Subscribe for email alerts

Don’t miss a single Science & Enterprise post. Sign up for our daily email alerts.

Donate to Science & Enterprise

Please share Science & Enterprise

Digital Mental Therapy Company to Go Public in Merger

Child with computer tablet

(Nadine Doerlé, Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/photos/child-tablet-technology-computer-1183465/)

26 Jan. 2021. A creator of game therapies for cognitive impairments is becoming a publicly-traded company through a special purpose acquisition company or SPAC. The merger with Social Capital Suvretta Holdings Corp. is expected to bring shareholders in Akili Interactive Labs Inc. up to $412 million in cash, with the company’s market value estimated at $1 billion.

Akili Interactive develops computer games to treat cognitive deficiencies that the company says is based on neuroscience and algorithms to deliver personalized physiological changes in the brain. Akili says its technology is designed for disorders in regions of the brain affecting attention and focus, multi-tasking, memory and goal management, spatial navigation, planning, and organization.

The company’s first product is EndeavorRx, a computer game therapy for ADHD, short for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a condition in children marked by difficulty paying attention, staying focused, controlling behavior, and high levels of activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates ADHD affects some 6.1 million children in the U.S. age 2 to 17. Current treatments for ADHD, says the company, include medication and behavioral therapies, which are limited by undesired side effects from medications, and a shortage of trained therapists, as well as varying insurance coverage for therapies.

Akili says EndeavorRx delivers sensory and motor stimuli to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain dealing with attention and other cognitive functions, such as memory. The company says the game is designed to give children with ADHD a fun experience while stimulating and exercising these brain centers to improve multitasking, focusing on goals, and avoiding distractions. The game is guided by algorithms that personalize the treatments to patients’ specific conditions and progress.

A new approach to cognitive science

Science & Enterprise reported in June 2020 on FDA’s authorization of EndeavorRx for use with a therapy, medication, or education program guided by a clinician. Akili says the game also received a CE mark, clearing EndeavorRx for use in Europe. The company says it’s developing interactive game therapies for other neurological conditions: multiple sclerosis, major depression, autism spectrum disorder, and Covid-19 brain fog.

Akili Interactive is going public by merging with Social Capital Suvretta Holdings, a SPAC enterprise formed as a joint venture between private equity companies Suvretta Capital Management and Social Capital. Social Capital Suvretta Holdings is already a public company, listed as DNAA on the Nasdaq exchange, with the aim of acquiring a biotechnology company, in this case Akili Interactive.

Chamath Palihapitiya, chairman and CEO of Social Capital Suvretta notes in an Akili Interactive statement, “Akili is taking a new approach to cognitive science, using software to target our underlying cognitive function and creating an entirely new class of medicine as a byproduct.” Palihapitiya adds, “Akili has the unique opportunity to change how we treat pediatric ADHD. They have also laid the groundwork to treat a wide range of other cognitive issues affecting tens of millions of people around the world.”

The merger is expected to complete in mid-2022, with current Akili investors receiving up to $412 million in cash. Of that total, $250 million is provided by Social Capital Suvretta and another $162 million raised from a private investment in public equity, or PIPE transaction, a private means of raising capital for public-company acquisitions at a reduced share price, in this case $10.00 per share. When the transaction is complete, Akili Interactive will trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol AKLI, and is expected have a market capitalization of $1 billion.

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

Science/Tech AI Developer Raises $100M in New Funds

Code on screen

(Elchinator, Pixabay)

25 Jan. 2022. A provider of artificial intelligence services for scientific and advanced technology applications is raising $100 million in its second venture round. InstaDeep Ltd. in London creates deep learning systems, a type of A.I., for a range of industries, including biotechnology companies developing vaccines and diagnostics for Covid-19 infections.

Deep learning is a form of A.I. that makes it possible for systems to discern underlying patterns in relationships, and build those relationships into knowledge bases applied to a number of disciplines. In deep learning, neural networks that emulate brain functions revise those algorithms or models with new data added to the store of knowledge. The algorithms include perceptrons or classifiers to weight the value of new data added to the knowledge base during the learning process.

InstaDeep develops A.I. solutions for different business sectors including biotechnology enterprises. The company offers mathematical models for simulating complex protein interactions called DeepChain for designing biologics and diagnostics. One of InstaDeep’s customers is BioNTech SE in Mainz, Germany, developer of a leading Covid-19 vaccine using messenger RNA to invoke an immune reactions against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A.I.-assisted circuit board design

As reported in Science & Enterprise earlier this month, InstaDeep is also collaborating with BioNTech on an early-warning public health system to quickly detect dangerous SARS-CoV-2 variants. In a test of the system, posted in a preprint or non-peer reviewed paper, the InstaDeep/BioNTech team identified in minutes 12 of the 13 variants flagged as dangerous by World Health Organization. The authors say an early warning system employing those models would have spotted these mutations an average of two months sooner. That includes the omicron variant, which the authors say they detected the same day its sequence became publicly available.

InstaDeep also offers a routing design service for printed circuit board providers, now in beta version. The service called DeepPCB accepts uploaded schematic files with components on the board and returns a routing for connections among layers and components within 24 hours. The company says manual board routing can take weeks, although other commercial routing software is available. In addition, InstaDeep says it develops A.I. solutions for companies in logistics, manufacturing, energy, and mobility/ride-sharing services.

InstaDeep is an eight year-old company with offices in Tunis, its first location, and Paris, Lagos, Dubai, and Cape Town. The company is raising $100 million in its second venture round led by Alpha Intelligence Capital in Luxembourg and CDIB Capital in Hong Kong. Also taking part in the round are BioNTech, Chimera Abu Dhabi, Deutsche Bahn’s DB Digital Ventures, Google, G42, and Synergie. Google, Deutsche Bahn (Germany’s railroad system ), and as noted above BioNTech, are collaborators with InstaDeep. According to Crunchbase, the company raised $7 million in its first funding round in May 2019.

Arnaud Barthelemy, partner at Alpha Intelligence Capital, says in an InstaDeep statement, “InstaDeep is a deep technology company that disrupts traditional approaches in crucial areas as they do with BioNTech for drug discovery or with Deutsche Bahn for railway scheduling.” The company plans to use the new funds to advance its computing infrastructure, hire new talent, launch new products across multiple industries, and expand into the U.S. market.

More from Science & Enterprise:

Disclaimer: The author owns shares in Pfizer, BioNTech’s partner in Covid-19 vaccines.

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

 

Group Devising Lower Cost Clinical Trials

Doctor with tablet

(Rawpixel, Unsplash)

24 Jan. 2022. A new not-for-profit organization aims to create a more efficient process for large-scale randomized clinical trials, to provide reliable results at lower cost. Protas, founded last year in London, announced a £5 million ($US 6.7 million) grant from Paris-based drug maker Sanofi, to supplement the group’s initial funding from the U.K.’s National Health Service or NHS.

Protas plans to work with industry and academic researchers, health care providers, patient organizations, and medical foundations to design large-scale clinical trials testing new treatments for a wide range of diseases. The organization is developing a collaborative process for clinical trials that includes advances in technology to make trials more efficient and inclusive, while delivering reliable findings.

The work of Protas is based in part on the experience of its founder Martin Landray, professor of population health at University of Oxford, who leads the Randomized Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy or Recovery trial testing a large number of treatments for people with Covid-19 disease. The Recovery trial is enrolling 50,000 participants in the U.K. and four other countries to test a wide range of drugs to treat Covid-19, from simple aspirin to new synthetic monoclonal antibodies. Among the trial’s findings, says Protas, is the efficacy of dexamethasone, a common inexpensive steroid drug, to treat severe Covid-19 cases.

The organization seeks to deliver clinical trials with a common standards-based information technology platform, while also tailoring its studies to meet specific, scientific, regulatory, and patient-care needs. Protas says trials will be designed for the full process life-cycle of clinical studies from planning and recruitment to delivery of results for sponsors and regulators.

Prospect of fewer treatments in the pipeline

As an example, the Recovery trial uses an adaptive design that allows for adding or removing different treatment candidates or population groups, using a common study protocol and streamlined consent forms. In addition, the Recovery trial, seeks access to patients’ electronic health records for follow-up, as well as conventional in-person or online data collection.

Protas plans to apply lessons learned from the Recovery trial to a broad collection of diseases. “The situation is not
[unique] to the pandemic,” says Landray in a Protas statement. “there are many other common and other life-threatening diseases — for example heart, lung and respiratory disease, arthritis, cancer, depression, and dementia — where better treatments are needed to reduce the huge burden on patients and the NHS.”

But developing new therapies faces increasingly higher costs, thus the need for a new process to better control those costs or the prospect of fewer treatments in the pipeline. Dietmar Berger, chief medical officer at Sanofi, says the need for lower clinical trial costs influenced the company’s decision to become a Protas partner. “With this collaboration,” says Berger, “we are taking a bold [step] to significantly reduce the cost of some of our clinical trials, focusing on what matters the most for patients, doctors, regulators, and payers.”

Protas plans in 2022 to continue building its organization and add partners, with the first clinical trials expected next year.

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

 

Infographic – Cyber Incidents Top 2022 Business Risks

Chart: 2022 business risks

Click on image for full-size view (Statista)

22 Jan. 2022. An international survey shows more risk management experts consider cyber incidents the leading global risk to business in 2022. The survey of 2,650 risk management experts in 89 countries was conducted in October and November 2021 by business insurance company Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty as part of the company’s annual risk barometer report published this month.

Business research company Statista published the survey’s key findings in chart form earlier this week. More than four in 10 respondents (44%) selected cyber incidents among the three most important risks business will face in 2022, an increase of four points over the previous year. Cyber incidents are defined in the survey as criminal activity and data breaches, but also system failures and outages. Nearly as many respondents, 42 percent, selected business interruptions that include supply chain disruptions, about the same percentage as in last year’s survey.

Less than two in 10 risk managers (17%) name climate change as a leading risk to business in 2022, up four points from 2021’s prediction. But a quarter of respondents (25%) also include natural catastrophes in their list, suggesting the effects of climate change are getting their attention. Natural catastrophes ranked third in business risks for this year, up eight points from last year’s survey.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is the fourth-place ranking of the pandemic — defined as health and work force issues, and restrictions on movement — with 22 percent of respondents, a drop of 18 points from the previous year. Yet, the second-place ranking of business interruptions, which includes supply chain issues, suggests concerns about the pandemic’s effects are still there, but taking a different form.

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

 

NIH Begins Large-Scale Precision Nutrition Study

Farmers market

(A. Kotok)

21 Jan. 2021. National Institutes of Health awarded new funds for academic and industry labs to develop algorithms for predicting individual responses to food and nutrition. The 11 new and three additional funding grants total $170 million over five years, to kick off the Nutrition for Precision Health project as part of NIH’s All of Us precision health initiative.

Nutrition for Precision Health seeks to learn more about the factors that determine an individual’s optimum nutrition regimen. Research up to now has identified many variables affecting nutrition and health, such as genetics, environment, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, metabolism, and communities of microbes in the gut known as the microbiome. But we still don’t understand, says NIH, how those factors interact to affect an individual’s nutrition, which is a key aim of the project.

“We know that nutrition, just like medicine, isn’t one-size-fits-all,” says Nutrition for Precision Health or NPH coordinator Holly Nicastro, in an NIH statement. “NPH will take into account an individual’s genetics, gut microbes, and other lifestyle, biological, environmental, or social factors to help each individual develop eating recommendations that improve overall health.”

Predict individual dietary responses

NPH plans to enroll 10,000 individuals already taking part in the All of Us project. The All of Us program seeks to gain better insights into biological, environmental, and behavioral factors that influence an individual’s health, taking into account a person’s lifestyle as well as his or her specific molecular makeup. All of Us is taking advantage of the wider availability and lower cost of genomic sequencing as well as expansion in the use of electronic medical records. The initiative is recruiting 1 million participants to provide a wide range of personal health data, including from fitness devices, as reported by Science & Enterprise in Jan. 2019.

Nutrition for Precision Health expects to compile data from its 10,000 participants to better understand interactions among genes, microbiome, protein, metabolism, and other variables that contribute to individual differences in dietary response. Those data will then help write algorithms using techniques from artificial intelligence to predict individual dietary responses, which will later be validated for clinical use.

The 14 NPH awards include 11 grants with new funds for academic labs and research institutes, of which are six are clinical research centers. Three of the awards are supplemental grants to researchers already taking part in the All of Us program. One of the three supplemental grants is awarded to Vibrent Health, a digital health service company in Fairfax, Virginia. In 2017, Vibrent Health received a $75 million award to provide precision health data support for the All of Us initiative.

The new funds are expected to extend Vibrent Health’s databases, compiled and collected for the All of Us program, to include data on diet and nutrition collected by NPH. “Our technology and expertise,” say Vibrent Health founder and CEO Praduman Jain in a company statement, “enable the NPH and the All of Us research program’s nationwide network of health research partners to recruit, electronically consent, engage, and support the diverse participants of the precision nutrition cohort.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

 

Exosomes Shown to Block Broad Covid-19 Variant Range

Exosome illustration

Exosome illustration (NIH)

20 Jan. 2021. Tiny natural bubbles with infection-receptor proteins found in blood are shown in lab mice to divert and prevent SARS-CoV-2 viruses from infecting real cells. Researchers from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Northwestern University in Chicago report their findings in today’s issue of the journal Nature Communications, with the senior authors starting companies to commercialize the technology.

A team from labs headed by Raghu Kalluri at M.D. Anderson, and Huiping Liu and Deyu Fang at Northwestern, investigated therapeutic properties of exosomes, nanoscale natural oil extracellular vesicles or bubbles expressing angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 or ACE2 receptor proteins against SARS-CoV-2 viruses responsible for Covid-19. When SARS-CoV-2 viruses infect cells, their binding target is ACE2 receptor proteins. People with Covid-19 infections often produce exosomes with ACE2 proteins, carried in their blood plasma as part of the body’s anti-viral response, with the more severe the disease in an individual, the more ACE2-expressing exosomes produced.

In this case, the researchers are seeking to assess exosomes with ACE2 proteins on their surface as a treatment for Covid-19 infections. In people with Covid-19 infections, ACE2-expressing exosomes attract invading SARS-CoV-2 viruses away from their usual cellular targets, diminishing their impact. And since all known SARS-CoV-2 variants target these same ACE2 receptor proteins, the team hypothesized these exosomes they call evACE2 could reduce or block further infections from a wide range of these variants, if given as a therapy.

Up to now, Covid-19 therapies and vaccines target infecting proteins on the SARS-CoV-2 viral spike, with the chemistry of that spike protein changing with each mutation or variant in the virus. Treatments using evACE2, say the authors, would be designed to block all variations of the current or even future viruses, as long as they use the same infecting mechanism. Liu, in an M.D. Anderson statement notes that “the beauty of evACE2 is its superpower in blocking broad strains of coronaviruses, including current SARS-CoV-2 and even future SARS coronaviruses from infecting humans.”

Formulated into a nasal spray

The researchers conducted a series of lab and animal tests first to verify elevated levels of ACE2-expressing exosomes in Covid-19 patients, then to test for their therapeutic effects. Initial lab tests show blood samples from Covid-19 patients have higher levels evACE2 exosomes, which can also block infections from a broad range of SARS-CoV-2 variants. In the next stage, the team extracted evACE2 exosomes from plasma and refined the exosomes into nanoscale pellets, which in blood samples from Covid-19 patients, diverted and neutralized SARS-CoV-2 viruses.

The researchers then tested evACE2 exosomes formulated as a nasal spray given to mice genetically-altered to express human Covid-19 infections. The team sprayed the mice two to five days following their infections, which began showing signs of improvement by day six or seven, and full recovery within two weeks. In addition, 80 percent of infected mice given the evACE2 nasal spray were protected from Covid-19 lung injuries, with fewer infections and lower viral loads found in their lung cells.

“The key takeaway from this study,” says Kalluri, “is the identification of naturally occurring extracellular vesicles in the body that express the ACE2 receptor on their surface and serve as part of the normal adaptive defense against Covid-19-causing viruses.” He adds, “Building upon this, we’ve discovered a way to harness this natural defense as a new potential therapy against this devastating virus.”

Northwestern University holds or applied for patents on the evACE2 technology. Liu, Fang, and co-author Andrew Hoffman recently started the company ExoMira Medicine Inc. to develop and commercialize evACE2. And as reported in Science & Enterprise in Nov. 2015, Kalluri’s earlier research on exosomes is licensed to a company he co-founded, Codiak Biosciences in Cambridge, Mass.

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

Trial Shows Immunotherapy Improves Lung Cancer Survival

Inspecting lung X-rays

(National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH)

19 Jan. 2022. Clinical trial results show an immunotherapy licensed as a lower-priced cancer drug increases survival time in combination with chemotherapy. Findings show the drug sugemalimab, made by CStone Pharmaceuticals and licensed by EQRx Inc. for commercialization outside China, increases progression-free survival time in patients with advanced cases of lung cancer, when combined with conventional chemotherapy, compared to chemotherapy alone.

The trial tested a therapy for non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer accounting for 80 to 85 percent of cases. In this case, the lung cancer in patients began to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Sugemalimab, made by CStone Pharmaceuticals in Suzhou, China, is a synthetic antibody designed as an immune checkpoint inhibitor that stops PD-L1 proteins from blocking immune-system attacks on cancer cells.

The late-stage clinical trial enrolled 479 patients, age 18 to 75, with metastasizing non-small cell lung cancer at 35 medical centers in China. All participants received chemotherapy, but patients were also randomly assigned to receive sugemalimab or a placebo, along with chemotherapy, every three weeks for up to 24 months..

Findings from the trial appear in the 14 Jan. issue of The Lancet Oncology (paid subscription required).  At a pre-planned cut-off date, 8.6 months after treatment, sugemalimab recipients record a median progression-free survival time — amount of time without the cancer spreading — of 7.8 months compared to 4.9 months for placebo recipients. After follow-up period of almost 18 months, sugemalimab recipients register a median progression-free survival time of 9 months compared to 4.9 for placebo recipients. The increased survival time differences in both cases are statistically reliable. About a quarter (23%) and a fifth (20%) of sugemalimab and placebo recipients respectively experienced serious adverse effects, namely reduced white blood cell and platelet counts and anemia.

Acquires current late-stage drug candidates

EQRx in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a two year-old company that aims to re-engineer processes for bringing drugs to market, as well as getting treatments to patients. The company says its process can not only reduce the time needed to produce drugs, but also their prices. In a company blog post in July 2020, EQRx’s chairman Alexis Borisy and president Melani Nallicheri, the company’s co-founders, say the high cost of pharmaceuticals is now a growing unmet need in the marketplace.

With this objective, EQRx acquires current late-stage drug candidates for further development and commercialization, beginning with cancer drugs. The company licensed sugemalimab from CStone Pharma for development and commercialization outside China in Oct. 2020. As reported by Science & Enterprise in June 2021, EQRx is also partnering with drug discovery company Exscientia in Oxford, U.K. to discover lower-priced drugs with computational models based on artificial intelligence. And in Oct. 2021, EQRx began a collaboration with synthetic protein developer Absci Corp. in Vancouver, Washington to design lower-cost synthetic protein drugs.

EQRx says it plans to present sugemalimab to regulatory authorities as a lower-priced alternative for immune checkpoint inhibitors, which for many cancer patients are now financially out of reach. “Price remains a barrier to accessing innovative therapies for many people with lung cancer around the world,” says EQRX chief physician Vince Miller in a company statement, “despite the availability of multiple anti-PD-L1 therapies. We look forward to engaging with global regulatory authorities with the aim of delivering a lower-cost treatment option to patients upon approval.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

Electric Future of the Global Supply Chain

– Contributed content –

Shipping containers

(Chanaka, Pexels.com)

19 Jan. 2022. Supply chain issues aren’t a modern problem. However, the Covid-19 pandemic pours fuel on a rather frightening fire. Several global issues contribute to the current international trade and manufacturing situation. It is looking like the electric future of the global supply chain could remedy the problem. However, current woes could delay achievable goals considerably.

Making the shift

It’s comforting and encouraging that numerous sectors headed by specific companies are shifting towards reducing carbon emissions. Cutting dependence on fossil fuels is a significant part of net-zero plans. Electric vehicles form a substantial portion of the program. Yet this also means manufacturers need to focus efforts on redesigning established engines for use in the new electric world order. Volvo Penta is a perfect example. Electric Volvo Penta designs show changes are possible to typically diesel-fueled engines for shipping and marine activity.

An outdated resource

Petroleum derived from oil is archaic and holds no place in a cleaner and greener future for everyone on Earth. While you cannot solve the world’s problems alone, you can make a significant contribution simply by cutting your personal reliance on oil-based products. Your vehicle is an obvious example since transport accounts for 11% of emissions. Many household plastic products are also made from oil-based derivatives, and switching your habits is easier than you think. Sustainable, natural, and organic products are the current focus of reduction efforts.

A balancing act

Of course, the entire world needs to work together to make positive changes. While national governments can outline goals, plans, and deadlines, the global supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And there are many weak links:

  • Variations in transportation costs
  • A lack of accurate planning and forecasting
  • Responding inefficiently to technological trends
  • Occurrences caused by nature or the environment
  • Governmental regulation changes

Global transportation alone cannot completely switch to an electric method. As it stands, the technology isn’t sufficient to power shipping tankers across the oceans. However, electric vehicles like trucks and vans are available alongside automated warehouse tasks that can significantly reduce your company’s environmental impact.

Cleaner horizons

The endgame of a fully electric world is to significantly reduce carbon emissions globally. Industrial powerhouses such as China dampen the efforts, spurred on by global demand that it is more than willing to supply. But manufacturing aside, developed nations such as the USA, the UK, and Europe must take actionable steps towards a clean and sustainable energy supply for the impending vastly increased electricity demand. We require solar arrays, wind farms, and controversial nuclear power plants to achieve upcoming goals.

Is it possible?

A cleaner and greener supply chain is a possibility. Yet the world is all but dragging its heels towards solving some of the significant issues we face today. For instance, the current semiconductor shortage affects more than the video games industry. Hospital equipment, vehicle manufacture, and manufacturing processes themselves are impacted by the lack of much-needed processors. Additionally, bumps in the road, like a pandemic, Brexit, and political tit-for-tat, mean the genuine efforts made by companies and the population are an atom in the carbon cloud. A cloud that looks set to be looming over us for the foreseeable future.

*     *     *

Saliva Test, App for Stress Levels Unveiled

Paradigm.com app

Paradigm.com app showing results (Paradigm.com)

18 Jan. 2022. A start-up company is developing a home testing system that combines a saliva test and smartphone app to detect unhealthy stress levels. Paradigm.com — the company name and web address are identical — in Redwood City, California today released details about the system, seeking beta testers in the wellness and athletic communities.

The Paradigm.com system is designed to detect cortisol levels in the body, an indicator of stress response. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands, along with adrenaline, in response to heightened nerve signals in times of fight-or-flight reactions to stress. Cortisol increases blood glucose levels, enhances the brain’s ability to process glucose, and helps with tissue repair. However, increased cortisol can also affect immune, digestive, reproductive, and growth processes, as well as moods and fear. As a result, chronic stress can produce too much cortisol over longer periods of time, upsetting many natural processes in the body and increasing the risk for chronic health problems.

For many of these reasons, tracking cortisol levels is also important to elite athletes, who try to have their physiological processes performing at peak levels during events, and to avoid injuries. A 2017 study published in the journal Scientific Reports shows a relationship between cortisol and testosterone among Austrian track and field athletes, men and women, competing in an event in Azerbaijan. Yet, increased testosterone levels the day before the meet were negatively correlated with the athletes’ performance, suggesting the stress of the event helped degrade their performance. Other studies show a more complex relationship between cortisol and athletic performance, with cortisol levels less likely to affect women and true elite athletes.

In the study of Austrian athletes, cortisol levels were measured with a saliva test. The Paradigm.com system also uses a saliva test, with test strips dipped in saliva samples that change color in response to cortisol levels. The company tells Science & Enterprise the test strip uses a lateral flow technology with nanoscale particles in the strip to enhance the visual output. The user then calls up a Paradigm.com smartphone app, with the phone’s camera taking a photo of the test strip. Computer vision and deep learning algorithms in the app analyze the image and report results in several minutes.

Better methods needed to measure stress

The company notes that users need to take the tests daily for at least a week to gain meaningful results. Single test results are not considered optimal, since they can be affected by factors such as time of day, food intake, and transient stress episodes.

Paradigm.com is seeking beta testers for its cortisol testing system from the wellness and athletic communities. The company says its tests are already in use at the U.S. Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs.

Paradigm.com is a two year-old enterprise founded by Wibe Wagemans, a serial technology entrepreneur and angel investor. Wagemans says the idea for the system came from family experiences with a psychiatrist who admitted the field has few reliable and quantifiable methods for measuring stress.

Wibe says in an email statement that he asked the psychiatrist, “‘How do you quantify stress?’ He replied: ‘We ask people how they feel.’ That didn’t sit well with me. Measuring cortisol is the answer…. Now we’ve solved that problem and we anticipate that cortisol testing will be as prevalent as Covid testing today.”

Science & Enterprise reported on two other efforts to measure cortisol as an indicator for athletic performance or emotional status, with wearable devices. In July 2020, researchers at Tufts University published findings on a wearable patch with sensors that analyze cortisol in human sweat. And in May 2018 a team at University of Houston reported on sensors in fabrics worn on the wrist, capturing data on skin chemistry, including cortisol levels.

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *

 

Plant Science Products Company Raises $6.1M in Early Funds

Quillaja saponaria trunk

Cross-section of Quillaja saponaria trunk, showing the red-colored bark containing a high concentration of saponin. (Patricio Novoa Quezada, Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/64933790@N00/25413087324/)

17 Jan. 2021. A maker of products derived from plants for vaccines and control of crop disease is raising $6.1 million in its first venture funding round. Botanical Solution Inc. in Davis, California is a two year-old company that develops bio-based materials from a plant species native to South America.

Botanical Solution derives agricultural and pharmaceutical products from substances in the Quillaja saponaria or soap bark tree originally found in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. Quillaja saponaria is an evergreen tree with bark containing saponins, or foaming agents used in industrial chemicals. On their own, saponins in the bark can be toxic, but derivatives from the plant are being studied for their biomedical properties, particularly as a stimulant for the immune system. Gustavo Zuñiga, co-founder of Botanical Solution and the company’s chief scientist, is a plant biologist on the faculty at University of Santiago in Chile who studies plant physiology and production of bioactive molecules.

The company’s lead product, called BotriStop, is a bio-based fungicide to prevent and control Botrytis cinerea, or gray mold disease. Botrytis cinerea afflicts a broad range of food, fiber, and oil crop plants in temperate and subtropical regions. The fungus produces enzymes and toxins that degrade cell walls, causing exposed plant parts, as well as harvested fruits and vegetables, to rot. Botanical Solution says chemical extracts from Quillaja saponaria trees are produced in the lab for BotriStop, thus no trees are harvested for the product. In March 2021, the company agreed to distribute BotriStop in Mexico and South America through agricultural science company Syngenta.

Sustainable process for vaccine adjuvant

Botanical Solution is also developing a sustainable process for producing QS-21, a vaccine adjuvant that enhances immune system response. While QS-21 has long been produced from Quillaja saponaria bark, the company says the trees are threatened by climate change and local governments are increasingly protecting the trees from harvest. The company says its process, still in development, will make it possible to produce QS-21 in the lab without extracting chemicals directly from natural tree bark. That process, says Botanical Solution, will help ensure adequate adjuvant supplies for Covid-19 and other vaccines.

The company is raising $6.1 million in its first venture funding round, led by agriculture technology investor Otter Capital in Palo Alto, California. Joining the round are Botanical Solution’s Chilean seed-stage investors Inversiones el Coigue and Inversiones Eurocel, both in Santiago. Botanical Solution Inc. or BSI raised $3.3 million in seed funds in Dec. 2020.

“BSI’s product development platform is efficient and scalable,” says Otter Capital founder and managing member John Pasquesi in a Botantical Solution statement released through BusinessWire. “Botanical products have excellent consistency and BSI’s approach is truly sustainable. These products have applications in two very large markets: agriculture and pharmaceuticals.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *