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A functional city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

A functional city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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Cities are currently being tested to the extreme with the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

Simultaneously a health crisis, social crisis, and economic crisis, COVID-19 is laying bare how well cities are planned and managed.  Its impact is showing the extent to which each city is able to function – or not – especially during times of crisis. 

COVID-19 is a massive challenge for cities on the front line, rich and poor alike. The measures taken to control the spread of the virus are having massive implications on cities due to their economic structure; their preparedness for such a crisis, especially the state of their public health and service delivery systems; and the extent to which their population’s health and livelihoods are vulnerable.

In normal times, there might be many attributes that cities strive to compete on and excel at the global level including livability, competitiveness, and sustainability.  But in any given day and especially in a time of crisis, a city must function well for its citizens. 

But what does this mean? And how can a functional city make a difference now, during this time of crisis?

A functional city means that governance and service delivery systems work seamlessly, effectively and simultaneously along a range of dimensions – it is a city that delivers high-quality public services for all people, in both rich and poor neighborhoods; that works hard to create economic opportunities for residents and businesses; that prioritizes community participation and inclusion for all, and that makes policies and decisions that create a stimulating and enjoyable life for its residents.

A good example is Helsinki. Finland’s capital has 650,000 inhabitants and sits at the heart of a dynamic metropolitan region with 1.5 million inhabitants, a little over a quarter of the country’s population but with nearly 40 percent of the nation’s GDP.  

In 2017, the new City Strategy modeled Helsinki as the world’s most functional city by offering the best conditions possible for good urban life for residents, businesses, and visitors.  Functionality in Helsinki grows from an emphasis on equal opportunity for all. This includes ability to live, work, play and express oneself in a safe environment. Education is one of the cornerstones – not only does the city have some of the best schools in the world (Finland ranks among the highest countries globally in reading and science, with Helsinki’s schools leading the way), but more importantly it has some of the “best worst schools,” meaning there is little difference between the schools in rich and poor neighborhoods.

Helsinki’s management approach is based on grounding every city decision on functionality, safety and openness. This approach results in a high level of trust between citizens and the local government, which in turn facilitates the city leadership’s ability to operate more effectively in a time of crisis.

Helsinki’s functional city approach combines three pillars, all of which are proving critical to the city’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. The first pillar is a smart city, in which digital technology and innovation are the foundation of efficient service delivery. The second is an inclusive city, in which community participation is at the center of policymaking, the design and delivery of public services, and the prioritization of budgets and investments. The third is a sustainable city, set on a course to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 while strengthening energy security, enhancing mobility and improving the quality of life. Much of the city’s recovery plan is based on amplifying these foundations of the city strategy, namely digital city services, inclusive development and sustainable infrastructure.

Much of Helsinki’s economy, like that of many cities in developed countries, is based on services and the creative economy, which are structured around people-to-people interactions and knowledge spillovers. So the COVID-19 virus is testing the city to its limits.  Creative industries, the arts, travel, congresses, events, and the start-up scene have started feeling the impact of COVID-19 deeply.  In addition, the inability to engage with others in an urban environment and the cancelation of events and the resulting impact on services takes a toll on people’s mental health. What makes a city is now temporarily gone.

While cities like Helsinki are not able to totally prevent the combined effects of the current health, economic, and social crisis resulting from COVID-19, the foundations of its functional city approach are enabling the city to manage the crisis holistically and deliver results efficiently.

How has Helsinki’s functionality performed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

In Finland, the implementation of most restrictive measures and the day-to-day management of the crisis situation is the responsibility of cities. Helsinki has been especially proactive in managing its response to the pandemic and has drawn on its local and international networks for city-to-city collaboration. The main concern from the outset was the social impacts of the restrictive measures such as social distancing and disruptions of everyday life, which were introduced early on. Mental health issues, domestic violence, disadvantaged youth in danger of falling behind and substance abuse problems were some the threats targeted from the outset.

To contain the spread of the epidemic, schools have been closed since March 18, although pre-schools and grades 1-3 were allowed to remain open to allow critical personnel to work. To maintain the quality of its school system, the city leveraged its impressive digital technology platforms to create digital classrooms for students. The city also developed digital cultural services for its population in its aim to maintain a stimulating urban life and to reduce the mental health impacts from social distancing and isolation.

The city has been especially attentive to its vulnerable population, especially the elderly who are at risk from potential viral exposure and also at risk of social isolation. Teaming up with NGOs and the church, the city ensured that each and every one of its elderly residents above 70 years of age may get personalized services, including support in their shopping for food or pharmacy needs.

Helsinki City Hall has been especially attuned to supporting the creative industries, which are a mainstay of the economy and especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 epidemic. One important policy early on was to provide three-month rent-free periods in city-owned properties for entrepreneurs affected by the coronavirus, which proved an important measure as the city controls about two-thirds of the land in Helsinki’s urbanized area.

City Hall maintains a special Operations Group that collects data through various digital technology platforms and runs scenario analysis to inform decision-making. The Mayor leads a special Coordination Group that has met daily since March 1 to monitor progress of the crisis management systems, prepare for recovery and take timely decisions. There is daily streaming of the Mayor’s information sessions to citizens and staff. The city has also transferred civil servant staff from non-critical to critical functions. This has been one way to keep the social and health services high-functioning throughout the crisis.

Overall, the city’s efforts – facilitated by its functional city pillars – are having results in terms of curbing the number of infected, maintaining a good level of health care facilities and personnel that has thus far been able to cope with surges in infections, sustaining the delivery of quality public services despite the evolving situation, and keeping up good communication channels with residents and a cohesive public spirit as people respond positively to restrictions. The effective delivery of measures has been supported by the trust-based relationship between local government and citizens that allows the administration to act efficiently.

The world will be very different post-COVID-19. Even though public health issues are still the first and foremost concern, cities are starting to move towards recovery planning. Every step taken now already helps build the post-COVID-19 world. Cities’ success is dependent upon their ability to anticipate global trends and transformations.  Even though nations might be taking the lead for now in putting together stimulus packages, it will – in large part – be the job of cities to implement the return to the “new normal.”

Before the crisis, Helsinki was doing well with quality public services, a flourishing culture and lifestyle, a rapidly growing travel industry, a burgeoning and rapidly growing start-up scene, and a very healthy economy. The city was alive. 

We strongly believe that the course of urbanization and the age of cities will not alter due to the crisis. Innovation, creativity and capital will keep gravitating and drawing people towards cities. People will keep having a continuous need for a community and each other. Digitalization will offer new solutions that will make the global community of cities even more interconnected.

The pressing global issues of this century – whether dealing with the refugee crisis, climate change or ravaging epidemics – have thrust cities like Helsinki as well as local governments into taking more and more of a global leadership role, on issues that were traditionally the remit of national governments.  As a result, it looks like we are increasingly living in the century of cities.

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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