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Joseph Arron marches to the beat of his own drum at 23andMe; Ex-Voyager CFO joins Sek Kathiresan at Verve Therapeutics

Joseph Arron
Joseph Arron is sometimes referred to as the black sheep of his family. While everyone else is a professional musician, he was always more interested in science.
“I played music, but I was never that keen on pursuing that as a career,”…



Joseph Arron

Joseph Arron is sometimes referred to as the black sheep of his family. While everyone else is a professional musician, he was always more interested in science.

“I played music, but I was never that keen on pursuing that as a career,” Arron says, adding that his dad played in orchestras, his mom was the director of Carnegie Hall, and his brother is a professional cellist.

Arron is a maestro in a different kind of field — and now, genetic data will be the music to his ears as he leaves a 15-year career at Genentech to become 23andMe’s new CSO.

“23andMe’s strategic advantage is obviously its database,” Arron says in an interview with Endpoints News. “What attracted me here at this particular time was the realization of how large the database really is.”

The company — largely known for its saliva collection products that can map out an individual’s ancestry and determine genetic risks to certain diseases — now has around 12 million customers, about 80% of whom have consented for research to be done on their genetic data.

“Doing genome-wide analyses can be very challenging. And here we’ve got this scale that, based on all of the phenotypic data that we have, even if we want to zoom in on a small subset of the population, there’s still quite an impressive number there,” Arron says.

The Stanford grad was lured to 23andMe by head of therapeutics Kenneth Hillan, whom he met while working at Genentech. The two had kept in touch after Hillan left Genentech, and several months ago Hillan reached out about an opening he told Arron would be “right up your alley.”

Arron didn’t always know he wanted to go into industry. When he was a PhD student at Stanford back in the late ’90s, he recalls going to career days where a panel of 10 or so alumni would return to speak about their jobs. He always thought the most interesting panelists were the one or two who went into the industry or FDA — but it wasn’t until a Genentech recruiter reached out to him as a postdoc that he considered going into drugmaking himself.

“They said there’s a biotech company that’s looking for an immunologist with medical training to join them to sort of launch an effort to do biomarker discovery and translational research in inflammatory diseases,” Arron said.

He’d heard of Genentech, and it was a short drive away, so he decided to hear them out. After visiting the company seven times, he was convinced the position was perfect. He stayed for the next 15 years, working his way up from scientist to VP of immunology research.

Now Arron will be tasked with leading a major shift for 23andMe, as it continues to build up its therapeutics unit. In 2018, the company signed a $300 million deal giving GlaxoSmithKline access to its genetic database — and just last summer, the partners launched their first clinical study for a CD96-blocking antibody aimed at directing the immune system to attack cancer cells. 23andMe hit another major milestone almost two years ago, when it out-licensed the first drug program it developed in-house to a Spanish dermatology company called Almirall.

“Our intention is to be able to develop our own projects as we go along,” Arron said. “I just think we have to be judicious about where does it make sense to do this with a partner or where does it make sense to go it alone.”

Nicole DeFeudis

Allison Dorval

Verve Therapeutics has executed the 1-2 punch of a Series B round and a sizeable IPO in 2021, and this week Sek Kathiresan’s cardiovascular disease-focused biotech has brought in Allison Dorval as CFO. According to a Form 8-K, Dorval informed Voyager Therapeutics of her decision to leave on Nov. 16 after three years as finance chief; back in May, president and CEO Andre Turenne left Voyager along with R&D head Omar Khwaja, but the turmoil within the biotech eased up a bit as it struck a gene therapy deal with Pfizer in October. In addition to this new gig, Dorval is on the board of directors at Puma Biotechnology and Aerovate Therapeutics.

→ On Wednesday, Novartis Gene Therapies tweeted out the introduction of Chris Fox as president. Fox steps away from Amgen, where she was VP and US general manager of the following therapeutic areas: cardiometabolic, bone and nephrology. She also spent more than a dozen years in several capacities at Takeda, namely VP of sales and VP of operations.

Eli Lilly vet Jude Onyia has been named CSO of Neurocrine, which inked a deal with Sosei Heptares a couple weeks ago for $100 million upfront that zeroes in on the schizophrenia drug HTL-0016878. Onyia, who was recently chief scientist at Bob Cuddihy’s gene therapy shop Capsida Biotherapeutics, spent a quarter century with Eli Lilly and rounded out his tenure at the Indianapolis pharma as VP of biotechnology discovery research. With the new Sosei Heptares pact, Neurocrine looks to bounce back after a swing and a miss on the primary endpoint with one of the programs in its $2 billion deal with Takeda.

Jullian Jones

→ Speaking of Lilly alums, Jullian Jones has been promoted to CBO at “molecular glue” biotech Monte Rosa Therapeutics. Jones was senior director of oncology business development at Lilly before joining Monte Rosa as head of business development in September 2020, and she also took on a number of roles at Boehringer Ingelheim from 2013-16. Monte Rosa has been a Peer Review frequent flyer as chief executive Markus Warmuth gets his C-suite in order; meanwhile, the company continues to rack up the financing prizes and made a splash on Nasdaq this summer with an IPO north of $200 million.

Tamas Oravecz

→ Aiming to “reprogram” the tumor microenvironment with a fresh $65 million Series A in its hip pocket, Parthenon Therapeutics has pegged Big Pharma alum Tamas Oravecz as CSO. Oravecz makes his way to Parthenon after he was elevated to VP, head of cell therapy platform and discovery at Janssen. Earlier, he was Celgene’s executive director of biology and pharmacology.

Charmaine Lykins

Charmaine Lykins has signed on to Boston neuro player Karuna Therapeutics as chief commercial officer, 10 months after replacing current ViaCyte CEO Michael Yang under the new title of SVP, global product planning and chief marketing officer of Nuplazid maker Acadia. After 15 years at Eli Lilly doing marketing within several therapeutic areas, including diabetes and bipolar & depression, Lykins jumped to become senior director of global marketing at Sunovion and then the VP of global marketing, schizophrenia for Lundbeck.

→ In case you missed the news from earlier in the week, GSK poached Pfizer’s viral vaccines lead Philip Dormitzer in a rush to capitalize on the future of mRNA like its rivals at Pfizer and BioNTech. Dormitzer, the former CSO of Pfizer’s viral vaccine unit who also was responsible for Pfizer’s RNA-based influenza vaccine candidate developed in collaboration with BioNTech, will now be taking up the mantle as global head of vaccines R&D at GSK. Prior to his stint at Pfizer, Dormitzer had a seven-year long career with Novartis, where he eventually served as US head of research and head of global virology for the company’s vaccines and diagnostics unit.

John Maraganore

→ In other big appointment news from earlier this week, John Maraganore, Alnylam‘s CEO who is set to retire at the end of the year, is making his way to ARCH Venture as a new venture partner alongside ex-FDA official Luciana Borio, Jake Bauer (previously at MyoKardia), Axel Bouchon (former head of Leaps by Bayer) and Sabah Oney (of Alector fame). Maraganore’s interest to be like a “grandfather” to the next generation of biotech startups has already drawn him to the board of directors at Beam Therapeutics and onto a similar role with SalioGen.

Ifeyinwa Osunkwo

→ With its sickle cell drug etavopivat yielding positive Phase I results in Q2, Forma Therapeutics has appointed someone who’s devoted her career to the disease as chief patient officer. Ifeyinwa Osunkwo founded and is the director of the Sickle Cell Disease Enterprise at Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, NC, and is a professor of medicine and pediatrics at Atrium Health. Osunkwo is slated to join CEO Frank Lee’s team at Forma sometime in Q1 of 2022.

Jeb Ledell

Aveo Oncology picked itself up and dusted itself off after a devastating rejection in which all but one member of the FDA panel voted against tivozanib in 2013. Earning the agency’s blessing with that very drug through an approval in March for relapsed or refractory advanced renal cell carcinoma, Aveo has recruited Jeb Ledell as COO. Since 2019, Ledell had been COO at Enzyvant — which just nabbed an approval of its own for the congenital athymia drug Rethymic — and he’s also held the same position at Compass Therapeutics.

Erin Brubaker

Erin Brubaker has ventured off to greater Philly-based Code Biotherapeutics as COO. Like CEO Brian McVeigh, Brubaker had a long career at GSK, spending 22 years at the pharma giant and leaving in 2018 as VP, R&D strategy development and deployment. Right before joining McVeigh’s team, Brubaker was VP, corporate development for Passage Bio. On the hunt for gene therapy 2.0 alongside such competitors as Generation Bio and the new Michael Ehlers joint Intergalactic Therapeutics, Code Bio debuted in April with $10 million in seed financing.

Sravan Emany

→ Under the new leadership of Tom McCourt, Ironwood paid Cour Pharmaceutical Development Company $20 million upfront for the primary biliary cholangitis drug CNP-104 a month ago. With Phase I ahead, Ironwood will greet Sravan Emany as CFO on Monday. Emany was corporate VP, commercial excellence and chief strategy officer of Integra LifeSciences before joining the Linzess maker.

Jane Pritchett Henderson

→ A cleanup crew has been sorely needed at Sesen Bio after its bladder cancer drug Vicineum got smacked with a CRL in August and more than 2,000 violations were discovered in the trial, so it stands to reason that the Cambridge, MA biotech has enlisted Dominika Kowalski as senior director of global drug safety following stints at Horizon, AbbVie and Abbott. Elsewhere at Sesen Bio, Jane Pritchett Henderson — a former board member and current CFO at Tillman GerngrossAdagio Therapeuticswas named as an advisor to CEO Thomas Cannell.

→ Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab partner AbCellera, which also shook hands with Moderna in an mRNA alliance in September, has corralled Neil Aubuchon as chief commercial officer. Aubuchon makes the trek to the prominent Canadian antibody discovery player after his time at Amgen as global marketing lead for the drug giant’s general medicine early portfolio. In his 17 years at Lilly, Aubuchon took on a number of posts, including head of strategy & operations for Lilly Bio-Medicines and chief marketing officer in Australia and Japan.

Constantine Chinoporos

Constantine Chinoporos has been named CBO of Albireo, the recipient of twin approvals this summer for its pruritus drug odevixibat, now known as Bylvay. Most recently, Chinoporos held the same position at Boston Pharmaceuticals, and he’s also been a senior leader at such big names as Sanofi, Genzyme and Eli Lilly.

Alyssa Wyant

Marcio Souza-led Praxis Precision Medicines has taken the Peer Review stage with a quartet of announcements. First, the neurology biotech has appointed Merck business development vet Megan Sniecinski as CBO. Sniecinski had held the same post at BioCryst since 2019 and has also spent five years as an exec at PTC Therapeutics. Alyssa Wyant, a PTC alum in her own right, has been promoted to chief regulatory and quality officer at Praxis, while longtime Amgen staffer Karl Hansen (not to be confused with AbCellera’s Carl Hansen) gets the bump to chief technical operations officer after serving as SVP of CMC. Finally, co-founder Steven Petrou has exited stage left as director of The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health to focus on his Praxis responsibilities.

Jessie Richardson

Venrock-backed microbiome upstart Federation Bio, helmed by former 23andMe exec Emily Conley, has welcomed Andreas Grauer as CMO and Jessie Richardson as general counsel. Grauer, a 10-year Amgen vet in global development, had previously been the medical chief with Corcept Therapeutics, and Richardson — an ex-senior patent counsel at Genentech — jumps to Federation Bio after her time as PACT Pharma’s VP of legal. Federation Bio’s lead drug candidate targets a renal condition called enteric hyperoxaluria.

Su Zhang

→ Chinese gene therapy outfit Neurophth Therapeutics, which just raised $60 million in a Series C last week, has selected Su Zhang as CFO. Zhang had been the CFO of Ascentage Pharma since 2019, when the Suzhou-based biotech began trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange. He was also director of healthcare equity research at China Merchant Securities. Neurophth’s lead candidate, NFS-01, is in development for ND4-mediated Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy.

And what about that Ascentage vacancy? That CFO job goes to Yiqing Chen, the former vice CFO and general manager of investor relations and capital deployment at Fosun Pharma. He’s also been general manager, CFO and COO at Shenzhen-based sequencing company BGI Genomics.

Philippe Tinmouth

→ Covid-19 pill developer Pardes Biosciences went public in June thanks to a $275 million SPAC deal from Jim Tananbaum and Foresite Capital, and this week the Carlsbad, CA biotech has locked in Philippe Tinmouth as chief business and strategy officer. Tinmouth had retired as VP and head of business development at Vertex, where he held multiple roles since 2002, and for the last two years, he’s been on the board of directors at Scynexis.

Harbour BioMed, teaming up with Dana-Farber on cancer drugs in a multiyear collaboration, has brought on Weihao Xu as chief strategy officer. Xu, who will be Harbour BioMed’s global head of business development and corporate development. also served as CFO at Alphamab Oncology and CASI Pharmaceuticals.

Sherin Al-Safadi

→ Lots to sort out at radiopharmaceutical player Point Biopharma, so let’s get to it: Justyna Kelly has earned a promotion to COO after a year as VP, medical isotope development and operations; senior director of preclinical development Robin Hallett is moving on up to VP, discovery and translational sciences; and on Dec. 13, Sherin Al-Safadi will begin her tenure as VP, medical affairs. Al-Safadi moves on from Bayer, where she was the German pharma giant’s global medical affairs oncology strategy director.

A couple more items from Point: Sanofi Genzyme vet Michael Gottlieb stepped aside last week as chief commercial officer after nearly two years on the job, and board member Jonathan Ross Goodman has been named lead independent director.

Juho Jalkanen

→ To Scandinavia we go, where Matti Karvonen has stepped down as CMO of Finnish immuno-oncology and ARDS biotech Faron Pharmaceuticals after five years with the company. As the search gets underway for Karvonen’s successor, chief development officer Juho Jalkanen will be interim CMO.

→ Over in Copenhagen, Adcendo — an ADC outfit that notched a $62 million Series A before tapping Michael Pehl as CEO in July — has expanded the team with chief development officer Carmel Lynch and chief technology officer Pernille Høyrup Hemmingsen. After seven years at Seagen where she moved up to senior director, nonclinical science & clinical pharmacology, Lynch was appointed SVP, nonclinical development at Oxford BioTherapeutics. Hemmingsen, a Genmab alum in CMC, had been Savara’s VP, global product development and supply. One more Adcendo note: Former longtime Seagen exec Dennis Benjamin has been named chairman of the SAB and a research fellow.

Deepti Sodhi Jaggi

Deepti Sodhi Jaggi has joined San Francisco-based prescription digital therapeutics (PDT) player Better Therapeutics as CSO. Jaggi previously served as global head of patient insights & solutions at Astellas and as president and CMO at Clinakos.

→ Dublin-based Priothera, which is working on developing a potential treatment for patients with acute myeloid leukemia, has snatched up Elisabeth Kueenburg as CMO. Kueenburg joins the company from Celgene, where she served as clinical development lead.

Relief Therapeutics has made some changes to its executive team with the appointment of Nermeen Varawalla as a successor to CMO Gilles Della Corte (who is leaving the company to pursue other opportunities) and the promotions of Jeremy Meinen and Marco Marotta to chief accounting officer and CBO, respectively. Varawalla makes her way to Relief from Atlantic Healthcare, where she served as CMO and head of clinical development. Meanwhile, Meinen formerly served as Relief’s VP of finance and administration while Marotta came aboard to Relief from its acquisition of APR Applied Pharma Research.

Glenn Morrison

→ Sitting pretty after its gargantuan $436 million IPO this past spring, Recursion has enticed two execs with Big Pharma ties to jump on board. First, Glenn Morrison (VP, clinical development) just finished a year as VP of neurology clinical development at Alector, and during six years with Genentech/Roche, he was in charge of global clinical development for a pair of Alzheimer’s anti-amyloid antibodies. Recursion poaches Irit Rappley (VP, neuroscience and translational research) from Bristol Myers Squibb, where she was scientific director of discovery and translational research. Additionally, Recursion has given Icahn School of Medicine professor Tim Ahfeldt the role of fellow, neuroscience.

Alexey Seregin has been appointed VP of R&D at Boston-based gene therapy biotech Remedium Bio. After his years at Biogen, Solid Bio and Bioverativ, Seregin heads to Remedium Bio after two years at Takeda, where he was the pharma’s associate director, global gene therapy research.

Janet Hurt

Founded by Stanford’s Ed Engleman and launched in July 2020 with a $30 million round, Tranquis Therapeutics has ushered in Janet Hurt as SVP of clinical evidence generation and Faisal Shawwa as SVP of finance. Hurt has made numerous stops as a clinical operations leader before her arrival at Tranquis, including at Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Denali and, most recently, Jasper Therapeutics. Shawwa had been with Catalyst Biosciences since April 2008 and was the company’s VP of finance.

→ Before Thanksgiving, New Jersey ophthalmic disease biotech Oyster Point Pharma made a pair of appointments, naming Raegan McClain as chief compliance officer and longtime Novartis vet Barry Rosenfeld as SVP, general counsel. McClain just held the same title at Optinose and is an ex-assistant general counsel at Sanofi, while Rosenfeld was VP, general counsel & corporate secretary for Novartis Finance Corporation before joining Oyster Point in November 2020 as senior director, corporate counsel.

Susan McClatchey

Susan McClatchey has taken on the role of VP and head of quality at Brooklyn ImmunoTherapeutics, which is developing its cytokine therapy IRX-2 for head and neck cancer. McClatchey served as head of quality during her 12 years at ViaCyte and was briefly IQVIA’s senior director, product development, cell and gene therapy.

Lisa DeLuca

→ With uproleselan in Phase III for relapsed/refractory acute myeloid leukemia, GlycoMimetics has picked up Lisa DeLuca as VP, regulatory affairs. DeLuca, Nuvation Bio’s SVP of regulatory affairs since January, was a regulatory exec for a little more than two years at Radius Health. Her predecessor, Myra Rosario Herrle, is now the EVP of regulatory affairs for Point Biopharma.

Sean Mackay-led IsoPlexis, which strutted onto Nasdaq last month with its personalized protein “barcodes,” has installed three new staffers. Among the triumvirate: Richard Rew (general counsel and secretary) comes to IsoPlexis after six years at Luminex, where he was chief compliance officer and SVP, general counsel and secretary; Raj Khakhar (VP of finance) was Thermo Fisher’s director of finance for the corporate FP&A team; and Manny Resendes (global controller) had served as finance director, global instrument operations for PerkinElmer.

Rory Curtis

→ Cambridge, UK-based Metrion Biosciences has appointed Rory Curtis as VP, US commercial operations. Curtis’ experience in drug discovery extends to Regeneron, Millennium and Elixir, and he was in charge of the TRPA1 program while he was with Cubist Pharmaceuticals from 2009-15.

Fuxin Shi

Accuredit Therapeutics has named Fuxin Shi as head of drug discovery & preclinical research and general manager of its US subsidiary. Saddling onto the Suzhou, China-based gene editing company, Shi brings with her experience from her times at Novartis, Decibel Therapeutics and Frequency Therapeutics.

Ascendis Pharma‘s founder, president and CEO Jan Møller Mikkelsen has become chairman of the board at Hummingbird Bioscience. Novo Holdings led the way on Hummingbird’s $125 million Series C in the spring.

Sandy Zweifach

→ Penn spinout Carisma Therapeutics has named Sandy Zweifach chairman of the board. The co-founder and former CEO of Nuvelution Pharma, Zweifach also chaired Palladio Biosciences and Janpix, two of the biotechs Francesco De Rubertis combined to form Centessa.

→ Star Stanford I/O scientist Irv Weissman — the co-founder of Forty Seven before it was swooped up in a $4.9 million buyout by Gileadhas hopped onto the scientific advisory board of LA-based Appia Bio. Weissman will also be joined by stem cell biology and NKT cell biology expert Mark Exley, the former VP, cellular immunology for AgenTus.

Daniel Faga has been added to the board of directors of San Diego-based AnaptysBio, which sold an 8% slice of the royalties it owned of GSK checkpoint inhibitor Jemperli to Sagard Healthcare Royalty Partners last month for $250 million. Faga was COO at Mirati before leaving that post several weeks ago alongside CMO Joseph Leveque.

Meeta Gulyani

Meeta Gulyani, the EVP, head of strategy, business development and transformation for the life science business of Merck KGaA, has joined the board of directors at Seer. This marked Seer’s second board appointment in three weeks after the addition of Caribou CEO Rachel Haurwitz.

Austin Che

→ Menlo Park, CA-based enzyme engineering company Aether Biomachines has made Austin Che a member of its board. Che co-founded Ginkgo Bioworks, which landed a monster SPAC deal in May to the tune of $2.5 billion — but Ginkgo has since tried to ward off a short attack.

Laura Brege

Laura Brege is the latest member of San Francisco cancer player T-knife Therapeutics’ board of directors, which also includes folks who helped contribute to the biotech’s financing: Versant’s Alexander Mayweg and RA Capital’s Josh Resnick. The ex-president and CEO of Nodality, Brege is on the boards of Acadia, Mirum Pharmaceuticals, Pacira Pharmaceuticals and HLS Therapeutics.

→ New York’s Indaptus Therapeutics has made room for Mark Gilbert on the board of directors. Gilbert, the ex-CMO of Juno Therapeutics, is the EVP of R&D for Acepodia, which announced its Series C round yesterday.

Atriva Therapeutics — the German-based company working on testing their small molecule in the treatment of moderate to severe Covid-19 in hospitalized patients — has brought in former Galapagos CSO Piet Wigerinck to its scientific advisory board.

AcelRx has reserved a spot for Jill Broadfoot on its board of directors. Since July 2018, Broadfoot — a member of the board at Otonomy — has been the finance chief for aTyr Pharma.

→ Barcelona-based ONA Therapeutics has pulled a seat out for Michel Detheux on its board of directors. Detheux currently serves as president and CEO of iTeos Therapeutics.

Derek Graf also contributed to this edition.

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Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Authored by Naveen Athrappully via The…



Missouri Bill Prevents Doctors Being Disciplined If They Prescribe Ivermectin Or Hydroxychloroquine

Authored by Naveen Athrappully via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Missouri lawmakers passed legislation that prevents state licensing boards from disciplining doctors who prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signs a bill in Jefferson City, Mo., on May 24, 2019. (Summer Balentine/AP Photo)

Sponsored by Rep. Brenda Kay Shields (R-Mo.), HB 2149 also bars pharmacists from questioning doctors or disputing patients regarding the usage of such drugs and their efficacy.

With a convincing 130–4 vote in the House, HB 2149 passed both chambers on May 12 and currently heads to the office of Gov. Mike Parson to be potentially signed into law.

The board shall not deny, revoke, or suspend, or otherwise take any disciplinary action against, a certificate of registration or authority, permit, or license required by this chapter for any person due to the lawful dispensing, distributing, or selling of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use in accordance with prescriber directions,” reads the draft of the bill (pdf).

It adds, “A pharmacist shall not contact the prescribing physician or the patient to dispute the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use unless the physician or patient inquires of the pharmacist about the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets.”

Critics of the bill have noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not given approval for usage of the drugs. Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine have been divisive drugs and politically polarized throughout the pandemic.

“But, nevertheless, the Missouri legislature has chosen to ‘own the libs’ by issuing a gag order against every pharmacist in this state from offering their medical opinion on taking either one of those medications—even if it could kill their patient,” wrote former Democratic nominee Lindsey Simmons in a May 12 Twitter post.

Although 22 countries across the world have approved the use of ivermectin in treating COVID-19, the FDA maintains that the current data show the drug to be ineffective. Large doses can be dangerous, it says.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases analyzed a national federated database of adults that compared ivermectin with the FDA-approved COVID-19 medication, remdesivir.

After using propensity score matching and adjusting for potential confounders, ivermectin was associated with reduced mortality vs remdesivir,” researchers wrote. “To our knowledge, this is the largest association study of patients with COVID-19, mortality, and ivermectin.”

According to The Associated Press, Missouri state Rep. Patty Lewis, a Democrat, agreed to the bill to satisfy a group of conservatives in the Senate. She added that the bill will not change anything significantly as medical boards do not engage in punishing doctors who prescribe drugs legally.

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/18/2022 - 23:25

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“They Shut Us Down”: Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

"They Shut Us Down": Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

Authored by Steven Kovac via The Epoch Times (emphasis…



"They Shut Us Down": Michigan Businesses Sue Whitmer For Losses Due To COVID Lockdowns

Authored by Steven Kovac via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A coalition of five bowling alleys and family entertainment centers is suing Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, for losses incurred due to her mandatory COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listens to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in Clawson, Mich., on March 18, 2019. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon is also a defendant in the case.

The plaintiffs allege that the shutdowns imposed by Whitmer and Gordon were a “taking” of their businesses without just compensation in violation of both the state and the U.S. Constitution.

The case has been winding its way through the federal courts since January 2021.

Fred Kautz runs the lane oiler at Kautz Shore Lanes in Lexington, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

The coalition lost the first round of the legal battle when the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan ruled against it.

Oral arguments were recently held before a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit.

Plaintiff’s chief counsel David Kallman told The Epoch Times after the appeals court hearing, “The oral arguments from both sides were vigorous. The judges asked a lot of questions. It was the kind of proceeding that makes you proud to be a lawyer.

“Even the defense acknowledges that we are presenting ‘novel’ arguments.

“Michigan is the only state in the nation where a governor’s public health emergency powers were overturned as unconstitutional.

“If we lose in the court of appeals, we will take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Scott Bennett, executive director of the Independent Bowling and Entertainment Centers Association, told The Epoch Times,

“The governor’s actions were devastating to our industry.

“Things went from ‘two weeks to slow the spread’ to indefinite shutdowns.”

Bennett said that the forced closures were not based on solid scientific proof that bowling alleys and family entertainment centers would spread the virus any more than the Walmart stores or the GM plants that were allowed to remain open.

“They were allowed to operate with hundreds and even thousands of people in them but we had to shut down. We feel our industry was unfairly singled-out.

“We cannot stand for a repeat of such arbitrary treatment and don’t want the people of Michigan to forget what was done to them.”

With the recent uptick in COVID cases and the approaching mid-term elections, Bennett said his members that survived the 2020 shutdowns feel like it can happen all over again.

“It’s like operating day-to-day with a hammer held over your head. The uncertainty is altering business plans. The value of our businesses is dropping through the floor,” Bennett said.

Brian and Mindy Hill work the counter at their bowling alley in Imlay City, Mich. on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/Epoch Times)

Fred Kautz, the proprietor of Kautz’s Shore Lanes in Lexington, Michigan, started working in the family business when he was 13.

The business has 12 bowling lanes, a bar, an arcade, a restaurant, and living quarters upstairs.

“We’ve owned this place for 42 years. For me and my family, it’s more than a place to work. It’s a way of life. And it has become an institution in our community—a real gathering place,” said Kautz.

He said he is still smarting from what happened after Whitmer’s executive actions were ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court in the fall of 2020.

“We got a little reprieve. We thought we were in the clear until she came back with another round of forced closures, this time under the authority of the Michigan Department of Public Health.

The first 30 days knocked us right on our butts. But we were willing to cooperate, to do our part. We were all scared and we did not want to see harm come to anybody.

We lost a lot of money at the time. We are coming back slowly, but our overall revenue is still down 20 percent from pre-pandemic days. That’s hard to make up.

“In the spring of 2020, I tried to do what was recommended and go along. Never again!

“If my Dad was still alive, he’d have never closed at all,” said Kautz.

Brian and Mindy Hill, owners of I.C. Strikes, a 16-lane bowling alley, bar, and snack bar in Imlay City said their business was hit hard by the shutdowns.

Brian was the town barber for 25 years, before purchasing the bowling alley where he learned to bowl as a child.

“We took over in December 2018. We’d saved up money to buy this place and make some upgrades. When COVID hit, we were forced to close down. It took all the money we saved for improvements just to survive,” said Brian.

The Hills said they never thought they’d see the day when their own government could do something like that to them.

Mary Bacon, assistant manager of Jump City, a family recreation center, cleans an arcade machine in Imlay City, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

They shut us down. They took away our livelihood with no end date in sight. Then they wanted to loan us money. Think about that. They first put us in a situation where we had zero income to pay our previous debt. And then they wanted to loan us more money.

“Lots of small business people lost their businesses but kept their debt. It ruined them,” said Brian.

The Hills did apply for and receive a Small Business Administration loan at 3.25 percent interest for 30 years, and they participated in the Paycheck Protection Program which helped their business survive.

Up the road from the Hill’s bowling alley is Jump City, a large indoor recreation center offering an array of bouncy houses and arcade games for children.

Assistant manager Mary Bacon told The Epoch Times, “We lost a lot of business. We were forced to close for 15 months and had to make our payments with no income.”

Bacon remembers the morning of March 16, 2020, when many area businesses were gearing up for big St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“By afternoon everybody had to close. All that food went to waste.

“The shutdown was supposed to be for a couple of weeks. Nobody foresaw it would drag on for a year and three months.

“Oh, they said we could open again, but they so severely restricted the number of customers that we lost all of our big birthday parties. With so few kids allowed in, we couldn’t operate. We were losing too much money.”

Bacon said people are coming back to the center but are still scared, even though the games and bouncy houses are continuously cleaned and sanitized.

Navaeh Smalstig, 8, climbs out of a bouncy house at Jump City in Imlay City, Mich., on May 13, 2022. (Steven Kovac/The Epoch Times)

Before the pandemic, Danny Brown owned a roller rink in Grand Blanc and Owasso, two south-central Michigan towns.

“The lockdowns forced us to sell the Owasso rink for less than half of what we paid for it. We will be trying to make up our loss for years to come.”

Brown, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told The Epoch Times, “To keep going I had to decide to triple our debt. Since the shutdown, I am three-quarters of a million dollars deeper in debt.

“Small businesses put everything on the line. All of our personal and family money. I am personally responsible for our debt. If I die my children will have to pay it.”

Brown said Michigan’s government acted without a real understanding and regarded the state’s small businesses as “nonessential throwaways.”

“One of the reasons we filed suit is to push the government to think differently,” he said.

According to Brown, family entertainment centers like skating rinks, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, miniature golf, and go-cart tracks have been nearly wiped out.

“A few years ago, there were 3,500 roller skating rinks in the United States. Now there are 700. There were five rinks in Genesee County, now there are two.” he said.

Brown attributes the decrease to years of ongoing government mandates and interference that led up to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“They took, they stole our businesses!” he said.

Donn Slimmen, another plaintiff in the case, owns Spartan West Bowling in the west Michigan resort town of Ludington.

“The lockdown just about killed us. It was 14 to 15 months of agony. Our bank payments and utility bills didn’t stop. We went from being two to three months behind to more months behind.

“We entered into survival mode. We ate a lot of pork and beans and hotdogs. We’re still trying to work ourselves out of the hole. By the end of this summer, we might be solvent again.

“We were lucky to survive. We are still hanging on by threads,” said Slimmen.

Along with 16 bowling lanes, Slimmen operates a full-service restaurant.

It’s never come back. Pre-pandemic, we’d serve 200 customers at an ordinary Friday fish fry. Now our best night is 100.

“Our restaurant went from a thriving seated-guest business to a take-out operation grossing only two to three percent of the seated sales.

“We were spending $400 to take in proceeds of $100.

“The politicians and bureaucrats don’t understand. They never cleaned a toilet seat or climbed into a bowling machine to fix it,” said Slimmen.

Slimmen blames Gov.Gretchen Whitmer for the plight of his community and the state.

“You didn’t see Republican governors closing businesses. Their states did so much better.

“Drive through downtown Ludington or Muskegon and look at all the boarded-up storefronts. So many places are out of business. Michigan is in terrible shape,” Slimmen said.

The Tomassoni family has been in the bowling business for 84 years in the western Upper Peninsula town of Iron Mountain, Michigan.

We had to close bowling and our banquet facility a total of 161 days in two different periods of time in 2020. After the second shutdown, we could operate at 25 percent occupancy and only during restricted hours. No wedding receptions, no special events. It was a disaster.

“It ripped my heart out. I am so bitter towards my government,” said owner Pete Tomassoni.

Tomassoni’s business suffered further because of its proximity to Wisconsin which is only minutes away.

“Wisconsin closed for just 30 days. For the most part, they were wide open. That really hurt us.

“Our governor was picking and choosing which of our state’s businesses could operate. To force a business to close with no notice and without proven science is straight out wrong.

“I think that she came down so hard on small business because we, by and large, lean to the right.

“The state dangled the threat of yanking business licenses to keep people in line.

“Some of our businesses tried to defy the state and stayed open

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/18/2022 - 21:25

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Diesel Costs Deliver Body Blow To Trucking Industry, Impacting Broader Economy

Diesel Costs Deliver Body Blow To Trucking Industry, Impacting Broader Economy

By Noi Mahoney of Freightwaves

With diesel prices remaining…



Diesel Costs Deliver Body Blow To Trucking Industry, Impacting Broader Economy

By Noi Mahoney of Freightwaves

With diesel prices remaining elevated — forcing significant costs onto shippers and trucking companies — the impact of fuel costs on inflation could put a dent in consumer spending, according to experts.

Diesel pump prices averaged $5.61 a gallon nationwide, 51% higher than diesel prices across the country in January

Economist Anirban Basu said the elevated price of diesel fuel damages the near-term U.S. economic outlook and “renders the chance of recession in 2023 much greater.”

“These high diesel prices mean that despite the Federal Reserve’s early stage efforts to curb inflationary pressures, for now, inflationary pressures will run rampant through the economy,” Basu, CEO of Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group, told FreightWaves. 

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve announced a half-percentage-point increase in interest rates, the largest hike in over two decades. The U.S. inflation rate is at 8.3%, near 40-year highs.

Basu said consumer spending remains strong, even with elevated diesel prices, but that could change as shippers and trucking companies eventually must pass higher fuel costs on to the public. 

“One of the things we’ve been seeing in the U.S., particularly on the East Coast, is that diesel fuel inventories have been shrinking, which suggests that despite all this inflationary pressure, there’s still a lot of consumer activity, still lots of trucks on the road and the supply is unable to keep up with demand,” Basu said. “The higher price of diesel fuel will become embedded in the cost of everything consumers purchase.” 

Prices of fresh produce rising

Jordan DeWart, a managing director at RedWood Mexico, based in Laredo, Texas, said the types of consumer goods that could be immediately affected by higher diesel prices include fresh produce. Redwood Mexico is part of Chicago-based Redwood Logistics.

“With produce, that’s typically more in the spot rate business, and any of those smaller trucking companies are going to be heavily impacted by fuel costs,” DeWart said.

The U.S. imported more than $15 billion in fresh produce from Mexico in 2021, including avocados, tomatoes, grapes, bell peppers and strawberries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Everything coming northbound from Mexico through Laredo, the rates have been very sustained, but fuel prices keep going up, presumably with any differences being absorbed by the trucking companies in the spot market,” DeWart said. “When we talk to asset-based truckers, especially the smaller companies, they’re really feeling the pinch.”

It’s not only cross-border operators feeling the pinch. Growers and shippers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley are also suffering because of increased fuel costs, said Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA).

“Our growers, shippers, importers, distributors … basically our entire supply chain has been and continues to be impacted by rising fuel costs,” Galeazzi told FreightWaves. “Between one-third to one-half of the costs for fresh produce is the logistics; you can see how quickly increases in that expense category can impact the base price.”

The Rio Grande Valley is the epicenter of the Lone Star State’s fresh produce industry, stretching across the southeastern tip of Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 35 types of fruits and vegetables are grown in the valley, which contributes more than $1 billion to the state economy annually.

“More concerning is that this wave of fuel increases is in line with the statistic that our industry is paying anywhere from 70% to 150% more year-over-year for OTR shipping,” Galeazzi said. 

TIPA, which is based in Mission, Texas, represents growers, domestic shippers, import shippers, specialty shippers, distributors and material and service providers. 

Right now, Rio Grande Valley growers and shippers are absorbing higher input costs instead of passing them on to consumers, but that could soon change, Galeazzi said.

“While the fresh fruit and vegetable industry continues to experience rising input costs across the board (seed, agrochemicals, labor, fuel, packaging, etc.), we have yet to experience sufficient upstream returns associated with those expense increases,” Galeazzi said. “Our industry is citing an 18% to 22% anecdotal increase to overhead costs. Meanwhile food inflation for fresh produce is hovering around 7%. That means the costs are slowly being felt by consumers, but it’s not yet at a commensurate level with input expenses.”

Diesel fuel prices at all time highs

The cost of diesel continues to soar across the country. Diesel pump prices averaged $5.61 a gallon nationwide, according to weekly data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That’s 51% higher than diesel prices nationwide in January. 

California averaged the highest fuel prices across the U.S., at $6 per gallon of gas and $6.56 per gallon for diesel, according to AAA. Diesel prices are also at an all-time high of $6.41 in New York.

The higher prices of diesel fuel and gasoline are being caused by a combination of factors, including surging demand and reduced refining capacity, along with the disruption to global markets caused by COVID-19, the current lockdown in China and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, said Rory Johnston, a managing director at Toronto-based research firm Price Street.

“The overarching oil market is feeling much tighter because of the Russian-Ukraine situation,” Johnston, also writer of the newsletter Commodity Context, told FreightWaves. “What we’ve seen is a larger immediate impact from the loss of Russian refined products; in addition to exporting millions and millions of barrels a day of crude oil, Russia also exported a lot of refined products, most notably middle distillates, like gasoline or diesel.”

Several refineries on the East Coast — including facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada — scaled back during the early days of the pandemic, which has hurt diesel capacity, Johnston said.

“There was also a refinery in Philadelphia that exploded just prior to the COVID-19 period starting,” Johnston said. “There’s not enough refining capacity on the global level, and particularly in the West right now and particularly in the northeastern U.S.”

He said he doesn’t foresee any relief from increasing diesel prices over the next few months or more.

“Things are going to be really tight for at least the next year, barring any kind of economic recession and some kind of demand slowdown materially,” Johnston said. 

DeWart said trucking companies that don’t have a fuel surcharge component or contract in place and are depending on spot rates could be in big trouble over the next several months as diesel prices either keep rising or stay higher than average. 

“Their fuel costs keep going up, but they’re really not able to negotiate higher rates right now with a really tight spot market,” DeWart said. “It’s really impacting small trucking companies, anyone that decided to kind of play the spot market, rather than being locked in contracted rates. They’re really feeling the pain right now.”

DeWart said for trucking companies, it’s critical to get some type of fuel reimbursement program in place “just to protect themselves in case the cost of fuel goes even higher.”

Tyler Durden Wed, 05/18/2022 - 19:25

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