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Lab-On-Chip Quickly Isolates, Captures Exosomes

Exosome illustration

Exosome illustration (National Cancer Institute)

12 July 2017. Tests of a lab-on-a-chip system show the device can rapidly isolate and recover cellular carriers of biomarkers useful in detecting cancer and other diseases. Tests of the device, made by the company Biological Dynamics in San Diego, are described in the 3 July issue of the journal ACS Nano (paid subscription required).

Labs-on-a chip are usually made of clear plastic or glass strips with fine channels where small specimen samples, often no more than a drop, can be quickly analyzed. The channels are treated with cells or reagents that react to the specimens, then measured and reported by attached instruments. Because these devices are often inexpensive and portable, they are often the basis of medical diagnostics performed at the point of care, such as local clinics or field hospitals, rather than sending samples off to a remote lab for analysis.

Biological Dynamics develops labs-on-a-chip with its AC Electrokinetics or ACE platform that sends an electric current through the chip, helping isolate biological targets of interest. The targets in this case are exosomes, tiny — 40 to 150 nanometer — lipid-membrane containers in cells that gather up and secrete cytoplasm, the gel-like material outside the cell nucleus. While originally believed to carry out waste removal and other maintenance tasks, exosomes were shown in recent years to perform useful delivery functions carrying proteins and genetic material to other cells, and drawing increased attention from a range of biological disciplines.

In the paper, a team from University of California in San Diego led by bioengineering professor Michael Heller tested the ability of an ACE chip from the company’s ExoVerita line to isolate and identify exosomes in blood plasma samples with biomarkers — protein indicators of disease — for 2 types of cancer. The samples were human blood plasma with added exosomes containing glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, and a plasma sample from a breast cancer patient.

The results show the ExoVerita chip analyzed minute plasma samples of 30 to 50 microliters and returned results in about 30 minutes. The chips isolated the exosomes that accumulated on the chip’s electrodes and illuminated with fluorescence. A simple wash of the chip removed other plasma components leaving the exosomes intact, containing RNA that could be analyzed further.

“Current exosome isolation methods are generally expensive, complex, and cumbersome, which could limit large-scale diagnostic applications,” says Heller in a company statement. “This study describes a relatively simple, rapid, and non-destructive method for the isolation of exosomes, that preserves their valuable biomarker information for direct analysis.” Heller is a scientific advisor to Biological Dynamics.

The company says the use of chips for exosome analysis make liquid biopsy tests more feasible, and thus make cancer screening available to larger populations. The technology can also be extended to diagnostics for traumatic brain injury and infectious diseases.

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Save Net Neutrality

– Special to Science & Enterprise –

12 July 2017. On July 12, 2017, websites, Internet users, and online communities will come together to sound the alarm about the FCC’s attack on net neutrality. Learn how you can join the protest and spread the word at

Right now, new FCC Chairman and former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai has a plan to destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies immense control over what we see and do online. If they get their way, the FCC will give companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T control over what we can see and do on the Internet, with the power to slow down or block websites and charge apps and sites extra fees to reach an audience.

If we lose net neutrality, we could soon face an Internet where some of your favorite websites are forced into a slow lane online, while deep-pocketed companies who can afford expensive new “prioritization” fees have special fast lane access to Internet users – tilting the playing field in their favor.

But on July 12th, the Internet will come together to stop them. Websites, Internet users, and online communities will stand tall, and sound the alarm about the FCC’s attack on net neutrality.

The Battle for the Net campaign will provide tools for everyone to make it super easy for your friends, family, followers to take action. From the SOPA blackout to the Internet Slowdown, we’ve shown time and time again that when the Internet comes together, we can stop censorship and corruption. Now, we have to do it again!

Learn more and join the action here:

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NIH Supporting App That Helps Opioid Therapies

Heroin powder

Heroin powder (Drug Enforcement Administration)

11 July 2017. A company making game-style mobile apps to help therapies for opioid and other substance abuse is receiving R&D support from National Institutes of Health. Pear Therapeutics Inc., in Boston and San Francisco, was awarded a $180,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from National Institute of Drug Abuse, an agency of NIH.

The funding supports development of a new Pear Therapeutics’ mobile app to supplement treatments with the drug buprenorphine and cognitive behavioral therapy for opioid use disorder. Opioids work by reducing the intensity of pain signals to the brain, particularly regions of the brain controlling emotion, which reduces effects of the pain stimulus. Examples of leading opioid prescription pain medications are hydrocodone, oxycodon, morphine, and codeine. Heroin is also considered an opioid.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the country is in the midst of a “prescription opioid overdose epidemic.” In 2014, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose, and at least half of those deaths involved a prescription opioid, with even more becoming addicted to prescription and illegal opioids. Heroin-related deaths also increased sharply, more than tripling since 2010, leading to more than 10,500 deaths.

Pear Therapeutics offers a mobile app called reSet that encourages adherence to medications and supports outpatient therapy for substance abuse, with a version of the app called reSet-O designed for opioid addiction. The company says the apps’ efficacy was shown in 5 clinical studies involving more than 1,500 participants. The results, says the company, show the apps improve clinical outcomes and help participants retain their therapies anywhere from 12 weeks to 12 months. The current apps have not yet been approved for marketing in the U.S.

The NIH award supports development of a new mobile app called Options and Outcomes. The new app is patterned after reSet, but adds more mechanisms to better engage participants than the current program, comprised mainly of narrative text. Options and Outcomes is envisioned as a role-playing game, where participants interact with the main characters, analyze their decisions, and apply key concepts taught during the game. One of those key concepts is the importance of sticking with buprenorphine treatments.

In the first part of the project, Pear Therapeutic will create a prototype of Options and Outcomes for testing in the second phase. That second phase will include a small-scale clinical trial assessing Options and Outcomes for patient engagement, learning, and efficacy.

The company is partnering with CleanSlate Research and Education Foundation, a not-for-profit organization connected to CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Centers for conducting research on addiction. The Substance Use Disorders division of Columbia University Medical Center is also collaborating on the project. The award is a fast-track grant from NIH, with a completion date of 31 December 2017.

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Smartphone Data Reveal Physical Activity Worldwide

Smartphone data from more than 68 million days of activity by 717,527 individuals across 111 countries reveal variability in physical activity around the world. (T Althoff et al, Stanford University)

11 July 2017. A data science team tapped into smartphones of more than 717,000 people worldwide to capture the number of steps they take each day as an indicator of physical activity. Findings from the NIH-funded study by researchers at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California appear in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature (paid subscription required).

The Stanford team led by computer science professor Jure Leskovec is seeking techniques for harnessing the wealth of data produced by chips on mobile phones called accelerometers that sense movement of the device, for example when answering a call or when the screen orientation changes. Those same sensors respond to stepping motions, and can capture the number of steps taken by phone users.

Leskovic, with bioengineering professor Scott Delp, analyzed data on numbers of steps taken recorded by a popular wellness app Argus, by mobile software company Azumio, in Palo Alto. The data, provided with identifying details removed, offer insights into the “global pandemic of physical inactivity” as the researchers call it, which according to a 2012 study results in some 5.3 million deaths per year. Yet as the authors also point out, up to now there are few if any large-scale measurements of physical activity on a global scale.

The team analyzed activity data from 717,527 individuals in 111 countries for a total of 68 million days of activity, but reported results from 46 countries with 1,000 or more participants. Nine in 10 of these participants came from 32 high-income countries, as indicated in a World Bank index, while the remainder were from 14 middle-income nations. Worldwide, participants averaged about 5,000 steps per day, but the researchers found the range from sedentary to active levels was wider in countries with higher levels of obesity. The researchers call this gap “activity inequality.”

The authors rank activity inequality of the 46 countries, and found Hong Kong at the top with the smallest inequality range and Saudi Arabia last on the list with the largest. The United States is close to the bottom, about equal to Egypt, Canada, and Australia. Another key factor in activity inequality is gender, where lower activity rates among women are associated with activity inequality, which contribute to the low rankings of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

“When activity inequality is greatest,” says Leskovec in a university statement, “women’s activity is reduced much more dramatically than men’s activity, and thus the negative connections to obesity can affect women more greatly.”

The team also analyzed a subset of data from app users in 69 cities in the U.S., and compared data from participants with the cities’ rankings on “walkability” or pedestrian friendliness. The authors found an association between a city’s walkability rank and lower inactivity equality scores, with women comparatively less active than men in cities less friendly to pedestrians.

Making use of the popularity of smartphones for public health monitoring is the subject of a current challenge sponsored by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC is seeking proposals for innovative ways of using mobile devices to collect data on health-related behavior, with the deadline for initial proposals set for 4 August 2017.

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Four Affordable Ways To Speed Up Your Business With Tech

– Contributed content –


(Wikimedia Commons)

11 July 2017. The rate at which business is conducted is constantly accelerating. Fail to keep up and your clients may be likely to jump ship for a faster service. Technology is the biggest factor behind the ever increasing speed of business. Some companies will invest a lot of money in buying all the fastest computers and having all the fastest equipment, however this isn’t always necessary. A few changes in the way you use tech may be all you need. Here are a few examples…

Switch posted letters for email

Mailing letters can take days to get a response. Switching all correspondences to email can allow you to retrieve information from clients within minutes. Most businesses have switched to this paperless format, but there are many ways that businesses could be using this more to their advantage. Instead of mailing forms for people to sign, all this can now too be done digitally through a document signing app. This could save days of waiting for a contract to be signed. It also saves on the cost of postage.

Arrange video-conferences

Meeting someone in person can waste an entire day. Parties may need to travel far to meet one another and this is likely to cost a lot of money in either fuel or public transport fees. You can cut out the hours spent traveling by communicating to one another via video communication software. The likes of Skype and Bluejeans have the capability to talk to multiple people at a time so that you can essentially each hold a conference from your individual offices. You can also give demos and guided tours this way – it’s even become practice among some real estate agencies!

Outsource and rent expensive machinery

In some cases, there may be machinery that does indeed do the job faster that is essential for doing the job. You may need a special manufacturing machine or carpet cleaning machine or a piece of heavy construction machinery. Rather than buying this tech, you could simply outsource another company that has this tech to do the job for you. For example, there may be a company that offers rapid manufacturing of prototypes that you may need for pitching to an investor. Alternatively, you may be able to hire the machinery from a rental company. Here, you’ll have the equipment for a limited time but will spend much less than buying the machinery outright.

Automate accounting

Accounting can take up hours of working time from each week. Rather than slaving over a spreadsheet, it could be worth using accountancy software to automate the calculation of all your taxes and expenses. This might work out cheaper than hiring an accountant for the job. Such software is often available as an app too so that you can do your book-keeping from any location. Automated accounting can also reduce the rate of human errors and ensure that you present the taxman with the right amount of tax due each year.

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Darpa Funding Research on Brain-Digital Implants

Brain illustration


10 July 2017. The advanced research agency in Department of Defense is supporting six new projects on neural devices that connect the brain to digital technologies to restore sensory functions. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, made the awards to 4 academic labs, a research foundation, and a business.

The funding comes from Darpa’s Neural Engineering System Design program that seeks to develop a high-resolution implantable connection between the brain and digital electronics. The device, says the agency, aims to be compact, about 1 cubic centimeter in size, and able to convert data between electrochemical signals in the nervous system to digital signals containing data encoded in ones and zeroes. The research is expected to cross several scientific disciplines including neuroscience, synthetic biology, photonics, and engineering.

The initiative’s immediate goal is to expand the capacity of neural connections to engage more than 1 million neurons in parallel, bringing a richer interchange of data and signals that leads to new therapies addressing deficits in vision, hearing, and speech. The first round of studies is designed to create breakthroughs in software, equipment, and neuroscience with preclinical testing in lab cultures and animals. Later stages are expected to focus on miniaturization and integration, with the goal of creating devices ready for clinical trials and regulatory approval. With that eventual goal in mind, Food and Drug Administration representatives will advise the initiative on regulatory issues, such as safety, privacy, and compatibility with other medical technologies.

Funding recipients include:

Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where a team led by neuroengineering professor Arto Nurmikko aims to decode neural processing of speech, particularly tone and vocalization aspects of auditory perception. Nurmikko and colleagues proposed a network of 100,000 tiny sensors in the brain called neurograins, powered by an external passive radio unit or patch, acting as a relay to external instruments translating and processing neural and digital signals.

Columbia University in New York, where engineering professor Ken Shepard and colleagues are devising an integrated circuit with a surface recording array of 1 million electrodes, designed to be very light and flexible enough to adjust to tissue, but still sited outside the brain. A transceiver unit worn on the head would provide power and communicate wirelessly with the device.

Fondation Voir et Entendre in Paris where researchers Jose-Alain Sahel and Serge Picaud are expected to apply optogenetics — using light to influence brain signals — to communicate between neurons in the brain and an artificial retina worn over the eyes, helped along with implanted electronics and tiny light-emitting diodes. The foundation studies technologies affecting vision and hearing.

Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where neuroscientist Vincent Pieribone and colleagues in the John B. Pierce Laboratory also plan to study optogenetics and vision. The Pieribone team will design a system that connects neurons capable of bioluminescence for responding to optogenetics and connecting to an optical prosthetic device communicating with the part of the brain processing visual information.

University of California in Berkeley, where Ehud Isacoff’s team expects to develop a holographic microscope that can detect and modulate the activity of up to 1 million neurons in the cerebral cortex. Isacoff and colleagues aim to create computational models that predict responses of neurons to visual and tactile stimulation, and use the models to forecast sensory activity in the brain for devices that restore vision or control prosthetic devices for lost limbs.

Paradromics Inc. in San Jose, California, the only business among the awardees, where company CEO Matthew Angle and colleagues plan to develop a brain implant called a neural input–output bus with a high data rate to record and stimulate neurons. The Paradromics device is expected to use large arrays of electrodes to help restore speech functions, such as for individuals with ALS.

Darpa did not release funding amounts for the individual recipients, but Brown and Columbia universities and Paradromics reported awards between $15.8 and $19 million. Fortune magazine reports the agency expects to spend a total of $65 million.

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Is Tech Improving Your Employees, Or Is It Replacing Them?

– Contributed content –

10 July 2017. Technology in all its facets is something that is meant to aid businesses from the marketing strategies to the payment processes to the customer engagement, and anything else you can think of that fits into your business. If you are reading this as someone who runs a business and is looking for how technology is meant to fit into the current business model without it affecting the human aspect, it is a very sensible question to ask. Because if tech is improving your employees, then it makes for a vastly efficient operation where the staff is engaged and working to the best of their ability. While on the other side of the coin, having technology completely take over human workers does mean a cheaper workforce and, quite possibly, increased accuracy but who actually wants to talk to a robot when calling up customer services?

Robots illustration

(HypnoArt, Pixabay)

The most prominent use of tech in the modern business world is through automation. With systems like CRM, businesses are used to communicating with customers on a regular basis, drip feeding the information rather than having human hands type out an email and sending one out at a time. As a marketing strategy, it is very effective to have consistent communication with customers while not actually needing to do much work on the business side. You could create emails and marketing materials beforehand and then set the CRM to send out the information on a semi-regular basis at a time of your choosing. But, for this specific process, it does mean that humans are an essential part. For every aspect of automation, you need someone to do the automating, and while this may mean that you can cut down on members of staff because the machine is doing your work, you still rely on human input to an extent.

The best combination is to have the human and the machine working together in conjunction with each other, where one can complement the other and vice versa. This would seem to be the best process going forward, as you are making the most of the human input while cutting down on unnecessary costs, and at the same time, you are speeding up your business.

Examining technology in the age of the startup, it is unfathomable that any company would be standing were it not for virtual offices and, the most obvious of tech tools, the Internet! The most important thing that we have seen in the last 17 years in business is the rise of communication tools. Everybody has one now, whether it’s in the form of a smartphone or a laptop or an iPad, this is practically all you need to start a business now!


Chart on tablet

(Burak Kebapci, Pexels)

The technology also works to improve basic functions like access. For example, eye recognition software is now making for better security in addition to the standard firewalls, antivirus programs, and malware detectors. The automation of payments, not just from the customer perspective, but also from the perspective of human resources or for the payments of wages. There has been an increase in the 3-way verification process, which is also cutting down on paper documents and condensing them into digital data that can be used by an in-house computer system. While the reduction of human input into certain business processes may set off alarm bells for many staff members, the idea for a lot of automation-based processes is to make better use of the employees they already have.

And it’s not just automation and communication that have thrown up massive changes in businesses. We have already seen what technology can do for employees when it comes to learning and development. The process of gamification has been seen to be a “game changer” in how employees are engaged with the learning process. Software such as E-Learning or learning portals has been a way to deliver up to date information while also making the most of the staff time and reducing the need for outsourcing training specialists.

The reliance on tech in the modern world for professional and personal use is becoming more widespread than ever before. The use of smartphones in startup companies has been a great way to cut down on costs while also pushing the business forward. Businesses only have to invest in a secure network rather than a whole fleet of computer systems. Smartphones also help with mobile learning from a human resources perspective as well as a development one. The increase in remote working combined with a yearning for work-life balance has heralded a new wave of remote working tech, and for businesses to keep up with this has been more essential than ever.

And it’s not just allowing staff members to work like hermits on their own in a remote location, the tech will also help to increase collaboration with these types of people. In a work setting, it helps to increase productivity on a massive scale which helps employees to engage in key projects and tasks without feeling that they’re not out of the loop. You can find a lot of collaboration software, and when you combine it with instant messenger tools, it makes for an all-encompassing and effective method of generating ideas alongside a healthy dose of collaboration which cements better relationships with staff members.

It also helps very much with project management. It doesn’t need to be explained that the increase in software capabilities brought on by the cloud has helped businesses no end. It reduces the need to hire a personal assistant to keep track of everything, but it also increases file sharing between colleagues which, again, increases communication and collaboration.

So is tech improving your employees or is it replacing them? Judging by the reliance on human interaction right now to develop companies with a more holistic mindset, this is something that cannot be achieved by a virtual reality or AI alone. The main function of technology right now in terms of springboarding a business as a fantastic communications tool and this is where every business will improve. Man learned how to make fire with the stick, and so if we use technology as our “stick,” our businesses can burn very bright.

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Broad Institute in Crispr Licensing Program

Crispr-Cas9 illustration

Crispr-Cas9 illustration (

10 July 2017. One of the key inventors of a genome editing technique known as Crispr is joining a program that promises to ease licensing of its patents for the technology. The Broad Institute, a medical research center affiliated with Harvard University and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts is offering its Crispr patents to MPEG LA, an organization that aims to make technology licensing easier for all parties.

Crispr — short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats — is a genome-editing process based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify and monitor precise locations in DNA. The actual editing of genomes with Crispr employs enzymes that cleave DNA strands at the desired points, with Crispr-associated protein 9, or Cas9, being the enzyme used for the longest period.

MPEG LA is an organization in Denver that pools patents for related technologies into a one-stop service that the group says makes it easier for businesses wanting to license those technologies. Instead of negotiating with individual license holders, companies can get access to patented technologies at one time and a single location, with simplified procedures. MPEG LA was formed in the 1990s to initially make  web video standards — the MPEG in its name — more widely available for commercial development, and now applies that model to other specifications and technologies. The organization says it now operates licensing programs covering 11,000 patents for some 200 licensors and 6,000 licensees.

Broad Institute is offering its 22 Crispr patents in the U.S. and Europe, owned by Harvard University, MIT, and Rockefeller University in New York to MPEG LA for non-exclusive licensing. The institute already offers its Crispr technologies with non-exclusive licensing for commercial research, such as agriculture, but not human therapies. For therapeutics, Broad offers two-year exclusive licenses, which in the case of Crispr-Cas9 patents, have concluded.

The institute says more than 60 Crispr and related patents were issued to about 100 inventors by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, while the European Patent Office issued another 20 patents to some 30 inventors. Among other patent holders are University of California in Berkeley, which received a European patent for Crispr-Cas9 in March. Broad Institute beat back a challenge to its patent from UC-Berkeley in February, although UC-Berkeley says it’s appealing that decision. Broad received a separate European patent in February for Crispr using a different enzyme, known as Cpf1, for genome editing.

Broad Institute appears to be the only patent holder so far to answer MPEG LA’s call in April for common Crispr licensing. In an MPEG LA statement, Kristin Neuman who directs the group’s biotechnology licensing, says the industry overall will benefit if more patent holders participate. “Regardless of the outcome of the various legal and administrative proceedings in the United States and Europe,” notes Neuman, “many Crispr patents owned by many different entities will be left standing and multiple licenses will still be necessary. Companies performing research and development the world over, including those who currently hold exclusive licenses, will benefit from the transparency of a pool and the ability to license the necessary patents in a single transaction on fair and predictable terms.”

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How to Combat the Major Health Threats Today’s Entrepreneurs Commonly Face

– Contributed content –

Stethoscope and iPhone


10 July 2017. Entrepreneurs represent a group that’s much more likely to fall prey to medical problems versus the general public.

Think about it. Those running their own businesses develop a myriad of health issues as they…

  • Put their company before their personal well-being
  • Keep so busy that they miss their doctor’s appointments and regular check-ups: many entrepreneurs don’t realize they they’re ill until they’re facing severe symptoms
  • Maintain a lifestyle that’s not conducive to healthy living (think: high-stress company roles or facing stressful situations that result in late nights and little rest)

Regardless of your company, it’s crucial to keep up with your health and medications for the sake yourself and your business. Despite the rising cost of healthcare, price shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to choosing between sickness and health. That’s why sites such as SingleCare are must-visits to find ways to save on your maintenance medications for the long-term.

But what else can you do for yourself beyond your prescriptions?

Managing high blood pressure and heart disease

The stereotypical “stuck at your desk” lifestyle of a busy businessperson is not good news for your blood pressure or heart health. Having fewer opportunities to move spells bad news for your heart and waistline alike. Meanwhile, the more time you spend stressing out about your bottom line, the more likely you are to deal with higher blood pressure.

Wrangling these issues requires a three-pronged approach to changing your eating habits, day-to-day physical activity level and stress triggers. From cutting back on workday lunches to making a point to do some sort of exercise for 30 minutes daily (biking, walking or jogging, for example) you’ll feel totally transformed over time.

Acknowledging depression and anxiety

There’s little else that needs to be said about depression and anxiety other than many people fail to accept that they might be impacted until they’re knee-deep in trouble. Considering that most entrepreneurs face mental health issues, it never hurts to take the time to talk to a psychologist or seek therapy if your mental state is impacting your personal or professional relationships.

Avoiding insomnia and sleep problems

Don’t romanticize the world of all-nighters and coffee-fueled work-a-thons. Not getting enough sleep not only makes all of the conditions mentioned here worse, but ultimately impacts your ability to focus. If you’ve been unable to catch enough Z’s lately, tone down your caffeine intake and make it a point to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per tonight regardless of your workload.

Battling back problems

Sitting disease is a real problem that impacts those who embrace the worker-bee way of life. High-quality chairs and standing desks are sold investments for those who feel tightness in their back after a long day of work.

Meanwhile, those who are lucky enough not to have such problems yet should go ahead and start doing daily yoga stretches and mind their posture to decrease their likelihood of such problems in the future.

Handling headaches

Finally, headaches are often symptoms of “all of the above” regarding your general health. Feeling overwhelmed at work? Problem clients aren’t letting you get a wink of sleep? Don’t be afraid to cut out literal and metaphorical headaches from your life so you can focus on what really matters.

Simply put, the best entrepreneur is a healthy one. Your health is too important to ignore: taking these precautions and putting yourself first is the best bet for both you and your business.

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Infographic — World’s Biggest Players in Pharma

8 July 2017. The following chart shows the top 10 pharmaceutical companies ranked by prescription drug product sales, in green, and research spending, in red. Courtesy: Statista

Infographic: The World's Biggest Players in Pharma | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista
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