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Infographic – Tech Shares Collapse in April

Share prices drop in Apr 2022

Click on image for full-size view (Statista)

7 May 2022. We normally report each quarter on the investment environment for science-based businesses, but technology share prices fell dramatically in April, as displayed this week by the business research company Statista. For the month of April, the Nasdaq Composite Index, made up largely of technology company stocks, fell more than 13 percent. That’s far more than the 9 percent drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and 5 percent decline in the Dow-Jones Industrial Index, indicators of broader market sentiment.

The Nasdaq collapse is the largest one-month decline in that index since October 2008, at the time of the mortgage market meltdown and recession. This time, the drop in share prices is attributed by market analysts to interconnecting factors feeding inflation such as the continuing pandemic and global supply chain disruptions, including shortages of computer chips that particularly affect technology companies. Adding to the gloom, of course, is the war in Ukraine affecting oil and grain supplies and prices worldwide.

The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index, made up of 370 biotech and pharmaceutical companies trading on the Nasdaq exchange, fell 10 percent in April, somewhat less of a drop than the overall Nasdaq index, but nothing to celebrate. That continued a trend from the beginning of the year that we reported in early April.

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Solana: Blockchain’s Newest Archive-Friendly Scaling Solution

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Blockchain

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/blockchain-data-records-system-3513216/)

6 May 2022. The Solana Blockchain was designed from scratch with a new consensus protocol that allows it to operate at high speeds. It uses two layers: a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus mechanism at its core layer; and an application layer that supports smart contracts in the form of WebAssembly (WASM).

Now you must be wondering what SOL or Solana is? Solana is an open-source project written in Rust. According to the company, Solana’s blockchain can handle 65,000 transactions per second (TPS) on a single cluster.

The project aims to “reduce the friction between blockchain and traditional enterprise infrastructure by offering negligible transaction fees, simplified deployment and maintenance, higher throughput through sharding and parallelization of workloads within nodes, and support for multiple languages for smart contracts.”

‘Layer 0’ Solution

Solana is a “layer 0” solution, meaning that it’s a foundational layer for the blockchain. It sits directly below the protocol layer in a blockchain stack, typically consisting of layers 0 through 2. Layer 0 is the architecture on which everything else is built; it’s the actual hardware and software that enable the network to exist and perform its functions.

Layer 1 is responsible for protocol rules and functionalities—the basic elements of any blockchain project (such as consensus mechanisms, cryptographic security, etc.). Finally, layer 2 handles application-specific functions; it implements things like smart contracts, dApps (decentralized applications), etc.

Layer 0 has a special position in blockchains because of its nature: it’s relatively stable compared to other layers because it doesn’t change often or quickly. As such, when designing blockchains at this level, there are more options available than with higher-level layers, like layer 1 or 2 (which may require frequent updates and changes).

A Consensus-Based Ledger That Makes Use of Proof of History (PoH)

Solana is a consensus-based ledger that makes use of Proof of History (PoH). This is an alternative to proof-of-work systems, and it offers some significant improvements.

Proof-of-Work systems like Bitcoin have existed since the introduction of cryptocurrency, but they are difficult to scale because they require an enormous amount of computing power. To ensure transactions are valid, each computer on the network has to solve puzzles using computing power.

When a computer solves the puzzle, all computers in the network can add a new block of transactions to the chain. The process repeats itself with each new block so that every 10 minutes or so, on average, there’s a new block on the chain!

This concept works well for Bitcoin, which only needs about 6 blocks per hour, but this scaling issue becomes more apparent as you try to increase blockchain throughput even slightly above Bitcoin’s level. In Solana’s case, we want hundreds of thousands or even millions of transactions processed per second!

Proof-of-History helps solve this problem by reducing the amount of work required to verify a transaction in each round instead of doing it all at once with PoW systems like bitcoin and Ethereum, where you need one large burst computation at time zero before anything else can happen.

The goal is efficiency: if there are fewer steps required during verification, then it will take less time overall for miners/users to complete their tasks successfully without sacrificing security because they did not have enough resources available earlier when they were needed most urgently?.

The Blockchain Can Handle 50,000 Transactions per Second

With a maximum throughput of 50,000 transactions per second, the Solana blockchain is certainly not the fastest. In comparison, Visa is able to process 24,000 transactions per second on average. At the same time, it’s still quite impressive as most other blockchain networks are much slower. The Bitcoin network can handle only seven transactions per second, while Ethereum’s current limit is roughly 15 transactions per second.

The team has a simple but ambitious goal: Solana is working to become the blockchain that can scale to millions of transactions per second. If they succeed, then dApps will be able to provide their services at a much higher level than ever before.

To do this, Solana uses three layers: a network layer, a storage layer, and an application execution layer. The idea is that each component needs to be able to scale together. To demonstrate how this works in practice, let’s look at the example of the storage layer because it’s the most interesting component here and illustrates how Solana has innovated on the traditional approach used by blockchains like Ethereum.

Transactions Are Validated in Parallel

While parallel validation and execution are the defining characteristics of Solana, these two properties are not exclusive to Solana. Many blockchains can be validated in parallel, the most well-known being Bitcoin’s Lightning Network. The problem is that a blockchain’s throughput and latency can only scale linearly through parallelization if it exploits this property to the fullest extent possible.

In a nutshell, this means that the entire blockchain must be structured such that every transaction can be validated in parallel with every other transaction.

Transactions Are Executed With a One-Pass Pipeline

If you’ve ever used a computer, chances are you’ve run into a one-pass pipeline. A one-pass pipeline is a way of executing and managing the sequence of instructions that make up any computational task. It’s easiest to understand when broken down into its core components:

  • fetch
  • decode
  • execute
  • memory access
  • write back

The Architecture Ensures the Linear Performance of Transactions Never Degrades

The architecture of Solana was designed to ensure the linear performance of transactions never degrades, regardless of the scale of throughput. This means that the amount of data that needs to be processed does not affect performance. The architecture is built around these three principles: maximum scalability, maximum throughput, and maximum performance.

The first step toward achieving scalability is to move away from the blockchain paradigm of serialization and toward a parallelization solution. If you aren’t familiar with serialization, you can think of it as similar to the way browsers render web pages—one character at a time.

Solana operates differently: by allowing data to be processed in parallel, the network is able to achieve a much higher capacity for transactions per second (TPS), even with limited hardware resources. In other words, parallelizing the data allows for greater processing power overall.

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Virtual Reality Studied for Chronic Cancer Pain

Woman with VR headset

(Hammer & Tusk, Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/tzUJHxlAZFk)

6 May 2022. A software company is partnering with a psychologist to explore virtual reality working with mindfulness for relieving pain in cancer patients. Rocket VR Health in Boston, a designer of virtual reality software as prescription digital therapies, is collaborating with Linda Carlson, a clinical psychologist at University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada who specializes in behavioral aspects of cancer care.

Many, if not most, cancer patients need to deal with recurring pain as a result of their cancer or treatments for the disease itself. Rocket VR cites research published in 2016 showing more than half (55%) of cancer patients experience pain during cancer treatments, with nearly four in 10 (39%) reporting chronic pain even after treatment. About two-thirds (66%) of advanced or terminal cancer patients report pain, with nearly four in 10 cancer patients overall (38%) reporting pain at moderate to severe levels.

Rocket VR Health is a developer of virtual reality software to meet mental health needs of cancer patients. The company says its software is designed to provide immersive experiences that take cancer patients into stress-reducing locations to help relieve anxiety and depression associated with cancer by reducing production of stress-related hormones. In addition, says Rocket VR, its software can incorporate principles of leading psycho-social therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness.

Linda Carlson studies psychological and social aspects of cancer at University of Calgary’s medical school. A current project in Carlson’s lab is the One-Mind Study investigating mindfulness-based cancer recovery, a meditation program for cancer patients to help deal with stress and anxiety. The project is recruiting breast and colorectal cancer patients in Alberta, and conducted remotely, thus requiring high-speed Internet connections and a computer or tablet.

Daily virtual reality-guided mindfulness exercises

Carlson’s study with Rocket VR aims to test virtual reality with mindfulness to relieve chronic pain in cancer patients. Mindfulness, says the company, is believed to help relieve chronic pain in cancer patients by regulating emotional and physical resistance to pain. Virtual reality, says Rocket VR, can provide the immersive experience to help focus the patient’s attention on the present moment, thus making mindfulness more effective for controlling pain.

“Our team at Rocket VR believes virtual reality therapies have the potential to change the way cancer care is delivered,” says Rocket VR Health CEO and co-founder Sid Desai in a company statement released through Cision. Desai adds, “Collaborating with leading cancer centers and experts like Dr. Carlson will bring us one step closer to developing leading evidence-based digital therapeutics for cancer patients and survivors.”

The clinical trial, called Virtual Mind, is enrolling 15 cancer survivors to take part in daily virtual reality-guided mindfulness exercises at home for six weeks. Participants are tested before and after the intervention period on the extent of their pain, and related psycho-social factors such as sleep, anxiety and depression symptoms, and fatigue. The study appears to have no control or comparison group. The company says the study is approved by the cancer health research board in Alberta.

“Even in the face of something as difficult and life-threatening as cancer,” notes Carlson, “mindfulness can be a tool for personal and collective growth and transformation. Through the Virtual Mind study, Rocket VR Health is helping us gauge the potential of virtual reality technologies to achieve meaningful clinical improvements for cancer patients.”

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Intl. Team Studying Antibiotic Overuse in Pigs

Two piglets

(Skeeze, Pixabay)

5 May 2022. Researchers in Europe and the U.S. are investigating gut processes in pigs to reduce antibiotics commonly used against infections, a source of antibiotic resistance. The international project, known by the extended acronym Pig-Paradigm, is funded by a grant of DKK 150 million (US$ 21.3 million) from the Novo Nordisk Foundation in Copenhagen.

Pig-Paradigm seeks to better understand intestinal functions in piglets, who often suffer from bacterial infections and diarrhea when weaned from their mothers, a frequent disorder resulting in many early deaths and large financial losses for farmers. Because these infections are so common, farmers routinely treat piglets with antibiotics, which in turn is a major contributor to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.

When bacteria or fungi mutate to evade the effects of antibiotics, current drugs become less effective, leaving patients with fewer options for treating infections. The problem, which World Health Organization says is reaching crisis proportions, is compounded by overuse of antibiotics in farm animals and humans, creating more opportunities for microbes to mutate and become resistant to current drugs. A study published in January 2022 estimates that in 2019, nearly five million deaths worldwide can be traced to bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Improve diets to reduce infections

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest global threats to our health,” says Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, CEO of Novo Nordisk Foundation in a statement. “By supporting the project, the Novo Nordisk Foundation wants to contribute to generating new knowledge that can help to reduce the use of antibiotics in the pig farming industry and thereby counteract the development of resistant bacteria.”

The Pig-Paradigm project is a group of human and animal health researchers in Denmark, the Netherlands, and U.S. that aims to find ways of boosting intestinal resilience of piglets, and thus reduce the need for widespread antibiotic use by farmers. For example, researchers plan to study interactions among natural bacteria, fungi, and other microbes in piglets’ intestines for ways of improving their diets to reduce infections, and thus cut antibiotic use.

“We know that diet and nutrition strongly affect the composition and function of the gut microbiome among both humans and pigs,” says Charlotte Lauridsen, professor of animal sciences at Aarhus University in Tjele, Denmark, “Obtaining knowledge about what characterizes a healthy and an unhealthy gut will enable us to design the optimal feed-induced gut microbiome, which can strengthen the immune response and the health of the pigs. This will avoid the need for antibiotics.”

In addition to Aarhus University, researchers from University of Copenhagen and Aalborg University in Denmark, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and University of California in Davis are taking part in Pig-Paradigm. Maria Marco, professor of food science and technology at UC-Davis is leading the part of Pig-Paradigm dealing with dietary improvements in pigs. Marco says the project will help “decode the complexities of the digestive tract which have thus far eluded researchers,” adding “With this knowledge, we will be able to innovate to provide new approaches needed to prevent antibiotic resistance spread.”

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Partnership Developing Faster, Sensitive Covid-19 Test

SARS-CoV-2 and cell

Scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 viruses emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (NIAID, NIH)

4 May 2022. A collaboration between developers of protein analytics and test-strip diagnostics aims to create a quicker, more sensitive, easy-to-use Covid-19 detection test. Financial and intellectual property terms of the agreement between Alamar Biosciences Inc. in Fremont, California and Mologic Ltd. in Bedford, U.K. were not disclosed.

Alamar Biosciences and Mologic say they plan to develop the next generation of tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 viruses responsible for Covid-19 infections. New rapid tests are needed, say the companies, to provide greater sensitivity for identifying the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in specimen samples, particularly in low-resource regions, as well as prepare for future pandemics. Mologic already produces two tests for SARS-CoV-2 viruses, including a personal self-test for infections, with antibodies keyed to an antigen derived from SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acids.

Mologic’s diagnostics use a process first developed by Paul Davis, a Mologic founder, who created a lateral flow technology in early home pregnancy tests that provide visible responses on treated paper test strips. The company says it has advanced the technology to quickly diagnose a range of conditions at the point of care with tests using synthesized protein reagents and nanoscale particles, connected to electronic systems for analysis. Davis is now Mologic’s chief scientist.

Alamar Bio specializes in proteomics or protein analytics, particularly for precision medicine, where diagnostics revealing a patient’s individual biomarkers or molecular indicators are needed to deliver effective therapies. A barrier to precision medicine, however, is the low concentration of many biomarker proteins in blood plasma samples. Alamar Bio says its technology is capable of detecting thousands of proteins in small microliter-sized plasma samples.

Detect difficult to treat cancers

The company says its technology first applies advances in high-throughput genomic sequencing and massive parallel analysis to increase the sensitivity of protein detection. Alamar Bio says it then designs engineered antibodies to zero-in on highly specific targets, including for liquid biopsies to detect some cancer targets considered difficult to treat. The company says its synthetic antibodies, called attobodies, can also be used in engineered cancer treatments, such as T-cells with chimeric antigen receptors, or bi-specific therapies.

In addition, says Alamar Bio, it can quickly develop attobodies for diagnostics, a feature that the companies say led to their collaboration on Covid-19 diagnostics. “We are very pleased with the increased sensitivity attainable with Alamar antibodies,” says Davis in a statement, “especially in view of the speed with which they can be developed.”

Davis adds, “Fast-track discovery and deployment of antibodies with the highest possible affinity and specificity will be the central pillar of this new pandemic preparedness, very much aligning with Mologic’s mission to better enable humanity to cope with the long-term presence of Covid-19.”

Mologic’s mission recently evolved as a result of its acquisition in July 2021 by Global Access Health, a social enterprise for developing new, effective, and easy-to-use diagnostics in low-resource regions of the world. A social enterprise balances profit-making activities against social impacts. Global Access Health combines Mologic with the not-for-profit organization Global Access Diagnostics established in 2020. The $41 million transaction was financed by philanthropic and investment funds, led by the Soros Economic Development Fund and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Scale Your Business The Smart Way

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Tablet and laptop

(Anthony Shkraba, Pexels)

4 May 2022. Scaling seems like it’s a buzzword, but it is something that small businesses have done forever. Getting your business ready for growth is what scaling is all about, but if you don’t take the step to set up the right framework – growth can feel jagged, and not only that, it can cause some areas of your business to fold in on itself.

What is business scaling?

In the early days of your business plan, you are encouraged to consider the business growth – and how you envision the business to be in 5,10 and 15 years from now.

That is a great thing to do because it forces you to consider all of the different ways your business might change, what might impact it, and your biggest goals.

But ahead of that growth comes one of the most important things, and that is scaling. When you scale your business, you are setting up a framework (people, tools, finances) to support your business through the growth period.

It is the technology, partners, staffing, outsourcing and funding that will mean you and grow well and without any pitfalls.

One of the biggest issues that businesses usually run into when they are in the growth phase is a lack of the right people and a lack of funds.

So how can you scale your business in the best way?

Keep in mind that scaling isn’t typically a fast process, and it needs to be tested as you add new supporting features.

Outsourcing and staffing

The people you have around you can make a huge impact on how you can move forward. For any permanent staff, you need to make sure that they are aligned with the vision of the business and come with plenty of their own ideas. It is much easier to achieve your business goals when all of the team is supporting and moving towards the same goal.

Teams like this take a lot of work to get right, but when they work, they are a force to be reckoned with.

If full-time staff isn’t something that you can currently afford, then outsourcing is possible too.

Strategic outsourcing will mean that you only spend a very select amount and have full control over how many hours and which part of your business they will contribute.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Recruiting full-time or part-time staff is an expensive process, and the process you use for it needs to be scalable.
  • Will you be looking for extra management help? What qualifications will you require, and what types of personalities will work best with you?
  • Customer service is an area that needs to have special attention; one of the most popular choices is web live chat software to give you an edge.

A big part of scaling is making agile choices, and often they can be difficult too. Sometimes it is more beneficial to have a range of outsourced people and freelancers on short contracts while you work on the rest.

Technology

Choosing the right technology is the lifeblood of scaling. There are many different SaaS options that can improve and streamline your processes, often saving money and manpower hours.

A wise investment in technology will mean you need less labour for a bigger outcome.

Here are a couple of things you should think about when it comes to technology and how it impacts scaling.

  • Marketing automation – freeing up plenty of time by taking a few hours to set up each campaign; you can then run it and check in on the analytics.
  • CRM – manage your customers in the most efficient manner, and implement a robust CRM options
  • Onboarding new staff – with the right technology, you can onboard staff quickly and efficiently, giving them everything they need to succeed.
  • Internal communications – even before having a team of staff, you will need to have a framework for communications in place. Slack, Team and Google Hangouts are most often used, but there are platforms that streamline customers and internal communications.

Only invest money in technology that meets your needs. It is very tempting to go for bigger packages straight away; instead, look for technology that has the option to scale as you grow. So that you can add more seats, reduce seats, add more features and so on. Talk to the customer services of any SaaS to find out more about their scalability.

Funding

Business growth costs money, and sometimes it costs a lot more than you might think. You’ll be funnelling money into bigger marketing campaigns, recruitment, staff training, payroll, product, suppliers, manufacturers and more.

Of course, it depends on what type of business you run because you might not need all of these things to see some growth.

Ahead of the growth period is a great time to start securing funding. Bootstrapping and remaining agile are always of benefit, but a downside is that usually, bootstrapped businesses take longer to grow.

Search for business grants that make sense for your type of business, and look for what makes you unique. Female owned businesses, businesses that make an environmental impact, and other USPs can work in your favor when it comes to funding. There are also many different contests that you can enter.

When it comes to financing your business, spend some time putting a pitch pack together that tells people what you do, why you do it, how you do it and why you are a safe bet for their investment cash.

In preparation for pitching for funding, here are a few things you need to work on:

  • Understand what you can offer the investors.
  • Can you pitch your business in 60 seconds or less? Aim for one sentence.
  • Study each type of investor you will be pitching – what do they usually invest in.
  • What is the story that makes you interesting and different?
  • What is the problem that you solve?
  • Pack the essential details in
  • Outline clearly how much you need and where it will go – break down the percentages, and show the maths behind the work.
  • Drill down on the marketing
  • How competitive is the landscape really?
  • Be honest with the risks, including your own skill deficit.
  • How do you make money? What is the revenue model?

If you have demo products, software or others, it is always a good idea to bring that in to show them. This gives them a direct experience with your products.

Business values

Ahead of any scaling action, it is important that you really drill down on what your company values are. As you grow, there will be opportunities that appear that might not align with how you saw the company going. But with thousands on the table – will they hold fast?

Your business values shouldn’t be impacted by the growth of your company.

Here are how you can safeguard your company values through scaling and growth:

  • Keep them clear – the more precise you are about what the culture is, the easier it is to protect
  • All onboarding should have the values built-in
  • No matter how big your company gets, you, as the owner or leader, need to give an example.
  • Revisit the values often. Are you doing right by your employees and customers? Are you holding to how you see the company?
  • Use feedback and communication as the biggest tool to protect your values and keep everyone on track
  • People before profits isn’t just something nice to say; it is a great way to run your company – so long as you still do it no matter how much money is on the table.

Barriers

Setting goals and creating a framework to enable your growth is great, but if you don’t take the time to highlight what the barriers are, then you might be in for a surprise.

Barriers come in many forms, and while you might like to think that you aren’t one – until your leadership is put to the test, you might’ve assumed you were a natural leader. Only to find that you struggle with it.

An unsteady cash flow can also be one of the issues.

When you are highlighting barriers, it is essential that you take the time to go through a range of different solutions. Once you identify what might halt your progress or cause issues, you can be prepared to smash through them – or navigate them with a carefully outlined strategy.

Keep in mind that while some barriers may present themselves early to you, and you can then prevent much of the impact, there are also many that will arise at speed, and usually, these are financial.

Consider this – if you check in your finances only once a month, that is only 12 times a year. Suppose you check daily; that is 365. When you check something 365 times, you are more likely to spot issues coming up long before they happen.

Having good financial habits will help to solve or avoid most issues that a small business might run into, and here are some ways that you can stay on top of it: Managing Small Business Finances « Science and Enterprise.

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Two Venture Funds Unveiled for Science Start-Ups

Investment graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

3 May 2022. Two investment companies announced venture capital funds totaling nearly $700 million for supporting new life science and health technology businesses. Catalio Capital Management in New York says it raised $381 million for its third Nexus venture fund, while health care investor Patient Square Capital in Menlo Park, California is spinning off Enavate Sciences, a separate enterprise with $300 million to support companies creating therapies and related technologies.

Catalio Capital Management is a two year-old investment firm that backs life science start-ups from seed to growth stages and exits. The company says it finances developers of drugs, medical devices, diagnostics, and data technologies for science-based enterprises. Catalio says its Nexus Fund 3 raised $381 million, exceeding its $300 million goal, with contributions from current investors, as well as institutional investors, foundations, and endowments worldwide. The company says its Nexus Funds 1 and 2 raised $15 million and $100 million respectively.

Catalio says many of its Nexus fund investments go to companies in which it forms partnerships with scientist-entrepreneurs at university research labs. The company says it already invested in 36 such partnerships with entrepreneurial researchers at institutions in the U.S. and Europe, out of a total of 45 investments since beginning in 2020. Science & Enterprise reported on four of those companies since March 2021:

eGenesis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, spun-off from the lab of Harvard University geneticist George Church, preparing genetically-edited pigs to produce organs for human transplantation

Volastra Therapeutics in New York, derived from research at Weill Cornell medical school collaborating with Microsoft Corp. on computational tools to find and predict factors that cause cancers to spread

Neumora Therapeutics in Watertown, Massachusetts, founded by researchers in neuroscience at the Broad Institute and Johns Hopkins University, developing more precise therapies for psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases based on genetics and data science

Septerna Inc. in South San Francisco, based on research at Duke University and Monash University in Australia, designing proteins in the lab for difficult drug targets in a range of diseases

Business building and investment capital

Catalio says seven of its portfolio companies have already issued IPOs or were acquired. “Our pipeline across the biotech and life sciences space is as robust as ever,” says Diamantis Xylas, the company’s head of research in a statement released through BusinessWire, “and we look forward to continuing to back exceptional scientist-entrepreneurs and identify attractive investments that deliver treatment options to patients in need and drive returns for our investors.”

Enavate Sciences is a spin-off enterprise from health care investment company Patient Square Capital, where the company says the word “patient” refers to the focus of its investments and its approach to investing. Patient Square says it formed Enavate Sciences to invest in developers of therapies and biomedical technologies outside its usual model, where life science start-ups need help building their businesses as well as investment capital.

Patient Square says it contributed $300 million to get Enavate Sciences started. “We are in the golden age of therapeutics,” says Enavate Sciences CEO James Boylan in a company statement, “where the science has never been better understood and the tools to target disease, engineer therapies, and deliver drugs to patients with precision have never been more powerful. Yet current financial market dynamics have created significant challenges for therapeutic companies to raise the necessary capital to advance their pipelines.”

As reported by Science & Enterprise, venture capital investments are down worldwide in the first quarter of 2022, with fewer investment deals in U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical start-ups, although total investment dollars remain on track from last year.

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AI-Aided Cancer Analytics Gain $21.5M in Early Funds

Artificial intelligence graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

2 May 2022. A start-up enterprise using artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze tumor biopsy images is raising $21.5 million in seed and first-round venture funding. Imagene AI is a two year-old company in Tel Aviv, Israel of cancer researchers and data scientists that aims to speed diagnostics for precision medicine.

Imagene AI is developing a process to better understand the precise genetic composition of an individual’s cancer by analyzing images of biopsy tissue samples. The company says its technology uses A.I. algorithms to seek out patterns in the visual evidence not normally revealed by human inspection. Imagene AI says its algorithms can return results in about two minutes, much faster than current processes often requiring weeks, and provide precise diagnostics of a patient’s cancer, down to specific genomics and proteomics.

The company does not cite any studies that demonstrate the technology, but Nir Peled, Imagene AI’s medical director and head of the Integrated Oncology Institute at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, explains in a 2017 interview how visual evidence combined with biomarkers can provide better lung cancer diagnostics. In the interview with the journal Translational Lung Cancer Research, Peled recommended first using imaging techniques such as CT scans to screen for lung cancer before analyzing molecular indicators in blood samples. “That would allow us to have a higher specificity of the diagnosis,” Peled tells the interviewer, “and to effectively reduce invasive procedures for patients with tiny nodules who have normal biomarkers. I think this is the next topic that we should focus on in terms of research and clinical implications.”

Precision medicine available to only a few

Imagene AI says its visual analytics can help can aid cancer researchers to more accurately identify new biomarker targets and predict responses to treatments, and recruit and stratify patients for clinical trials. For physicians, says the company, its technology can provide more precise companion diagnostics, and because of the near real-time turnaround, initiate precision therapies much sooner.

“Precision medicine is transforming cancer care, yet, still relevant and available to less than 15 percent of cancer patients,” says Dean Bitan, Imagene AI’s co-founder and CEO in a company statement released through Globe Newswire, citing a 2018 report in Science magazine. “Our scalable technology strives to enable treatment opportunities for all cancer patients, driving precision medicine to be tailored per individual patient condition.”

Imagene AI is raising $21.5 million in a combined seed and first venture funding rounds, $3 million and 18.5 million respectively. Leading the financing is early-stage technology investor Blumberg Capital in San Francisco and Tel Aviv, with participation by individual investors Larry Ellison, David Agus, and Eyal Gura. Ellison is co-founder and chief technology officer of global technology company Oracle, who with David Agus, founded the Institute for Transformative Medicine at University of Southern California in 2016. Gura is an Israeli entrepreneur and venture investor.

“The ongoing digitization of health care,” says Yodfat Buchris, managing director of Blumberg Capital, “will reward medical providers, payers, and patients with new ways of leveraging data to improve diagnoses, treatments and outcomes by improving accuracy, streamlining processes and reducing costs.”

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Infographic – Univ. Leadership Still a Man’s World

Chart: Women in university leadership

Click on image for full-size view. (Statista)

30 Apr. 2022. While women now make up a majority of Ph.D. degrees in the U.S., the people leading most of America’s research universities continue to be men. The business research company Statista prepared a chart this week with the data, from a report by the Women’s Power Gap Initiative, a project of the Eos Foundation.

The Women’s Power Gap Initiative surveyed 130 top research universities in the U.S. ranked by the Carnegie Foundation — the schools on which we often report in Science & Enterprise —  noting the genders of their presidents, academic deans, and tenured professors. Results show only about two in 10 presidents of these institutions (22%) are women, with non-white men and women largely underrepresented as well in these leadership ranks. The report notes nearly four in 10 of academic deans and provosts in top research universities are women, which suggests a pool of qualified talent is there.

The data also show the vast majority of full tenured professors at research universities, about two-thirds, also continue to be men. At the same time, more doctoral degrees in the U.S. have been granted to women than men for the past 15 years, suggesting as well that an available pipeline with qualified women candidates. The report cites an analysis in Forbes published in 2018 tracing these disparities to lack of diversity in hiring processes, family and child-rearing responsibilities falling on women, and unconscious biases against women in top jobs.

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Hydrogel Shown to Boost Beneficial Gut Microbes

Gut microbes

Gut microbes cultured in an artistic design (Nicola Fawcett, Wikimedia Commons)

29 Apr. 2022. Tests with lab mice show a highly absorbent biocompatible gel promotes the growth of beneficial microbes associated with good metabolic health. The biotech materials company Gelesis in Boston that conducted the study is presenting its findings at the World of Microbiome conference now underway in Vienna, Austria.

Gelesis creates synthetic gels designed to act like raw vegetables, particularly their beneficial functions in the gastrointestinal system. The company’s technology produces three-dimensional hydrogels, made of water-based biocompatible polymers, with cellulose sodium salts similar to those found in common food thickeners and citric acid in fruit. The company’s gels are taken as capsules, where they absorb water and mix with ingested food in the stomach, and move into the small intestine without being absorbed. In the colon, the gels then release the absorbed water, which are excreted in stools.

Gelesis’s lead product is a prescription weight-management gel with the brand name Plenity, cleared for adults in the U.S. and Europe, that the company says makes a person feel full, but works more efficiently than food. Other Gelesis products in development are gels designed to work in the gut for treating obesity in adolescents, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NAFLD/NASH), and constipation. In Nov. 2021, Science & Enterprise reported on published lab test results by a Gelesis team showing its gels act similarly to raw vegetables in absorbing water and protecting mucous layers in the gut.

Healthier microbial balance

The new findings report on tests with lab mice fed a high-fat diet to create obesity like that experienced by many humans. Researchers fed the mice this diet for 12 weeks, with part of the mice also given the Gelesis experimental product code-named Gel-B, a superabsorbent hydrogel with mechanical properties similar to raw vegetables. In previous studies, say the researchers, mice given Gel-B experienced improved metabolic functioning, and in this experiment, the team focused on changes in gut microbes.

Researchers analyzed the genomics of fecal samples from the mice after 12, 16, and 24 weeks. The findings show mice given Gel-B have a higher ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes bacteria, considered an indicator of obesity, restoring a healthier balance of these microbes disrupted by a high-fat diet. In addition, Gel-B recipient mice experience higher levels of Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria, associated with a thicker mucous layer in the gut, an indicator of better gut health. Further lab tests, says the team, show the gel’s ingredients without the unique elastic cellulose fibers in Gel-B do not encourage Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria development, suggesting those fibers are a key ingredient in the product.

Maria Rescigno, a researcher in mucosal immunology and microbiota at Humanitas University in Milan, Italy, and co-author of the paper notes in a Gelesis statement released through BusinessWire that “along with weight loss and changes in gut permeability, we saw beneficial changes in the gut microbiota. Rescigno adds, “Most pronounced was an increase in Akkermansia muciniphila, which is known to be associated with metabolic health.”

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