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Taking a Break

Suitcase in airport

(Michal Parzuchowski, Unsplash)

19 July 2019. We’re taking a few days off at Science & Enterprise, for some study-travel and book reading. We’ll be back at the end of July. Until then, we’ll post occasional contributed stories, and return to our regular editorial schedule upon our return.

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Infographic – U.S. Venture Funds Near 20-Year Highs

Venture investment chart

Click on image for full-size view (Statista)

19 July 2019. Total venture capital funding in the U.S. for first six months of 2019 reached levels not seen since the year 2000, the waning days of the dot-com era. According to the latest MoneyTree Report published by PWC and CB Insights, and charted by our friends at Statista in this week’s infographic, venture financiers invested $54.9 billion in the first half of this year, the highest first-half funding level since $66.4 billion invested in 2000.

The MoneyTree Report says Internet companies gained most of these venture funds since the start of 2019, bringing in $22.6 billion, followed by health care companies raising $8.8 billion and mobile/telecommunications enterprises with $5.9 billion. However, the report also shows the number of investments dropped to the lowest level since 2013, indicating larger venture deals than before. In fact, 112 deals of $100 million or more were recorded in the U.S. from January to June 2019. We’ve listed below a few of those so-called mega-deals reported by Science & Enterprise.

Our infographic appears a day early this week, since we’ll be taking a break until the end of July. We’ll have more about that in a later post today.

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A.I. Helps Visualize Emergency Social Media Data

Helping flooded regions

Louisiana National Guard troops help residents in areas hit by recent floods in that state. (Louisiana National Guard)

18 July 2019. A set of computational tools developed at Purdue University enables public safety agencies to monitor potentially catastrophic events in real time by analyzing text and images on social media. The technologies behind the Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit, or SMART, are also being commercialized by Davista Technologies, a spin-off enterprise from the university, marketing data visualization systems to help the work of emergency management agencies.

The SMART package offers public safety managers a way to organize, process, and visualize the mass of unstructured information that erupts when emergencies happen, to identify people needing help. Much of those data originate in social media messages and interactions posted by individuals describing their current circumstances, environments, and locations. The system analyzes the data from several angles simultaneously, then creates visualizations for users to quickly identify the location and scale of problems.

SMART monitors social media channels, such as Twitter and Instagram, and extracts trending topics or anomalies from the posts. Messages and terms in posts are filtered and put into context, such as severe weather occurring in the locations where the messages are occurring. Machine learning algorithms also evaluate these messages in their contexts to validate the likelihood of real emergencies, such as floods or medical crises. The data then are converted into visual form, including on maps. A key part of SMART called TopoText that visualizes aggregated text data on multiple dimensions in a single display was described at last year’s annual ACM conference on human factors in computing systems in Montreal.

David Ebert, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue and director of the research center that developed SMART, says the system is beginning field tests at local agencies. “We have launched a pilot program with a dozen of agencies across the country,” says Ebert in a university statement. “They are taking our platform and using it in their command centers to monitor big events, disasters and other public safety concerns.”

The research center known as the Visual Analytics for Command, Control, and Interoperability Environments, or Vaccine, is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which financed as well the SMART package. DHS is also supporting the roll-out of SMART to local public safety agencies.

Ebert filed for a patent on the SMART technology, and co-founded Davista Technologies LLC in West Lafayette, Indiana to take the technologies to market. The company develops systems that visualize risk profiles and vulnerabilities, but also help plan security guard deployments and placement of surveillance video cameras. Abish Malik, Ebert’s engineering colleague at Purdue is Davista’s co-founder and the company’s chief technology officer.

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Hearing Loss Cell Therapy Licensed in $625M Deal

Man with headphones

(StockSnap, Pixabay)

18 July 2019. A biotechnology company developing regenerative treatments for various disorders is licensing its lead therapy candidate for hearing loss to Astellas Pharma. The deal could bring Frequency Therapeutics in Woburn, Massachusetts as much as $625 million if all parts of the agreement are fulfilled.

Frequency Therapeutics is a four year-old company developing small molecule, or low molecular weight, drugs that stimulate dormant progenitor cells in the body to treat a number of disease areas: skin disorders, muscle regeneration, gastrointestinal diseases, and hearing loss. Progenitor cells perform something like stem cells, in that they can transform into functioning cells and tissue. But progenitor cells are more mature than stem cells and have a more limited range of tissues to which they can transform.

The company’s technology is based on discoveries in the bioengineering lab of Robert Langer at MIT and Jeffrey Karp’s regenerative medicine group at Harvard Medical School. Langer and Karp identified pathways for activating and stimulating dormant progenitor cells in the body to divide and differentiate, much like skin or intestinal cells. The target progenitor cells express proteins known as leucine-rich repeat-containing G protein-coupled receptor 5, or Lgr5+, which the company says it activates for cell division and transformation.

Frequency’s first product addresses sensorineural hearing loss, a common condition caused by damage to the inner ear. In that part of the ear, hair cells that act as sensory receptors and the auditory nerve can become damaged from a number of causes, including genetics, trauma, advanced age, and repeated exposure to loud noise. The company’s lead product code-named FX-322 is designed to activate progenitor cells in the ear. FX-322 is injected in the middle ear, then infuses into the inner ear where the damage occurs.

In April, Frequency Therapeutics reported results of an early- and mid-stage clinical trial which show FX-322 treatments caused no serious adverse effects, the main endpoint or objective of the trial. But the company also said the findings show signs of hearing restoration in “in multiple FX-322 treated patients.” A larger mid-stage clinical trial is planned for later this year.

In the agreement with Astellas Pharma, based in Tokyo, Frequency and Astellas will share further development and commercialization of FX-322, with Frequency responsible for the U.S. and Astellas taking the lead in the rest of the world. The two companies will collaborate on further clinical trials and coordinate commercial launch of FX-322’s branded versions.

Astellas is providing an initial payment of $80 million, and Frequency is eligible for another $545 million in payments for reaching designated development and commercial milestones. Frequency will also be eligible for royalties on sales of products from the agreement.

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Top 5 Government Contract Financing Options for You

– Sponsored content –

Business desk top view

(Rawpixel, Pexels.com)

18 July 2019. Looking for new ways to grow your small business? Bidding for government contracts is one of the many viable ways to grow your business. But finding a government contract is easier compared to the actual fulfillment and delivery of the contract. Small business owners often encounter problems due to lack of funding needed to fulfill government contracts, causing them to fail. Government contract financing can help.

By applying for this type of loan, small businesses can access the funds needed to fulfill government contracts. With that said, here are the top five financing options for you:

1.   Purchase Order (PO) Financing

Purchase order financing provides companies with the funds needed to pay suppliers for larger purchase orders. This type of financing program allows you to pay for supplier costs for government purchase orders. With the working capital you receive, you’ll be able to meet orders and increase revenue. Purchase order financing is flexible and it’s created to cater to adapt to growing orders. The purchase orders serve as collateral for the PO loan. You can borrow up to 100% of the money you need to fulfill customer orders.

2.   Asset-Based Loans

If you have company assets you can leverage, you might want to consider applying for an asset-based loan. Your company’s assets will serve as collateral in exchange for working capital. Depending on your preference, an asset-based loan can be structured like a line of credit or a term loan.

Asset-based loans are best used by growing companies have the financial capacity but cannot qualify for a business line of credit. Here’s a list of collateral lenders usually accept:

  • Accounts Receivable
  • Inventory
  • Purchase Orders
  • Machinery and Equipment
  • Commercial Real Estate
  • Marketable Securities
  • Intellectual Property

3.   Inventory Financing

You can use the unsold inventory to your advantage by applying for inventory financing. This financing solution works similar to a secured business line of credit where the inventory serves as collateral. You can easily repay the loan once inventory sells and generates revenue.

However, inventory financing has its limitations. You should only use it for inventory and setting up your line can take time and money. All of your inventory has to be evaluated and often priced at a percentage of its ‘distressed sale value’. Additionally, maintaining your line can be tedious because of inventory control.

4.   SBA Loans

The Small Business Administration created a number of financing programs specifically to help small business owners secure long-term funding. For government contracts, an SBA microloan program provides companies with up to $50,000 worth of funding. This loan is specifically designed to provide funding to small businesses.

Another type of SBA loan to consider is the 7(a) loan. The SBA 7(a) loan has higher borrowing limits than microloans, but it’s harder to qualify for one. But with its long repayment terms and competitive interest rates, 7(a) loans are great for rapidly growing businesses that need flexible funding.

5.   Invoice Financing

Slow-paying customers can cause cash flow problems. But with invoice financing, you won’t have to deal with late-paying customers. This financing option allows you to finance your pending invoices in exchange for immediate cash. The money you receive from invoice financing increases as your business grows. Qualifying for invoice financing is fast and easy, making it an ideal funding option for you.

Apply for Government Contract Financing Today!

With government contract financing, you’ll be able to meet supplier and creditor demands, finance new and current contracts, expand contract opportunities, and more. SMB Compass offers different types of loans suitable for every business need. To speak with one of our lending experts, please call us at (888) 853-8922 or email us at info@smbcompass.com.

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Smart Fabrics Boost Wearable Sensor Connections

Smart fabric team

Members of the project team show the metamaterial designs in the wearable sensor network. Left to right: doctoral student Xi Tian, research fellow Pui Mun Lee, and senior author John Ho. (National University of Singapore)

17 July 2019. A new type of smart fabric can dramatically improve connectivity between wearable sensors and mobile devices compared to current wireless networks. A team of engineers and materials scientists at National University of Singapore describe their discoveries in today’s issue of the journal Nature Electronics (paid subscription required).

Researchers led by electrical and computer engineering professor John Ho are seeking to improve the efficiency and privacy of wearable electronic sensor networks, used increasingly to monitor vital signs and other indicators of a person’s health. Current technologies like Bluetooth can transmit signals wirelessly over a short distance, but they radiate the signals in all directions within range of a receiving device. Thus much more power is needed to transmit the signal than is needed to simply reach the receiver. Broadcasting the signal also raises risks of intercepting the data, which for health-related apps should be kept private.

Ho and colleagues from the university’s Institute of Health Innovation and Technology developed an alternative method of transmitting wearable data. Their process adds commercially-available conductive materials to fabrics worn by individuals that can transmit data in a more focused manner. These conductive fabrics, say the authors, make it possible to transmit data from sensors simultaneously to multiple receiving devices in a wireless body network, much more efficiently and privately than today’s broadcast signals.

The researchers created this network from metamaterials, composite materials with added properties not found in natural materials. In this case, the metamaterials are conductive flexible polymers fabricated into a design resembling a long comb, with radio frequency signals traveling as surface waves over the teeth of the comb. The comb strips are attached to fabrics, with a conductive layer underneath. Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals from wearable sensors are sent through this network to receiving devices, rather than out in space searching for a nearby receiver. In this way, signals require much less power to reach their targets and are kept close to the body, within 10 centimeters.

The result, says Ho in a university statement, is a dramatic reduction in power needed for transmitting data from wearable sensors. “This innovation allows for the perfect transmission of data between devices at power levels that are 1,000 times reduced,” notes Ho. “Or, alternatively, these metamaterial textiles could boost the received signal by 1,000 times which could give you dramatically higher data rates for the same power.” The efficiency gained from these metamaterials may also make it possible to transmit power for wearable sensors through this network rather than building power sources into the sensors.

The researchers say the metamaterials are inexpensive and can be cut from rolls with lasers. Once added to fabrics with adhesives, the metamaterials can be laundered, dried, and folded with other clothing, while retaining their conductive properties. In addition, no changes are needed in smartphones or other receiving devices to connect to these whole body networks.

The university filed for a provisional patent on the technology and is seeking commercial partners. “We envision that endowing athletic wear, medical clothing, and other apparel with such advanced electromagnetic capabilities,” says Ho, “can enhance our ability to perceive and interact with the world around us.”

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Genentech, Biotech Partner on Multiple Sclerosis

Neurons illustration

Neurons (Laura Struzyna, University of Pennsylvania, NIH.gov)

16 July 2019. A company designing treatments to restore the protective coating on nerve cells damaged by multiple sclerosis is collaborating with biotechnology enterprise Genentech. While only some financial details of the agreement were disclosed, the deal includes an option by Genentech, a subsidiary of drug maker Roche in San Francisco, to acquire Convelo Therapeutics Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio.

Convelo Therapeutics is a spin-off business from the labs of geneticists Paul Tesar and Drew Adams at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Tesar and Adams, Convelo’s founders, study the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells in the brain. Myelin is the fatty, protective substance around nerve fibers, as well as nerve cells themselves. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system attacks the central nervous system and damages myelin. Scar tissue from the damaged myelin, known as sclerosis, distorts the nerve signals sent to and from the brain and spinal cord, causing symptoms ranging from mild numbness to loss of vision or paralysis.

The company’s technology, licensed from Case Western Reserve, aims to restore the myelin sheath destroyed in people with multiple sclerosis. Tesar and Adams discovered key roles played by stem cells in the development of oligodendrocytes that produce myelin. In healthy individuals, these precursor cells form new oligodendrocytes that maintain the protective myelin around nerve cells. Studies by Tesar and Adams identified a central pathway in the body that controls production of myelin and targets for therapies if that pathway is disrupted. The researchers also highlighted the role of specific steroid alcohols or sterols that contribute to the formation of oligodendrocytes in myelin production.

The deal calls for Convelo and Genentech to collaborate on discovery of new remyelination therapies for multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders caused by damaged myelin. One of these other conditions is leukodystrophy, a rare genetic disorder marked by myelin loss or dysfunction, usually affecting young children and with no treatment options. Myelin damage and loss is also found in some cases of trauma to the central nervous system, as a result of spinal cord injury, stroke, concussion, and traumatic brain injury.

Under the agreement, Convelo is receiving an initial payment from Genentech, as well as funding for the joint research by the two companies. Genentech will retain an exclusive option to acquire all of Convelo’s outstanding stock, with Convelo eligible for future milestone payments. Dollar amounts of the payments to Convelo were not disclosed.

“There have been important treatment advancements for people living with multiple sclerosis, but many still experience disability progression,” says James Sabry, who heads Roche’s global pharma partnering, in a Convelo statement. “Novel medicines that regenerate the myelin around nerve cells could help address this significant need.”

Science & Enterprise reported on Convelo’s emergence from stealth-incubation mode in July 2018. At that time, research papers by the company’s founders appeared in the journals Nature and Nature Methods.

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Careers Where Banter And Fun Come Into Their Own

– Contributed content –

Career jump graphic

(Igor Link, Pixabay)

16 July 2019. The choice of career that you have is often something that you spend time considering. Not all of us know what we want to do with our lives when we leave school, so often find ourselves in a job just to make ends meet. However, after some life experience and also realizing what we want to do and what we are passionate about, many of us can switch careers.

However, the one thing we don’t think about is workplace banter, the type of fun that you can have alongside your work with your peers and co-workers. With that in mind, here are some of the careers where banter and fun can come into their own. Maybe it will entice you to consider one of them for your next career move.

The military

You may not realize it, but banter among the military and the army in different rankings is something that is more common than you think. What can be seen as a very serious job role to have, can also get you to a stage where there is banter and fun poked out of people. From rankings, pogs and grunts to others say marines eat crayons. So you may be wondering why do marines eat crayons?

But the truth is these sorts of comments are another way of having banter among peers and a figure of speech referring to the level of skill required for that particular role. There is more to it than meets the eye and there is  more information about the various comments and phrases used among the military online.

The office job

There is nothing quite like office banter is there? The gossip and chat at the water cooler, the email communication or private messenger services you can use between colleagues. There will always be someone at the end of the joke, and workplace banter can often be one of the best ways to get through what can also be a very mundane day in the office.

However, office banter can also be taken to a different level, and some people can often feel victimized or singled out when it comes to jokes and what is described as banter can be more of a personal attack. It is always good to have a laugh with your co-workers, but always make sure that feelings are not hurt in the process.

Working in a school environment 

It takes a special person to work with children and in the education system, and to be a teacher means that you need to have a thick skin. Banter can be had among teachers as they discuss and share stories of their day teaching children. After all, children can often have no filter. But then you also need to think about the banter that teachers can have with their students, especially as they get older and in secondary and high school education. While it can be very tough in some circumstances it can also be a lot of fun to watch their minds grow and their personalities develop.

Let’s hope this has given you career inspiration from another angle.

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Trial to Test App Alerting for Dementia-Linked Drugs

Phone and keyboard

(MaxPixel)

15 July 2019. A mobile and computer app that alerts older citizens about a class of drugs associated with Alzheimer’s disease will soon be tested in a clinical trial. A team at Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis, and the affiliated Regenstrief Institute, received a 5-year, $3.5 million grant from National Institute on Aging, part of National Institutes of Health, to fund the trial.

The trial will test an app designed for smartphones, tablets, and desk or laptop system called Brain Safe that aims to reduce exposure of older individuals to anticholinergic drugs. Anticholinergics block the actions of a neurotransmitter, a signaling chemical in the brain, called acetylcholine found in motor neurons to stimulate muscle movement, and plays a key role in memory and cognition. These drugs are found in medications to treat a wide range of disorders from depression and sleep disorders to allergies and heart failure.

Researchers led by Richard Holden, director of Indiana’s Health Innovation Lab and a medical school faculty member, developed Brain Safe to alert people who take anticholinergic drugs, particularly older persons, about their risks. The team says one in three older people in the U.S. take anticholinergic drugs, despite increasing evidence that higher use of these drugs is associated with cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia.

Brain Safe is based on research on medical decision making that shows older individuals are interested and concerned about side-effects of over-the-counter drugs, but did not know about age-related risks associated with anticholinergics. The study team, including Holden, constructed a conceptual model of medical decision-making behavior that helped design Brain Safe. A later project tested the feasibility of an early version of the mobile app that show software of this kind is easy to use and can encourage older individuals to raise the issue of anticholinergics with their doctors.

The latest app includes an calculator to gauge an individual’s risk of exposure to anticholinergic drugs, tips to start a conversation with one’s doctor about anticholinergics, and multimedia content. The trial to test Brain Safe aims to enroll 700 individuals, with participants randomly assigned to use Brain Safe or an unrelated WebMD Health Assessment. Individuals taking part will be assessed before using the apps, then at 6 and 12 months for anticholinergic exposure, verified by dispensing records.

“Interventions to lower this risk are urgently needed,” says Holden in a university statement. “We hope this app will raise awareness and provide information to people, allowing them to take action to protect their brain health.”

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Trial Shows Immunotherapies Extend Life with Melanoma

T-cell lymphocyte

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a T lymphocyte (NIAID)

15 July 2019. First results from a clinical trial show a combination of immunotherapies extends survival among patients with melanoma, but shorter periods for other solid-tumor cancers. Top-line findings from the trial were released today by cancer biotechnology company Neon Therapeutics Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the trial, Neon Therapeutics is testing a personal vaccine for cancer, code-named NEO-PV-01 with the immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy nivolumab, marketed as Opdivo by drug maker Bristol Myers Squibb. Neon Therapeutics develops cancer treatments using neoantigens, peptides — short protein chains — expressed by specific genetic alterations and found on the surface of tumor cells, which can be unique to an individual.

Neon’s platform takes blood samples from a patient’s tumor and genomically sequences the tumor’s DNA and RNA to find mutations producing the cancer-causing proteins, including neoantigens. The technology uses machine-learning algorithms to predict which neoantigens are most likely to generate strong immune responses, which form the basis of a vaccine personalized for the patient. Neoantigens targeted by the vaccine then bind to immune system cells that generate T-cells for attacking and destroying the tumor.

Nivolumab is an immune checkpoint inhibitor that treats cancer by blocking proteins keeping the immune system from responding to cancer cells, and allowing tumors to grow unchecked. Synthetic antibodies in nivolumab open the checkpoints stopping T-cells in the immune system, allowing immune responses to attack tumor cells.

The early-stage clinical trial recruited 82 patients from 9 cancer centers in the U.S. with 3 types of solid-tumor cancer: metastatic or advanced melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and bladder cancer. Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer, while non-small cell lung cancer is the most common form of the disease, covering 85 percent of cases. The study team looked primarily for adverse effects from the treatments, but also tracked participants for up to 2 years, measuring the time patients survived after treatment, both overall and without the cancer progressing (getting worse), as well as responses of their tumors to the treatments.

Initial results from the trial show patients with melanoma appear to benefit the most from the combination of neoantigens and nivolumab. Among the 34 melanoma patients tracked for a median of more than 13 months, nearly half (47%) report a full or partial response to the treatments. In that period, survival time of melanoma patients without the cancer progressing did not reach a median, which means fewer than half of the patients reported their cancers growing or spreading.

Patients with non-small cell lung or bladder cancer do not fare quite as well. Of the 27 lung cancer and 21 bladder cancer patients, 22 and 24 percent respectively report full or partial responses to the combination of neoantigens and nivolumab. The lung cancer patients were tracked for a median of 12 months and bladder cancer patients were followed for nearly 15 months. During those periods, each group experienced a median survival time of 5.6 months without their cancers progressing.

The clinical trial does not have a control or comparison group, but compares progression-free survival times to historical averages for individuals receiving nivolumab alone: 3 to 7 months for melanoma, 2 to 4 months for non-small cell lung cancer, and 2 to 3 months for bladder cancer. No serious adverse effects were reported by patients receiving the combination therapy, with low-grade injection-site reactions, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms as the most common complaints.

Neon Therapeutics plans mid-stage trials of its neoantigens and checkpoint inhibitors. The company was founded in 2015 by researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Washington University in St . Louis, Netherlands Cancer Center, and the Broad Institute affiliated with Harvard and MIT. Science & Enterprise reported on a pilot test of its neoantigen treatments in July 2017.

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