve the chances of success for health startups, while reducing costs and risk for investors.

Billions of public investment flooded into the life science sector, and easier approval processes for patents, research grants, and generic drugs, suddenly made the prospect of building a life science or biotech company in China less daunting. 

For Chinese venture capitalists, on top of financial incentives and a higher-growth local medical sector, loosening of drug import laws opened up opportunities to improve China’s medical system through innovation abroad.

Liquidity has also improved due to swelling global interest in healthcare. Plus, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange recently announced changes to allow the listing of pre-revenue biotech companies.

The changes implemented across China’s major institutions have effectively provided Chinese health investors with a much broader opportunity set, faster growth companies, faster liquidity, and increased certainty, all at lower cost.

However, while the structural and regulatory changes in China’s healthcare system has led to more medical startups with more growth, it hasn’t necessarily driven quality.

US and Western investors haven’t taken the same cross-border approach as their peers in Beijing. From talking with those in the industry, the laxity of the Chinese system, and others, have made many US investors weary of investing in life science companies overseas.

And with the Valley similarly stepping up its focus on startups that sprout from the strong American university system, bubbling valuations have started to raise concern.

But with China dedicating more and more billions across the globe, the country is determined to patch the massive holes in its medical system and establish itself as the next leader in international health innovation.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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HP is ‘printing’ drugs for the CDC to speed up antibiotic testing

Posted by on Aug 27, 2018 in antimicrobial, Bio, Biology, Biotech, CRISPR, Health, hewlett-packard, HP, medicine, Pharmaceutical, printing, TC, United States | 0 comments

At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with so-called “super bugs” and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now, HP’s Biohacker technology is working with the CDC on a pilot program to “print” and test antibiotics in an effort to catch these antimicrobial resistant strains from spreading faster.

The HP D300e Digital Dispenser BioPrinter technology works by using the same set up as a regular ink printer, but instead dispenses any combination of drugs in volumes from picoliters to microliters to be used for research purposes.

Part of the reason these bugs spread so rapidly often comes down to mis-use of antibiotics, leading the bacteria to develop a resistance to the drugs available. The CDC hopes to give hospital providers access to the technology nationwide to cut down on the problem.

“Once a drug is approved for use, the countdown begins until resistance emerges,” Jean Patel, PhD, D (ABMM), Science Team Lead, Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit at CDC said in a statement. “To save lives and protect people, it is vital to make technology accessible to hospital labs nationwide. We hope this pilot will help ensure our newest drugs last longer and put gold-standard lab results in healthcare providers’ hands faster.”

The 3D bioprinting sector has been experiencing rapid growth over the last few years and will continue on pace through the next decade, mainly due to R&D, according to market researchers. Innovation in the space includes printing of organs and human tissue and drug research and development.

Further, this potentially valuable antibiotic resistance research could help patient care teams stem a grim future where we experience a regression in health and life spans due to no longer having the ability to treat currently curable diseases.

The HP BioPrinter is currently used by labs and pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, which tests for drugs used against the Ebola virus. It is also being used in various CRISPR applications. The CDC will use these printers in four regional areas spread throughout the U.S. within the Antibiotic Resistance (AR) Lab Network to develop antimicrobial susceptibility test methods for new drugs, according to HP.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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