With shortages of N95 face masks persisting nationwide, healthcare facilities are scrambling to find ways to clean and treat the masks for reuse to protect doctors and nurses most at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Duke University thinks it has found a solution using vaporized hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate the masks.
The process uses specialized equipment to vaporize hydrogen peroxide, which can then infuse all the layers of the mask to kill germs (including viruses) without degrading mask material.
“This is a decontamination technology and method we’ve used for years in our biocontainment laboratory,” said Scott Alderman, associate director of the Duke Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, in a statement.
The University said it has proven effective and will begin using the technology at all three of its hospitals, according to Matthew Stiegel, the director of the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office at Duke.
Ideally, the hospitals would be able to use fresh masks and not need to try to decontaminate their masks, but these are not ideal times.
Duke’s decision to use hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate N95 masks is based on published studies conducted in 2016, but the practice wasn’t widespread, because the industry wasn’t facing shortages. Those earlier studies also didn’t include fit-testing — or the resizing of masks for individual wearers — after cleaning. Duke has now done that efficacy testing in the real world, the university said.
“The ability to reuse the crucial N95 masks will boost the hospitals’ ability to protect frontline health care workers during this time of critical shortages of N95 masks,” said Cameron Wolfe, M.D., associate professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist.
Monte Brown, M.D., vice president at Duke University Health System, said the Duke team is working to spread the word about the technique, making the protocols widely available. He said several health systems and many pharmaceutical companies already have the needed equipment, which is currently used in different ways, and could ramp up operations to come to the aid of their local hospitals.
“We could stand up in front of our staff and state with confidence that we are using a proven decontamination method,” Brown said. “It has been a proven method for years. While this alone will not solve the problem, if we and others can reuse masks even once or twice, that would be a huge benefit given the current shortages.”
Facebook has filled the lead independent board director role with former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Robert M. Kimmitt. Meanwhile, the CEO of The Cranemere Group Limited Jeffrey D. Zients will not seek re-election to Facebook’s board at the 2020 annual meeting, but will serve until then. Kimmitt replaces Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellmann, who was the former lead independent director but left the board in October.
“The lead independent director is an important role for us and we’ve been looking for a leader who can bring significant oversight and governance experience” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced. “Bob has deep experience working in business, technology and public policy at the highest levels — serving in senior roles at the Treasury, State, and Defense departments under multiple presidents, as US Ambassador to Germany, and on the National Security Council. He has also served as president of a public technology company in Silicon Valley” Zuckerberg wrote.
Before serving with the U.S. Treasury from 2005 to 2009, 72-year-old Kimmitt was on Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which has been eying Chinese Facebook competitor TikTok and how it acquired Musically to become a giant in short-form video. The Vietnam combat veteran was a Major General in the Army Reserve. He was also the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs during the Gulf War.
In the private sector, Ambassador Kimmitt was Executive Vice President of Global Public Policy at Time Warner, President of Commerce One, a partner at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, and a managing director at Lehman Brothers. He’s now the Senior International Counsel at law firm WilmerHale.
“I am excited to take on this leadership role on Facebook’s board, as the company continues to improve the ways technology and innovation can bring us together” said Kimmitt.
Kimmitt’s appointment comes after several concerning changes to the board recently. Kenneth Chenault left the board at the beginning of the month following his push for Facebook to do more to protect elections, given its refusal to fact-check political ads. Disagreements with Zuckerberg about political policy led to Chenault’s exit. In February, Zuckerberg’s friend Drew Houston, the co-founder of Dropbox, joined the board in what felt like a chummy appointment.
The board now consists of Zuckerberg, Kimmitt, Zients until the annual meeting, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, PayPal’s Peggy Alford, investor Marc Andreessen, Dropbox’s Drew Houston, McKinse’s Nancy Killefer, Estee Lauder’s Tracey T. Travis, and investor Peter Thiel.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its rules around use of experimental treatments for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to include use of ‘convalescent plasma,’ in cases where the patient’s life is seriously or immediately threatened. This isn’t an approval of the procedure as a certified treatment, but rather an emergency clearance that applies only on a case-by-case basis, and only in extreme cases, as a means of helping further research being done into the possible efficacy of plasma collected from patients who have already contracted, and subsequently recovered from, a case of COVID-19.
Plasma is a component of human blood – specifically the liquid part – which contains, among other things, antibodies that contribute to a body’s immune response. Use of plasma, through direct transfusion into a patient, like every other proposed treatment for COVID-19 (and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it), has not undergone the clinical studies needed to show that it’s actually safe and effective in combatting the disease.
Despite a lack of completed clinical trials, the FDA has granted this temporary authorization under its Investigational New Drug Applicants (eINDS) exemption, in light of the extent and nature of the current public health threat that COVID-19 represents. A number of pre-clinical and clinical trials around use of plasma from patients who have recovered are underway, however, and there are some promising signs that convalescent plasma could indeed be effective against SARS-CoV-2.
This is hardly the first time that convalescent plasma has been proposed or attempted to fight off a disease. People who have had a virus and subsequently recovered from it typically build up an immunity to it – either long-term, as with chicken pox, or short-term, as with the seasonal flu. Logically, it stands to reason that it should be possible, at least in theory, to take the antibodies from one individual who has already developed them, and transfuse them into a patient whose immune system is not doing a good enough job producing its own.
Convalescent plasma transfusions have been used in previous outbreaks, including against the H1N1 flu, as well as the original SARS and MERS epidemics, with varying results.
A number of research projects are underway regarding use of plasma against COVID-19, including a study by a team of Chinese medical professionals published in pre-print format (prior to any peer review) that studied ten severe patients who received donations from recently recovered patients. That study found that in five of the ten cases, the level of antibodies “increased rapidly” immediately post-transfusion (four other patients already had a high level of antibodies, and that persisted), and that within a week, the presence of the virus was undetectable in seven patients.
That still isn’t a formal clinical study, but other small-scale investigations from clinical practice have shown similar results. A group of doctors and researchers have also put together a set of protocols for use by doctors working with both donors and recipients to help align efforts across investigations and ensure that everyone working on this problem in the medical science community is working from the same playbook.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that state health agencies would be beginning a convalescent plasma trial this week, and it was cited by FDA Director Dr. Stephen Hahn as an area of early promise last week during a White House coronavirus task force briefing.
All donor patients would have to be tested to confirm that they are not at risk of transmitting the virus, and they must also qualify as a blood donor under the existing rules in place by state and federal agencies. While some early studies have shown that plasma transfusions could be effective in prophylactic use (meaning treating health people before they encounter the virus), this FDA specifically prohibits any prophylactic use.
As with all the treatments currently under development, this will take a lot of testing and research both to validate, and then to certify for general use – though there are a lot of researchers working on those challenges, because work to date shows this is likely to be more effective as a strategy in cases that haven’t yet progressed to the severe symptom stage. Convalescent plasma treatment isn’t new, or even all that sophisticated, but it does have the advantage of being relatively safe (in line with standard blood transfusions, once a person is confirmed to no longer be carrying any active virus), so this could be something to watch for more active updates vs. some of the longer-lead treatment technologies in development.
The European Commission announced yesterday it’s reached a data-sharing agreement with vacation rental platforms Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Tripadvisor — trumpeting the arrangement as a “landmark agreement” which will allow the EU’s statistical office to publish data on short-stay accommodations offered via these platforms across the bloc.
It said it wants to encourage “balanced” development of peer-to-peer rentals, noting concerns have been raised across the EU that such platforms are putting unsustainable pressure on local communities.
It expects Eurostat will be able to publish the first statistics in the second half of this year.
“Tourism is a key economic activity in Europe. Short-term accommodation rentals offer convenient solutions for tourists and new sources of revenue for people. At the same time, there are concerns about impact on local communities,” said Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner responsible for the internal market, in a statement.
“For the first time, we are gaining reliable data that will inform our ongoing discussions with cities across Europe on how to address this new reality in a balanced manner. The Commission will continue to support the great opportunities of the collaborative economy, while helping local communities address the challenges posed by these rapid changes.”
Per the Commission’s press release, data that will be shared with Eurostat on an ongoing basis includes number of nights booked and number of guests, which will be aggregated at the level of “municipalities.”
“The data provided by the platforms will undergo statistical validation and be aggregated by Eurostat,” the Commission writes. “Eurostat will publish data for all Member States as well as many individual regions and cities by combining the information obtained from the platforms.”
We asked the Commission if any other data would be shared by the platforms — including aggregated information on the number of properties rented; and whether rentals are whole properties or rooms in a lived in property — but a Commission spokeswoman could not confirm any other data would be provided under the current arrangement. Update: It has now confirmed a second phase will involve more data being published — see below for details.
She also told us that municipalities can be defined differently across the EU, so it may not always be the case that city-level data will be available to be published by Eurostat.
In recent years, multiple cities in the EU — including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and Paris — have sought to put restrictions on Airbnb and similar platforms in order to limit their impact on residents and local communities, arguing short-term rentals remove housing stock and drive up rental prices, hollowing out local communities and creating other sorts of anti-social disruptions.
However, a ruling in December by Europe’s top court — related to a legal challenge filed against Airbnb by a French tourism association — offered the opposite of relief for such cities, with judges finding Airbnb to be an online intermediation service, rather than an estate agent.
Under current EU law on Internet business, the CJEU ruling makes it harder for cities to apply tighter restrictions as such services remain regulated under existing ecommerce rules. Although the Commission has said it will introduce a Digital Services Act this year that’s slated to upgrade liability rules for platforms (and at least could rework aspects of the ecommerce directive to allow for tighter controls).
Last year, ahead of the CJEU’s ruling, ten EU cities penned an open letter warning that “a carte blanche for holiday rental platforms is not the solution,” calling for the Commission to introduce “strong legal obligations for platforms to cooperate with us in registration-schemes and in supplying rental-data per house that is advertised on their platforms.”
So it’s notable the Commission’s initial data-sharing arrangement with the four platforms does not include any information about the number or properties being rented, nor the proportion which are whole property rentals vs rooms in a lived in property — both of which would be highly relevant metrics for cities concerned about short-term rental platforms’ impact on local housing stock and rents.
When asked about this, the Commission spokeswoman told us it had to “ensure a fair balance between the transparency that will help the cities to develop their policies better and then to protect personal data, because this is about private houses.”
“The decision was taken on this basis to strike a fair balance between the different interests at stake,” she added.
When we pointed out that it would be possible to receive property data in aggregate, in a way that does not disclose any personal data, the spokeswoman had no immediate response.
Without pushing for more granular data from platforms, the Commission initiative looks like it will achieve only a relatively superficial level of transparency in the first instance — and one which might best suit platforms’ interests by spotlighting attention on tourist dollars generated in particular regions rather than offering data to allow for cities to drill down into flip-side impacts on local housing and rent affordability.
Gemma Galdon, director of a Barcelona-based research consultancy, called Eticas, which focuses on the ethics of applying cutting edge technologies, agreed the Commission move appears to fall short — though she welcomed increasing transparency as “a good step.”
“This is indeed disappointing. Cities like Barcelona, NYC, Portland or Amsterdam have agreements with Airbnb to access data (even personal and contact data for hosts!),” she told us.
“Mentioning privacy as a reason not to provide more data shows a serious lack of understanding of data protection regulation in Europe. Aggregate data is not personal data. And still, personal data can be shared as long as there is a legal basis or consent,” she added.
“So while this is a good step, it is unclear why it falls so short as the reason provided (privacy) is clearly not relevant in this case.”
Update: We understand a second phase of the Commission’s data-sharing arrangement will see Eurostat also publish data on the number of properties rented and the proportion which are full property rentals vs rooms in occupied properties. However it intends to wait until it’s confident it can accurately exclude double-counting of the same rental properties advertised on different platforms.
In the first phase Eurostat will publish the following occupancy data: Number of stays (number of rentals of each listing during the reference period); number of nights rented out (number of nights each listing was rented out during the reference period); and number of overnight stays (number of guest nights spent at each listing during the reference period (based on number of guests indicated when booking was made).
In a second phase, which does not yet have a timeline attached to it, the following capacity data will also be published: Number of hosts (number of hosts renting out one or more listings); number of listings; and number of bed places (best possible approximation based on e.g. maximum capacity shown for each listing). This second phase will also include data on the type of accommodation (i.e. individual room in a shared property vs entire property).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today that it would allow new diagnostics technologies to be used to test for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at elite academic hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country.
The agency’s new initiative comes as critics have assailed various U.S. government agencies for being woefully underprepared to effectively address the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country despite being aware of the potential risks the virus posed since the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China in early December.
As the first diagnosed cases of the new virus appeared in the country, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had conducted only 459 tests. Meanwhile, China had five commercial tests for the coronavirus on the market one month ago and can now conduct up to 1.6 million tests per week. South Korea has tested another 65,00 people so far, according to a report in Science Magazine. Initial tests in the U.S. were hampered by the distribution of test kits which contained a faulty reagent — rendering the kits useless.
The CDC isn’t the only U.S. agency criticized for its mishandling of the response to a potential outbreak. On Thursday a whistleblower complaint was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services alleging that the agency sent over a dozen employees to Wuhan to evacuate American citizens from the country without the proper training or protective gear, as first reported by The Washington Post.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration is opening the doors for research centers across the country to use new technologies that have yet to be approved for emergency use in order to dramatically increase the number of tests healthcare facilities can perform.
“We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, in a statement. “We will continue to help to ensure sound science prior to clinical testing and follow-up with the critical independent review from the FDA, while quickly expanding testing capabilities in the U.S. We are not changing our standards for issuing Emergency Use Authorizations. This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation.”
The new policy allows laboratories to begin to use validated COVID-19 diagnostics before the FDA has completed review of the labs’ Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests, the agency said in a statement.
In cases where the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that there’s a public health emergency or a significant potential for a public health emergency, the FDA can issue these EUAs to permit the use of medical products that can diagnose, treat, or prevent a disease. The HHS secretary determined that the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus was just such an emergency on February 4.
So far, the FDA has authorized one EUA for COVID-19 that’s already being used by the CDC and some public health labs, the agency said.
“The global emergence of COVID-19 is concerning, and we appreciate the efforts of the FDA to help bring more testing capability to the U.S.,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).
Development of new diagnostics tests are handled by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the HHS Office responsible for preparedness and response to health issues.
“This step may reduce development costs, speed the process for availability at more testing sites, incentivize private development and, ultimately, help save lives,” said Rick Bright, the BARDA’s director.
Startups like the Redwood City, Calif.-based genome sequencing device manufacturer, Genapsys, and Co-Diagnostics, another molecular diagnostics startup out of Salt Lake City, have been approached by the Chinese government and European testing facilities, respectively.
In the U.S. a number of large, publicly traded companies and startups are pursuing new diagnostics tools that can be used to identify the novel strain of the coronavirus.
“At BARDA, we are identifying industry partners to develop rapid diagnostics that can be used in commercial and hospital labs or even doctors’ offices so that medical professionals and their patients have the information they need to take action,” Bright said.
KKR, the multi-billion dollar, multi-strategy investment firm, has closed on over $1.3 billion for companies focused on social and environmental challenges.
KKR Global Impact says its fund will focus on identifying and investing in companies worldwide where preformance and social impact are intrinsically aligned. Specifically, the fund will invest in companies in the lower middle market that contribute toward progress along the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“The UN SDGS were developed to mobilize citizens, policymakers, technologists and investors to address global challenges. As investors, we have a significant role to play in building businesses that contribute to SDG solutions while also generating financial returns for our fund investors by doing so,” said Robert Antablin and Ken Mehlman, KKR Partners and Co-Heads of KKR Global Impact, in a statement.
It’s a nice chunk of change that could potentially fund companies in the re-emerging climate and sustainability space, but it’s dwarfed by the $13.9 billion that KKR raised in 2017 for its Americas fund, or the $7 billion that the firm has to invest in infrastructure from its latest investment vehicle.
Mehlman’s role in promoting environmental and sustainable development stewardship belies his role as a senior administration official during George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House. He was appointed director of the Bush Administration’s Office of Political Affairs in 2000 and served in several administrative capacities both for the Republican Party within and outside of the White House.
Environmentalists have a pretty bleak assessment of the Bush years in office.
“[President Bush] has undone decades if not a century of progress on the environment,” Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, one of America’s largest environmental groups, said to the Guardian about the Bush administration’s environmental record back in a 2008 interview.
“The Bush administration has introduced this pervasive rot into the federal government which has undermined the rule of law, undermined science, undermined basic competence and rendered government agencies unable to do their most basic function even if they wanted to.”
Twenty years later, Mehlman is working in the private sector on financing companies involved in mitigating and adapting the world to the climate crisis that inactivity from the administration he helped shepherd into office has exacerbated.
Other investment areas the KKR fund will focus on include responsible waste management, using technology to enhance safety, mobility and sustainability, creating more sustainable products and services and upgrading declining industry and infrastructure.
KKR launched its global impact business two years ago and its 12 person team has invested in Barghest Building Performance, Ramky Environ Engineers, KnowBe4, Burning Glass, and the construction of a wastewater treatment plant.
In addition to the external commitments KKR received, the firm said it will invest $130 million of capital in the fund through its own balance sheet.
“We are thrilled to see our investors’ shared enthusiasm for the tremendous opportunity we see ahead for KKR Global Impact and will build on this to help set the new standard across investing, value creation and measuring success in the space,” said Alisa Amarosa Wood, KKR Partner and Head of KKR’s Private Market Products Group.
KKR did not respond to a request for comment about Mehlman’s previous work in the Bush Administration.
Excitement in the consumer genetic testing market continues to show signs of slowing down.
In the past two weeks layoffs have hit two of the biggest consumer genetic testing services — 23andme and Ancestry — with the latter announcing that it would slash its staff by 6% earlier today, in a blog post.
In her blogpost announcing the layoffs, Ancestry chief executive Margo Georgiadis wrote:
… over the last 18 months, we have seen a slowdown in consumer demand across the entire DNA category. The DNA market is at an inflection point now that most early adopters have entered the category. Future growth will require a continued focus on building consumer trust and innovative new offerings that deliver even greater value to people. Ancestry is well positioned to lead that innovation to inspire additional discoveries in both Family History and Health.
Today we made targeted changes to better position our business to these marketplace realities. These are difficult decisions and impact 6 percent of our workforce. Any changes that affect our people are made with the utmost care. We’ve done so in service to sharpening our focus and investment on our core Family History business and the long-term opportunity with AncestryHealth.
The move from Ancestry follows job cuts at 23andMe in late January, which saw 100 staffers lose their jobs (or roughly 14% of its workforce.
“We have previously based our DTC expectations on customer forecasts, but given unanticipated market softness, we are taking an even more cautious view of the opportunity in the near-term,” the company’s chief executive Francis deSouza said in a second quarter earnings call.
Consumers seem to be waking up to the privacy concerns over how genetic tests can be used.
“You can cancel your credit card. You can’t change your DNA,” Matt Mitchell, the director of digital safety and privacy for the advocacy organization Tactical Tech, told Business Insider earlier in the year.
And privacy laws in the U.S. have not caught up with the reality of how DNA testing is being used (and could potentially be abused), according to privacy experts and legal scholars.
“In the US we have taken to protecting genetic information separately rather than using more general privacy laws, and most of the people who’ve looked at it have concluded that’s a really bad idea,” Mark Rothstein, a law professor at Brandeis and the director of the University of Louisville’s Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law, told Wired in May.
The investigation into the “Golden State Killer” and the eventual arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo thanks to DNA evidence collected from an open source genealogy site called GEDMatch likely helped focus consumers thinking on the issue.
In that case a relative of DeAngelo’s had uploaded their information onto the site and investigators found a close match with DNA at the crime scene. That information was then correlated with other details to eventually center on DeAngelo as a suspect in the crimes.
While consumer genetic testing services may be struggling, investors still see increasing promise in clinical genetics testing, with companies like the publicly traded InVitae seeing its share price rally and the privately held company, Color, raising roughly $75 million in new capital from investors led by T. Rowe Price.
The Catalyst Fund has gained $15 million in new support from JP Morgan and UK Aid and will back 30 fintech startups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the next three years.
The Boston based accelerator provides mentorship and non-equity funding to early-stage tech ventures focused on driving financial inclusion in emerging and frontier markets.
That means connecting people who may not have access to basic financial services — like a bank account, credit or lending options — to those products.
Catalyst Fund will choose an annual cohort of 10 fintech startups in five designated countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India and Mexico. Those selected will gain grant-funds and go through a six-month accelerator program. The details of that and how to apply are found here.
“We’re offering grants of up to $100,000 to early-stage companies, plus venture building support…and really…putting these companies on a path to product market fit,” Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carraro told TechCrunch.
Program participants gain exposure to the fund’s investor networks and investor advisory committee, that include Accion and 500 Startups. With the $15 million Catalyst Fund will also make some additions to its network of global partners that support the accelerator program. Names will be forthcoming, but Carraro, was able to disclose that India’s Yes Bank and University of Cambridge are among them.
Catalyst fund has already accelerated 25 startups through its program. Companies, such as African payments venture ChipperCash and SokoWatch — an East African B2B e-commerce startup for informal retailers — have gone on to raise seven-figure rounds and expand to new markets.
Those are kinds of business moves Catalyst Fund aims to spur with its program. The accelerator was founded in 2016, backed by JP Morgan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Catalyst Fund is now supported and managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and global tech consulting firm BFA.
African fintech startups have dominated the accelerator’s startups, comprising 56% of the portfolio into 2019.
That trend continued with Catalyst Fund’s most recent cohort, where five of six fintech ventures — Pesakit, Kwara, Cowrywise, Meerkat and Spoon — are African and one, agtech credit startup Farmart, operates in India.
The draw to Africa is because the continent demonstrates some of the greatest need for Catalyst Fund’s financial inclusion mission.
Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.
Collectively, these numbers have led to the bulk of Africa’s VC funding going to thousands of fintech startups attempting to scale finance solutions on the continent.
Digital finance in Africa has also caught the attention of notable outside names. Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey recently took an interest in Africa’s cryptocurrency potential and Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs has invested in fintech related startups on the continent.
This lends to the question of JP Morgan’s interests vis-a-vis Catalyst Fund and Africa’s financial sector.
For now, JP Morgan doesn’t have plans to invest directly in Africa startups and is taking a long-view in its support of the accelerator, according to Colleen Briggs — JP Morgan’s Head of Community Innovation
“We find financial health and financial inclusion is a…cornerstone for inclusive growth…For us if you care about a stable economy, you have to start with financial inclusion,” said Briggs, who also oversees the Catalyst Fund.
This take aligns with JP Morgan’s 2019 announcement of a $125 million, philanthropic, five-year global commitment to improve financial health in the U.S. and globally.
More recently, JP Morgan Chase posted some of the strongest financial results on Wall Street, with Q4 profits of $2.9 billion. It’ll be worth following if the company shifts any of its income-generating prowess to business and venture funding activities in Catalyst Fund markets like Nigeria, India and Mexico.