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Leveraging digital technology to tackle COVID-19: The power of joint action

Leveraging digital technology to tackle COVID-19: The power of joint action

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Photo: Edward Jenner/Canva

You know the say. Tough times always reveal true friends. This is how I felt during a virtual high-level dialogue with ICT ministers, regulators, CEOs of telecom and tech companies from around the world co-hosted by the World Bank, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), GSMA, and the World Economic Forum (WEF). In the face of a formidable foe, we all spoke in unison and committed to do all it takes to harness digital technologies to alleviate the impact of  COVID-19 on people, governments, and businesses. The mood on WebEx was subdued but the desire to join forces for fast impact was palpable. Time was not on our side. We gathered virtually to discuss a set of emergency measures to keep the world connected. And walk the talk.

Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure, in his welcoming remarks, reminded us that the benefits and opportunities of technology are not equally distributed. In the informal economy, there is no such thing as telecommuting, he noted.  One and a half billion children in the world need online schooling due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but online education is not even a remote dream for millions of unconnected kids. “Now is the time to fast track our efforts and respond in a concerted way to the new challenges that the pandemic brought to the fore,” he said while introducing a grand scheme for collaboration on the digital agenda. Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Development Bureau of the ITU, reminded us that: “3.6 billion people on the planet still don’t have internet access. And billions more are not meaningfully connected.”

 

 

Let’s not let a crisis go to waste

The private sector had answered our call en masse. Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, opened a session on promoting network resilience by mentioning that 15 CEOS of mobile companies, representing 25% of the planet’s mobile connections, were connected to participate in this dialogue. “Operators are investing in added capacity in order to ensure their networks remain as robust and secure as ever. In some cases, however, temporary measures and emergency telecommunications plans by governments and regulators could help alleviate pressure on networks and ensure network resilience and continuity of access to the full range of services by consumers and businesses,” he noted.

Ministers and regulators from the four corners of the globe eloquently described the challenges their countries face to respond to the surging demand for connectivity. H.E.  Fahim Hashimy, Afghanistan’s Minister of Telecommunication and Information Technology —a country where voice-driven infrastructure isn’t strong enough to accommodate the current data demand—described his government’s efforts to facilitate infrastructure sharing, including releasing dark fiber and providing discounts on the wholesale price of fiber. “This crisis has brought the government and private sector much closer than ever before,” he noted. “The relationship between government and industry had never been so good,” argued Mauricio Ramos, CEO of Millicom, a leading provider of mobile services in Latin America and Africa.

H.E. Roberto Sanchez, Spain’s Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure, talked about Spain’s regulatory-driven approach to provide connectivity for all while Ajit Pai, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, described the market-based approach adopted by the United States through the “Keep America Connected” pledge (more than 700 companies have signed the pledge so far). Rob Shuter, CEO of MTN, praised South Africa for releasing emergency spectrum for the duration of the lockdown. “Access to equipment is critical in developing markets,” he noted.  Shuter highlighted the importance of treating telecoms as an essential service and noted that steps must be taken to ensure shipments are released from customs faster. Ensuring connectivity for all also means behavioral changes, a point highlighted by several participants. Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of Global Affairs, said that Facebook has reduced bitrates for on-demand videos, rather than simply relying on members to adjust their behavior.

 

Making data work against COVID-19

Using data for better decision-making was also on top of our minds. So was cybersecurity. Derek O’Halloran, Head of the Future of Digital Economy for the WEF, chaired a session on leveraging connectivity and Big Data to address the health crisis.  Antonio Neri, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and José Maria Alvarez-Pallete, CEO of Telefonica, highlighted concerns about a surge in cyberattacks while Dan Sjöblom, Director General of the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority insisted on the importance of protecting both consumer and privacy rights— even in emergency contexts such as this one. “Whenever these restrictions are over, it’s not going to be the same…it’s like we’ve been put into a time machine, and digitalization has been accelerated. The way we work, the way we learn, the way we buy has totally changed, and therefore we need to be prepared for that,” said Alvarez-Pallete. Business unusual will become the new normal.

Following this high-level dialogue, the World Bank, ITU, GSMA and WEF finalized and published a joint action plan featuring immediate and high impact measures to keep the world connected, prevent the internet from breaking, and connect the unconnected. In a flash, we moved from talk to action. The stakes are too high for inaction. In the words of Doreen Bogdan-Martin: “Never before has digital been so vital.” We need to ensure that digital solutions are not only part and parcel of our immediate response to weather the shock; but also, a key foundation for fast-tracking economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.

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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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