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Bank of Japan announcement: BoJ maintains negative short-term rates

The Bank of Japan in its two-day meeting on the 16th and 17th of June, elected to keep policy rates unchanged. Short-term interest rates would stay negative…

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The Bank of Japan in its two-day meeting on the 16th and 17th of June, elected to keep policy rates unchanged. Short-term interest rates would stay negative at -0.1%, while long-term rates would be held near 0%.

The BoJ and Governor Kuroda Haruhiko, who is now in the final year of his term, has stressed that easy monetary conditions will continue, in a bid to improve anemic growth.

This policy stance is in direct contrast to the tightening engaged by other global central banks.

Market players had speculated that the BoJ may abandon its ultra-low rate policy as central banks around the world have entered a new hiking cycle, while in a shock move this week, the Swiss National Bank, a safe-haven currency and export-dependent economy like Japan, raised rates for the first time in 15 years.

At the time of writing, the yen is 16.5% lower against the dollar on a year-to-date basis, and 21.6% lower over the last twelve months.

Inflation and the way of the yen

Inflation is expected to see an uptick based on pressures from rising telecom costs, a weakening yen resulting in higher import prices, and other external factors.

Source: US FRED

The monthly inflation rate has surged to 2.4% in April from 1.2% in March, even though it was negative as recently as August.

High commodity prices and supply disruptions due to both the pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia war have raised prices in the traditionally inflation-averse society. Shortages in oil supplies and agricultural production have seen critical costs rise.

However, with the country having been in a deflationary environment for decades, it is still muted compared to other countries.

Source: global-rates.com

In fact, the BoJ wants inflation to rise and for core inflation to reach above 2%, after experiencing a prolonged deflationary period.

However, rising inflation does not imply that the economy is healthy because prices are not led by faster-paced domestic business activity but by higher international costs.

Capital outflows and a weakening yen

The actions of other central banks follow record-high inflation in several advanced countries on the back of labor shortages, elevated commodity prices, and broken supply chains due to the Ukraine-Russia war.

Until recently, the Yen was seen as a safe-haven currency. It was a destination for markets to park funds during high volatility and macro uncertainty.

This has changed drastically in recent times, with other central banks, primarily the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to stem higher prices.

The dollar is still the king of fiat currencies. Its globally respected institutions (in comparison to those of other nations), an unmatched depth of bond markets, and abundant liquidity have led investors to seek refuge in the dollar. The rise in key rates has improved returns, and other currency holdings have gravitated towards the US. These are known as capital outflows (from Japan and other countries).

Amid capital outflows, demand for the yen has reduced, leading to weakness in the yen as compared to the dollar.

As a result, import prices (marked in dollars) have risen in yen terms, accelerating costs and inflation at home.

In all likelihood, the yen will continue to weaken, if the BoJ pursues its ultra-loose policy and the Fed tightens between 50 – 75 bps during the next meeting. In a sense, the authorities are banking on a rise in growth rates before yen depreciation gets out off hand.

Growth challenges

Japanese growth faced a sharp downturn during the pandemic.

Economic activity has stalled during the pandemic, and with a median age of approximately 49 years, overall productivity remains low while the dependency ratio continues to rise.

The inexpensive yen may support exports to power growth, but the upside will likely be limited as global growth slows.

On the flipside, easy money ensures that zombie companies remain operational and other inefficient business practices are not weeded out, ultimately harming growth prospects.

Crucially, monetary policy interventions are supposed to provide a short-term boost to the economy and are not suited to long-term policy.

However, the BoJ feels raising rates would be catastrophic and dampen an already challenging economic picture.

According to Momma Kazuo and Yamamoto Kenzo, both formerly executive directors at the BoJ, the real antidote for Japan’s growth woes may lie in structural reforms. These tend to be long, arduous journeys of decisive and dedicated collective action, compared to the ‘easy’ fix of keeping rates low.

Speculators take on the BoJ

The market is rife with reports that the BoJ purchased bonds worth $5.2 billion on Wednesday alone, to keep the yield on 10-year government securities capped at 0.25%.

Speculators believe that with prolonged ultra-loose monetary policy and rising import costs, inflation must head higher and will take bond yields with it, making government borrowing more challenging.

The BoJ has committed to defending its ceiling, for now, but is likely to see markets attack its positions more aggressively.

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Commodities

Gold as an investment; a long-term perspective

To many investors, gold was a disappointment during the COVID-19 pandemic and the high-inflation period that followed. Instead of protecting a portfolio…

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To many investors, gold was a disappointment during the COVID-19 pandemic and the high-inflation period that followed. Instead of protecting a portfolio from inflation, the price of gold declined from its all-time high reached in 2020.

At the same time, inflation in the US and other advanced economies kept rising. Nowadays, inflation in the UK is expected to reach double-digit territory at the end of this year and runs at more than four decades high in the US.

Moreover, the news that a huge gold deposit was discovered in Uganda made many wonder what the point of investing in gold is if it isn’t so scarce. The new deposit has some 320,000 tonnes of extractable pure gold.

But time is on gold’s side. As an uncorrelated asset with the main financial markets, gold has its place in an investment portfolio.

Because of that, an analysis of the price of gold from a long-term perspective is useful as it helps filter the noise. After the bullish breakout in the early 2000s, the price of gold is in a bullish run, unlikely to end despite the recent underperformance.

Only bullish patterns followed the early 2000s bullish breakout

In the early 2000s, gold traded below $400/ounce. A bullish breakout led to several bullish patterns – including the current one, which may end up being bullish after all.

First, it was a pennant – a continuation pattern that was responsible for sending the gold price to $1000/ounce for the first time ever. What followed was an ascending triangle.

After the market had cleared the horizontal resistance given by the $1,000 level, it did not stop all the way to $1,900 in 2012. The move was reversed in the years to follow, but an inverse head and shoulders pattern propelled the price to a new all-time high in 2020, as uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic reigned on financial markets.

From that moment on, gold is in a consolidation area. Because it hesitated at horizontal resistance, one may argue that the price of gold forms an ascending triangle. The last time it did so, the market traveled more than $900, so bears might want to watch the current pattern closely.

Gold price’s resilience against the dollar has been impressive

Perhaps the best way to interpret the market is through the eyes of the US dollar. The gold price has been resilient against a rising US dollar, and the chart below shows it accurately.

From June 2020, the gold price did not move much, while the US dollar declined initially, only to recover the lost ground. Hence, gold’s price resilience in an environment of a rising US dollar adds strength to the yellow metal because a strong dollar limits the effects of inflation by offsetting the price of imports.

To sum up, gold is consolidating. A move to a new all-time high should trigger more strength, and a higher dollar might accompany it.

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Science

How prepared is biopharma for the cyber doomsday?

One of the largest cyberattacks in history happened on a Friday, Eric Perakslis distinctly remembers.
Perakslis, who was head of Takeda’s R&D Data…

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One of the largest cyberattacks in history happened on a Friday, Eric Perakslis distinctly remembers.

Perakslis, who was head of Takeda’s R&D Data Sciences Institute and visiting faculty at Harvard Medical School at the time, had spent that morning completing a review on cybersecurity for the British Medical Journal. Moments after he turned it in, he heard back from the editor: “Have you heard what’s going on right now?”

Eric Perakslis

He had not. While he was knee deep in the review, a ransomware later known as WannaCry ripped through the globe at breakneck speed, descending on a quarter million computers in more than 150 countries. One of the hardest hit groups was the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, which saw tens of thousands of devices — computers, MRI scanners, blood-storage refrigerators and other equipment — compromised, bringing many hospitals to a standstill for several days. By the time the NHS sorted through the rampage, government officials estimated the attack had cost them £92 million, or $120 million, both in direct costs and lost output — including more than 10,000 canceled appointments.

For Perakslis, looking back, the coincidental timing was almost eerie. But having first called on the healthcare industry to take cyber threats seriously in 2014, Perakslis had already warned others something like this could happen.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” he told Endpoints News. “It’s not validation. It’s just like … I hate to be right.”

Five years and a pandemic later, as the whole world got a crash course on battling a highly contagious virus, the issue of defending oneself against malicious, insidious cyberthreats appears to have quietly taken root in biopharma. It came largely thanks to a confluence of factors, from the new reality of remote work to realizations about how dangerous it could be when, say, the rollout of a lifesaving vaccine is compromised.

Even as some warn industry is woefully unprepared for coordinated attacks, in many ways, drug developers are heeding the call to pay serious attention.

“I actually think that most of the pharmas are getting there,” said Perakslis, who’s since moved to the chief science and digital officer role at Duke Clinical Research Institute. “Do I think they’re meeting the threat? No. But I think they’re doing a good job trying to get there.”

Multiple biopharma companies declined to comment, citing the fear of becoming a target. But experts offered advice on how to navigate the ever-evolving threats of cybersecurity, which can ripple well into the future, in an industry where security is tough in a connected ecosystem of universities, research centers, labs, patient groups and hospitals.

“We need to focus on really defining and explaining what we need to protect,” said Kathryn Millett, a researcher at the UK-based NGO Biosecu.re.

War, crime and others

In 2017, Merck fell victim to NotPetya, an attack instigated by the Russian government that affected multiple big companies. But the aftermath of the attack continued to generate new headlines in 2022.

A court ruled earlier this year in the pharma giant’s favor, deciding that it should be awarded $1.4 billion in insurance payout for the damages it suffered when the malware wiped out years of research, disrupted sales operations and crippled Gardasil 9 production facilities, forcing the company to dip into the US national stockpile.

Bob Maley, chief security officer at the cyber risk monitoring service firm Black Kite, describes it as a “watershed moment.”

It was useful not just in illuminating what could happen when a drugmaker gets swept up in a large-scale cyberattack, but in helping define what people mean when they talk about cyberthreats in the biopharma space. For one, NotPetya illustrated the difference between cybercrime, where the ultimate goal often is to extort money, and cyberwar, which is always meant to be destructive.

“Those things do happen, but I think that for most business purposes, that kind of event — there’s not much we can do about that,” Maley said, referring to NotPetya. “If those state actors decided they’re going to do something in a cyber warfare, they’re going to do it.”

Other, more mundane kinds of attacks, though, can be just as devastating. The potential consequences vary widely, as do the points or modes of attacks, straddling the precarious line between the corporeal and the digital.

Jean Peccoud

The sheer range of possibilities for cyberattacks in life sciences led a group of researchers to propose the term “cyberbiosecurity” in 2017 “as a formal new enterprise which encompasses cybersecurity, cyber-physical security and biosecurity as applied to biological and biomedical-based systems.” Although that was credited by some for kicking off the conversation, Jean Peccoud, a synthetic biology researcher and professor at Colorado State University who co-authored that paper, noted it’s still a broad definition.

“This is a loosely defined field,” Peccoud said in an email to Endpoints.

Depending on who you are and what you are working on, the concerns could be vastly different. Peccoud himself, for instance, believes what’s unique to life science is the “dual representation of DNA sequence”: They exist as both molecules and as computer records, and translating or even transcending the two is increasingly convenient. That’s why for him, the scariest thing that could happen would be a biosecurity incident caused by an engineered organism, possibly with malicious DNA sequences designed in software, which could affect people’s health.

Some may be most worried about confidential data getting leaked; others may fear getting brought to a standstill when hackers lock down operations, demanding a ransom. For many, the nightmare scenario happens when attackers are lurking within company data, and no one knows about it — giving bad actors free reign to tamper with, to take an extreme example, the formula or quality control tests for a drug and thereby endangering patients.

“The state of play as it stands is that the problem of cyberbiosecurity itself is so large and nebulous that we cannot yet provide any clear messaging, guidance or solutions,” Millett of Biosecu.re said.

With bigger data…

While the threats of cyberattack are ubiquitous, security researchers, advocates and vendors have long warned that biopharma was a much greater target than other sectors.

“These industries offer an attractive target for cyberattacks because of their substantial investment in research and development, valuable intellectual property, connected IT and operational networks, and sensitive stores of data,” an MIT group wrote in 2018.

Emil Hewage

Emil Hewage is co-founder and CEO of BIOS Health, a Y Combinator-backed startup striving to personalize neural medicine through real time reading of patients’ neural code.

“In the discovery ecosystem we generate every week more data than that has been generated by public research efforts,” he said. “So we’re talking about many terabytes of brand new data sets per week.”

BIOS is but one player riding on a tidal wave of new discovery technologies generating data at unprecedented scale, which is often accompanied by the requisite analysis tools to interpret them. At the same time, research, development and manufacturing operations are all turning to more sophisticated technologies and data systems to measure and monitor performance on an ever-growing list of indicators.

Kelvin Lee

“The growing emphasis on cybersecurity is occurring at the same time that the industry is arguably changing to one driven by data,” said Kelvin Lee, director of the Manufacturing USA National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), in an email.

Biopharma companies are also somewhat unique in how they are entangled in a complex ecosystem of universities, research centers, labs, patient groups, hospitals and more. That’s not to mention regulators, who impose an additional layer of compliance requirements.

“It’s not just a matter of number of systems, but also number of integrations between those systems,” said Adin Stein, head of engineering operations, IT and cybersecurity at cell therapy developer Lyell.

Then there are more ways for hackers to target companies. Businesses in general have been using more devices and connecting them, exponentially expanding the number of what security folks call “attack surfaces.”

“This is more data to lose or more subtle ways for that to be extracted and exhibited privily now,” Hewage said.

Perakslis and Peccoud also both point to a concept in the cyber space known as asymmetry: For any corporation, cybersecurity is a cost that executives try to minimize. Hackers, on the other hand, stand to gain immensely from an attack, and one person can theoretically take down an entire company (even though they usually work in groups these days).

The good thing about general problems is that general solutions exist, such as employee training and cyber hygiene.

At Black Kite, Maley said his team has gone through a long list of recommended cyber practices to try and predict which companies are most at risk of becoming victims of ransomware.

“What we found was that the bad actors, out of all those hundreds of things that could be exploited, they were only exploiting a very small subset,” he said. “What’s shocking to me is so few things that a company could do to reduce their likelihood of being a victim, for some reason, they just don’t do.”

They include patching the systems on old servers to get rid of vulnerabilities, configuring emails so that it’s harder for hackers to send phishing emails, mandating multi-factor authentication and asking employees not to use the same passwords for everything — lest their login information end up on the dark web and become easy keys for hackers in attacks dubbed credential stuffing.

“Basic, basic, basic kind of things,” Perakslis said. “It doesn’t protect you from the really hard stuff. But again, it’s like driving without a seat belt, you know. Seat belts are not going to keep you out of an accident. But it’s dumb if you get into an accident, you didn’t have one on.”

Building defense

When Kathryn Millett at Biosecu.re first conducted a pilot survey of biotech and cybersecurity leaders, all respondents agreed that cyberbiosecurity risks posed a “real and current threat.” In a follow-up survey that’s still ongoing, she’s heartened to find that the awareness has “trickled down to lab practitioner level.”

“I think there’s been enough sort of news out there, you know, and enough big stories that biotech is really taking notice, and recognizing that there’s a lot at stake and they don’t want to be part of that story,” Stein, the Lyell exec, observed.

Even if biopharma companies don’t go around boasting about it, plenty of signs point to a greater emphasis on cybersecurity. Big Pharma is increasingly bringing chief information officers into the executive suite when in the past they might have reported to the CFO. By Perakslis’ count, budgets are also increasing.

A report by cybersecurity solution provider Fortinet last year found that 98% of pharmaceutical companies surveyed “experienced at least one intrusion,” and around half of them saw between three and five intrusions. But importantly, business-critical data or intellectual property were among the least impacted.

Troy Ament

“With the uptick of these intrusions in general, companies have likely gotten better about protecting business-critical data, but that’s not to say cyberattacks targeting these pharmaceutical organizations are not serious, but it is possible that data is better segmented to prevent cascading impact if an intrusion happens,” said Troy Ament, Fortinet’s chief information security officer.

Lee, the NIIMBL director and University of Delaware professor, noted that while the leading pharma companies are sophisticated in the space, performance is also uneven.

“Smaller companies in the field that have just a few years of experience usually do not have strong cybersecurity protocols or the funding to invest in third-party analysis and compliance services,” Alex Zhavoronkov, co-CEO of the AI drug discovery company Insilico, wrote to Endpoints. “This sometimes worries me a lot.”

At companies that do allocate enough resources, cybersecurity often consists of three pillars: cutting-edge technology that cements every system update patching vulnerabilities; outside experts who provide intelligence and an assessment of risk levels; and a framework to integrate the handling of cyberattacks into the rest of the risk management system.

“One of the best cybersecurity strategies starts with assuming you’ve already been hacked because what happens when you’re hacked, you’re going to look for data that’s leaving,” Perakslis said, and he noted companies are getting better about using real time threat surveillance data to identify and jump on issues.

Alex Zhavoronkov

Biopharma could also learn from other industries, Maley said, learning from case studies such as the breach experienced by Colonial Pipeline, where a mix of exposed remote access ports and credential stuffing led to catastrophe.

For smaller players, Hewage noted, it’s best to start thinking about cybersecurity before they lay their hands on sensitive data. Alternatively, Zhavoronkov noted Insilico decided to lower the risk by minimizing the amount of patient data its platform relies on — while carefully following compliance protocols demanded by Big Pharma partners and engaging providers to perform stress tests.

“I think as you think about particularly emerging biotech, one of the key lessons that I’ve picked up on through the community is the idea of security by design,” Stein said. “It is easier to put a security program in place and develop a culture of security than it is to go back and retrofit.”

Still, no defense is permanent.

“While the industry has certainly taken notice, being on alert never ends,” Ament said.

Culture of secrecy

After a cyberattack, biopharma companies are reluctant to share what happened with other drugmakers, losing what could be teaching moments. Maley said what to disclose has been an issue even going back to a 2006 cybersecurity conference that he attended.

“We’re still talking about it 16 years later,” he said.

To this day, Merck has kept public statements about the NotPetya attack to a minimum. And while others, from Dr. Reddy’s to Roche to Bayer to more recently Novartis, have reported cyber intrusions, they often don’t offer any details beyond whether any sensitive data were compromised.

There are legitimate reasons for staying mum, Perakslis said: “One of the important reasons is that you would never give an adversary your playbook.”

There are also few laws requiring disclosure, while board members do have a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders — which often means to limit bad press.

“I think most companies when they experience these things, one of the first questions that management asks is, well, who do we have to tell? Not who should we tell,” Maley said.

But conversations do happen, Stein said, where specifics are kept confidential and lessons are shared, whether through speaking engagements at conferences, consulting vendors or contributing to the creation of industry standards.

“I wouldn’t assume that if you’re not hearing from a particular organization, they’re not contributing very heavily to quite complex discourse,” said BIOS CEO Hewage. “And in some senses, it’s best to trust really heavily peer reviewed and vetted, industry wide conversation.”

Government agencies can sometimes play that middleman role. The US Department of Homeland Security, for instance, has established Information Sharing and Analysis Centers for early information sharing; the Department of Health and Human Services set up the Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center to do something similar and alert stakeholders to threats; and the UK is also reviewing its biosecurity strategy.

That said, it is nearly impossible to truly tell how prepared a certain company is against cyberattacks — and even with options for sharing, companies tend to be selective about what they say. As a pharma insider told Endpoints, “There’s no prize for naiveté.”

Finding a balance

Even those who are most steeped in cyberbiosecurity advocacy tend to acknowledge that cybersecurity cannot, and should not, be the sole focus of biopharma companies. Their stated mission, after all, is to develop new vaccines and treatments for diseases.

With all the other projects, plans and needs vying for attention, Perakslis said it’s all a matter of prioritization and resource allocation — thinking through how much money to spend on things that are likely but low impact, versus those that are unlikely but high impact.

Understanding the risks and impact thoroughly, then, becomes key.

Finding reference in other areas, Peccoud noted that the aviation industry has an incident reporting system that’s essential to develop its safety culture. Voluntary reporting is shielded from prosecution, which, along with the National Transportation Safety Board, provides material that can be discussed in training or to develop regulation.

“Without transparency the bad guys will always have the edge,” he said.

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Economics

Five things you can do to help you have a more positive birth experience

Becoming a parent can be nerve-wracking – but there are many things you can do to feel more in control.

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Don't be afraid to make your preferences clear to your care provider. Syda Productions/ Shutterstock

Whether you’re a first time parent or have had children before, you’re probably willing to try anything to ensure you have the most positive birth experience you can. After all, the kind of birth experience you have can not only affect your own mental health, but can have an affect on parent-child bonding, as well as partner-to-partner relationships for years after giving birth.

It can be confusing to know what to expect or where to turn to for advice, especially as maternity services have changed due to falling staff numbers and the continued impact of COVID-19. But here are a few things you can do yourself as you navigate your maternity care, which may help you have a more positive birth experience:

1. Get educated

Studies have shown that signing up for antenatal classes can help reduce fear, depression and anxiety – both during pregnancy and after birth.

Typically, antenatal classes will help you understand what’s happening to your body during pregnancy and explain the birth process. They may also teach you coping strategies to help relax during labour, alongside guidance on caring for your new baby. Antenatal classes can also be a great way of meeting other parents going through the same thing as you.

Another option is creating a personalised care and support plan, which is offered by most NHS trusts in the UK. This is a tool you can use with your care providers to explore what’s important to you – and discuss what your range of options are, such as your preferred place of birth, or whether you prefer skin-to-skin contact with your baby immediately after birth.

Understanding what your body’s going through, and making a personalised plan for your birth, may help you feel more prepared and less anxious about what to expect.

2. Know your carers

Being cared for by one nominated midwife, or being assigned to a team of familiar midwives, is shown to be associated with better outcomes for you and your baby – including decreased chance of having a premature labour and lower likelihood of needing interventions (such as birth with the help of forceps). You’re also more likely to be satisfied with your overall experience.

When an allocated midwife is not an option this makes choosing the right birth partners crucial. They can not only offer you reassurance, encouragement and support but can be your advocate, help you try different positions in labour and help provide you with snacks and drinks. Most typically these would be trusted loved ones. But be aware that research shows birth partners may also feel anxious or overwhelmed at taking on this role, and may struggle with seeing a loved one in pain – so it’s important to be realistic about your expectations, and choose the right person. It may be the best birth partner for you is a close friend or relative.

3. Challenge care recommendations if you aren’t happy

There are likely to be many other options available to you – such as where you might give birth, or how you want to be cared for during labour.

During antenatal appointments be sure to pause, think and ask about benefits, risks and alternatives to the care being proposed. Research shows how important choice and personalised care are for expectant parents who want their voices and preferences to be acknowledged, and to receive consistent advice.

Expectant couple speak with female doctor in doctor's office.
Bringing a loved one or partner with you can make it easier to voice any concerns you may have. wavebreakmedia/ Shutterstock

If you have concerns over a suggestion your care providers have made or have questions, don’t be afraid to ask. Take your birth partner with you if you prefer, who can empower you to ensure your voice is heard. After all, care providers are duty bound to ensure you make fully informed choices.

4. Don’t always listen to your friends and family

Once people hear you have a baby on the way it seems everyone feels the need, without asking, to tell you the full (and often graphic) details of their own children’s birth.

But it’s perfectly acceptable to politely change the subject if you don’t want to listen, or if hearing these stories makes you nervous or worry. It’s also worth remembering that each person has a different labour and birth, even with their own children – so what was true for someone else is likely not to be the same for you. While it can be helpful for some people to debrief after the birth, it’s okay to avoid hearing this yourself if it makes your nervous, and maybe suggest they speak with a professional about their experience instead of telling you.

5. Visit your preferred place of birth

Many maternity units are now opening up their doors again to tours and informal visits – and those that aren’t are doing this virtually.

Becoming familiar with where you might give birth – even down to where you might park on the day – can help you feel more confident about giving birth. It may also remove some of the unknown, helping you regain a sense of control – which in itself is linked to a more positive birth experience.

For those planning a homebirth, speak to your midwife about how you can improve your space to facilitate the most safe and positive experience. For one of the most important days of your life, visualising where this will take place ahead of time can help you feel more confident and in control.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that no one can predict exactly how your labour and birth journey will go. Even after heeding the above steps – there’s always a chance you may need to consider a plan B, C or even D. But no matter what, remember you’ve done your very best, and you’re not likely to repeat this exact experience the next time.

Claire Parker does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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