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Recent advances in neurological disorders

Considerable scientific progress across neurological diseases and disorders was reported at the recent 74th American Academy of Neurology
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Considerable scientific progress across neurological diseases and disorders was reported at the recent 74th American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Meeting. What may be important for healthcare professionals certainly makes encouraging news for patients waiting for effective solutions.

One research-driven company with a strong patient focus in neurology is UCB. “In everything we do, our guiding question is: What difference will this make for patients?” says Charl van Zyl, UCB’s executive vice president neurology & head of Europe & International Markets. The next consideration typically is how do we help ensure those patients who benefit from treatment can access it. “Thirdly, we aim to create the best possible experience for patients to help them navigate through the complexity of their condition and all its consequences.”

Unmet needs in epilepsy

In epilepsy research, for instance, a lot of progress has been made over recent years that has helped improve the lives of many people living with the disease. With its 20-plus year legacy in creating an understanding of this complex disease and the heterogeneous population it affects, UCB went from an initial focus on arresting the symptoms to stopping seizures from happening altogether.

“While around 70% of epilepsy patients today are well-controlled and largely able to enjoy a ‘normal’ quality of life, either seizure-free or with a much lower frequency of seizures, we are working hard to understand the underlying causes of the symptoms of those remaining 30% who still don’t respond to available therapies,’ explains Charl. Both industry and academic researchers aim to deepen the scientific knowledge of the causes of issues such as drug resistance, as well as of rare forms of epilepsy where pathways are better understood, enabling more precise targeting and better individual outcomes.

To support the wide range of patients this complex disease impacts, who suffer from a diverse range of symptoms, it is critical that research into this area continues. “At UCB, we are trying to understand the whole spectrum of triggers causing epileptic seizures, from genetic factors, brain injury to stroke, cancer or other traumas,” Charl states. “It’s really important that people have access to a wide spectrum of therapies, from treating emergencies to relieving symptoms like reducing seizure frequency, to addressing the root cause of the disease. We are committed to continuing our efforts to lead in this space.”

New developments in neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration

Beyond epilepsy, there is a range of further neurological disorders that are becoming increasingly well-understood. Charl believes we are witnessing the ‘decade of the brain’ with significant leaps in scientific understanding of disease pathways and genetic correlations.

“Genomics has unlocked entirely new insights to what exactly may cause certain neurological conditions. This advanced understanding makes me feel confident about our ability to provide further help and relief to people in need.”

Within these new possibilities, UCB currently places major focus on movement impediments through neuromuscular conditions, aiming to improve functionality and quality of life. Beyond epilepsy, there are two next areas of focus and rapid development: neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.

Neuroinflammation looks at the neuromuscular junction with inflammation where different pathways get expressed in different diseases and may cause dysfunctionality. “This research has led us into rare diseases like myasthenia gravis, where patients typically suffer fatigue and a combination of symptoms impacting their quality of life, their ability to be active and function,” Charl explains. “We are currently pursuing two different mechanisms to address that disease, a complement inhibitor and an anti-FcRn, that essentially aim to reduce inflammation and create normal functionality for MG patients.”

Another area of UCB’s attention is neurodegeneration; specifically Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Also, there is particular emphasis on exploring the potential of gene therapy to develop targeted treatments for these and further neurodegenerative conditions.

“Particularly in neurodegeneration, we must develop an ability to not just treat symptoms but modify the disease and slow, halt or even reverse its progression,” Charl is convinced. “We need to diagnose and intervene much earlier and monitor patients over much longer periods than today. A lot more research is needed including large-scale clinical trials, which comes at a certain amount of investment and risk.”

The value of external science and strategic collaboration

To stem these demands, complement internal pipelines with promising external science and create differentiated value for patients, a lot of pharmaceutical companies are currently looking for strategic collaborations and acquisitions.

For UCB, this opportunity came with the recent acquisition of Zogenix – an acquisition that promises to enhance both UCB’s epilepsy pipeline and its strategic priorities in rare diseases.

“With the acquisition of Zogenix, we added a new treatment to our portfolio to reduce seizures in two rare, specific forms of epilepsy: Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome,” says Charl. “This acquisition fits perfectly our ‘patient value’ strategy of bringing highly differentiated solutions to patients. We’re really excited to utilise our capabilities to advance and optimise these new treatments and make them available to people in need, wherever they may live.”

Another example of incorporating external know-how, science and resources are UCB’s strategic collaborations with Roche and Novartis. “Because it takes decades of clinical research and investment to, hopefully, conquer widespread diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, we decided to collaborate in this area,” notes Charl. “Each company adds terrific scientific expertise and, of course, we share resources and risk for this monumental piece of research and development.”

Over the next decade, UCB plans to continue its strong growth both in neurology and immunology. A steady stream of new launches is envisioned to offset the value of therapies losing exclusivity. Patients will benefit from novel therapies, line extensions, combination therapies as well as digital health offerings.

The future of epilepsy and neurology

“As we look to the next decade, the most exciting scientific approach I currently see is the advancement of gene therapy and its potential to address disease pathways,” Charl looks into the future with optimism.

The promise of gene therapy has the potential, and certainly the ambition to cure certain neurological diseases. A lot of science is currently underway to establish the value and safety of gene therapy. “Its scientific hypothesis paired with an ever more robust understanding of relevant disease pathways may essentially modify a defective genetic condition and, therefore, pave the way to potential cures.”

Another major trend, stimulated by the pandemic, is a rapid increase in digital health technologies. Most patients and their physicians are much more closely connected than prior to the emergence of coronavirus. Many have developed a preference to be treated in an online environment with convenient remote ‘visits’, often receiving more information, faster.

“The ability for patients to conveniently monitor in real-time, be better informed and access healthcare efficiently through a digital environment is a major improvement. It will lead to better prevention, stronger compliance with prescribed regimes, more disciplined participation in clinical trials, faster recruitment, less attrition, quicker and more reliable results. I think we will see a lot of benefits from digital health technologies paired with robust scientific insights over the coming years.”

Conclusion

A third development Charl anticipates is a further increase in disease-modifying treatments. “We’re already seeing many scientists step up efforts in neurodegeneration. With the amount and quality of research in this space, we may see breakthrough solutions beginning to modify major conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease much sooner than at today’s typical points of clinical diagnosis.”

“Which would be really fantastic for the many people living with these diseases; and even more important for future generations of patients who could be diagnosed and treated earlier with a better chance to modify, manage and – one day – potentially cure some of their conditions,” concludes Charl.

About the Interviewee

Charl van Zyl is executive vice president neurology & head of Europe & International Markets at UCB. Charl van Zyl manages the global development and commercialisation of innovative solutions that create value for people living with neurological disorders, such as epilepsy and neuro-degenerative conditions. He is also in charge of UCB’s corporate activities in Europe and International markets. He is a member of UCB’s Executive Committee. He is also a member of the Board of BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization).

About UCB

UCB, Brussels, Belgium (www.ucb.com) is a global biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of innovative medicines and solutions to transform the lives of people living with severe diseases of the immune system or of the central nervous system. With more than 8,000 people in approximately 40 countries, the company generated revenue of €5.8 billion in 2021. UCB is listed on Euronext Brussels (symbol: UCB). Follow us on Twitter: @UCB_news.

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Optimism Slowly Returns To The Tourism Sector

Optimism Slowly Returns To The Tourism Sector

Coming off the worst year in tourism history, 2021 wasn’t much of an improvement, as travel…

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Optimism Slowly Returns To The Tourism Sector

Coming off the worst year in tourism history, 2021 wasn't much of an improvement, as travel remained subdued in the face of the persistent threat posed by Covid-19.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), export revenues from tourism (including passenger transport receipts) remained more than $1 trillion below pre-pandemic levels in 2021, marking the second trillion-dollar loss for the tourism industry in as many years.

As Statista's Felix Richter details below, while the brief rebound in the summer months of 2020 had fueled hopes of a quick recovery for the tourism sector, those hopes were dashed with each subsequent wave of the pandemic.

And despite a record-breaking global vaccine rollout, travel experts struggled to stay optimistic in 2021, as governments kept many restrictions in place in their effort to curb the spread of new, potentially more dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

Halfway through 2022, optimism has returned to the industry, however, as travel demand is ticking up in many regions.

You will find more infographics at Statista

According to UNWTO's latest Tourism Barometer, industry experts are now considerably more confident than they were at the beginning of the year, with 48 percent of expert panel participants expecting a full recovery of the tourism sector in 2023, up from just 32 percent in January. 44 percent of surveyed industry insiders still think it'll take until 2024 or longer for tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels, another notable improvement from 64 percent in January.

Tyler Durden Sat, 06/25/2022 - 21:00

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Doctors’ Group Urges Biden Administration To End Quarantine, Vaccine Recommendations For Children

Doctors’ Group Urges Biden Administration To End Quarantine, Vaccine Recommendations For Children

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch…

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Doctors' Group Urges Biden Administration To End Quarantine, Vaccine Recommendations For Children

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A group of doctors is urging top government officials to quickly reverse recommendations that have left children in isolation for days and advice that virtually every child get a COVID-19 vaccine.

We strongly urge you to revise the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines with regards to testing, isolation, and vaccine recommendations for children to ensure that public health policies are not doing more harm than good,” the group, Urgency of Normal, wrote in a June 21 open letter to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The CDC’s guidelines say that people, including children, who are exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for at least five days, and encourage widespread COVID-19 testing.

The agency also recommends that all children 6 months of age or older get a COVID-19 vaccine, following the recent authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer shots for kids under 5.

The doctors noted that many European countries, U.S. states, and other areas have updated COVID-19 policies to greatly reduce periods of quarantine, COVID-19 testing frequency, and forced vaccination.

They’re asking U.S. officials to adapt to a “test-to-treat” approach, which would focus on recommending vaccination and treatments to those at the highest risk from COVID-19, which are primarily the elderly and others with serious underlying health conditions.

Read more here...

Tyler Durden Sat, 06/25/2022 - 17:30

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This Week in Apps: Twitter Notes, Instagram age verification, Spotify’s Live Events

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy….

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China grew 19% in 2021 to reach $170 billion. Downloads of apps also grew by 5%, reaching 230 billion in 2021, and mobile ad spend grew 23% year over year to reach $295 billion.

Today’s consumers now spend more time in apps than ever before — even topping the time they spend watching TV, in some cases. The average American watches 3.1 hours of TV per day, for example, but in 2021, they spent 4.1 hours on their mobile device. And they’re not even the world’s heaviest mobile users. In markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, users surpassed five hours per day in mobile apps in 2021.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours, either. They can grow to become huge businesses. In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million in consumer spend and 13 topped $1 billion in revenue. This was up 20% from 2020, when 193 apps and games topped $100 million in annual consumer spend and just eight apps topped $1 billion.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions and suggestions about new apps to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Instagram to verify users’ ages in new test

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram announced this week it’s testing a new set of features for verifying users’ ages in the app, including things like video selfies, vouching from adult friends and providing an ID. The tests, which will begin in the U.S., will apply to users who try to change their age to 18 or over after being previously set to under 18. These users may be trying to correct an earlier mistake or they could be teens trying to circumvent the app’s newer age-appropriate restrictions.

If users are prompted to provide an ID card, like a passport or driver’s license, Meta will store it on its servers for 30 days before deletion. If users choose the social vouching option, they’ll need at least three other adult friends to vouch for their age — and Instagram will choose a list of six people randomly who meet the criteria. Those users can’t have a new account or be vouching for others at the same time.

The company also said it’s using AI that can estimate users’ ages in video selfies. The company is working with the London-based digital identify firm Yoti which will examine the file, make an estimate, then delete the file.

Age verification is an increasingly common feature in social apps used by younger users as a result of tighter regulations. Another company catering to Gen Z users, Yubo, recently rolled out its own age estimating tech as well.

Twitter goes long form

TechCrunch broke the news that Twitter was testing a long-form writing feature called Twitter Notes. The next day after our report went live, Twitter announced it officially.

The news is one of Twitter’s more significant changes since doubling the character count from 140 to 280 characters, as it will allow users to write on Twitter directly, as if it’s a blogging platform. With Twitter Notes, users are able to create articles using rich formatting and uploaded media, which can then be tweeted and shared with followers upon publishing. The company also said it would merge its newsletter service, Revue, into Twitter Notes.

Users with access can create Twitter Notes from the “Write” link in Twitter’s navigation. For the time being, Twitter is testing Notes with a small group of writers in the United States, Canada, Ghana and the United Kingdom. The Notes can be up to 2,500 words in length.

The feature could encourage users to rely on Twitter Thread (tweetstorms) less in order to share their longer thoughts, ideas or stories with their Twitter followers, Community or Circle. It could also put an end to using a screenshot from the Notes app to tweet something longer than 280 characters. Meanwhile, Twitter Notes can tap into the potential for viral distribution that comes with posting to the platform. Like tweets, the Notes would have their own link and could be tweeted, retweeted, sent in DMs, liked and bookmarked. They can also be reported and must comply with Twitter’s rules.

It’s worth noting (ha!) that Twitter Notes also gives the company a new business and potential revenue stream as it further develops the product. The feature may allow the social platform to compete with established services, like Medium for blogging, or Substack’s newsletters.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

E-commerce

Image Credits: Twitter/Shopify

  • As part of its ongoing efforts to expand into e-commerce, Twitter announced a new partnership with Shopify. The deal will see Twitter launching a sales channel app that will be made available to all of Shopify’s U.S. merchants through its app store. The app allows merchants to onboard themselves to Twitter’s Shopping Manager, the dashboard offered by the social media company where sellers can access product catalog tools and enable other shopping features for their profiles. Merchants will be able to use the new sales channel app to connect their Twitter account to their Shopify admin then get set up with Twitter’s Shopping Manager and other free tools Twitter built for “Professionals.” This includes Twitter’s launch of a new feature called Location Spotlight, which allows local businesses in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia to display information like their street address, contact info and operating hours directly on their profile.

Augmented Reality

  • Walmart gave its app an AR upgrade with the launch of View in Your Space, which allows customers to see home décor and furniture in their own homes. The feature will be rolled out to over 300 items on Walmart’s iOS app by early July.
  • Tim Cook may have hinted at Apple’s AR headset plans when he told a Chinese state-run news outlet to “stay tuned” to see what Apple had in store next for AR in an interview. A later investor note by Ming-Chi Kuo also suggested the new hardware could arrive as soon as early 2023.
  • IKEA launched a new in-app design experience, called IKEA Kreativ, that lets U.S. shoppers visualize furniture in their own spaces using AR and AI. The feature can also remove the existing furniture from your room so you can better imagine the changes.
  • Snap shared some data about AR shopping trends, noting that there was a 32% increased use of shoppable AR during the pandemic and that 69% of consumers believed AR was a part of shopping’s future.

Fintech

  • Coinbase is shutting down its standalone Pro service by year’s end and replacing it with Advanced Trade across its website and app. The latter offers comparable features to the Pro service, which had lowered fees to traders who interacted directly with the Coinbase Exchange order book.
  • Facebook Pay formally rebranded to Meta Pay. The change had already been announced but is now rolling out in the U.S. before expanding globally.

Social

Image Credits: Twitter

  • Snapchat announced its first accelerator program for emerging Black creators, which will see 25 selected participants receive $10,000 per month to launch their careers across a total $3 million investment.
  • Instagram has been experimenting with a new feature that would allow users to leave notes for their friends at the top of the DM inbox. The feature could help users share urgent or more important messages that could be overlooked in Stories or in messages.
  • Meta announced more ways for creators to make money on Facebook and Instagram and the expansion of other monetization tools to more creators. The company will keep paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges and its upcoming independent news products free for creators until 2024, instead of 2023, as it had said before. Meta is also testing a designated place on Instagram where creators can get discovered by brands for partnerships; will launch a way for users to subscribe to Facebook Groups even for those who have paid for access on another platform; and is expanding the Reels Play Bonus program to more creators and making Facebook Stars available to all.
  • Twitter announced the return of its developer conference, Chirp. The event was first held in 2010 but was then canceled the next year. At the time, the event had been a reflection of Twitter’s attitude toward its developer community in general — disorganized and constantly in flux as the company’s business initiatives changed. Times have since changed and Twitter has been trying to woo back developers with its new API, even by promoting some apps on Twitter itself.

Messaging

  • Telegram said it now has over 700 monthly active users and announced Telegram Premium, a subscription that gives users access to exclusive features like doubled limits, 4 GB file uploads, faster downloads, exclusive stickers and reactions, improved chat management and more.

Photos

Dating

  • Match-owned Hinge added a new feature that allows users to share their “Dating Intentions” — meaning whether they’re looking for long-term, short-term, open relationships and more. The update changes Hinge’s focus as the company has historically been the app designed to connect people looking for more serious relationships, while Match-owned Tinder was aimed at those seeking casual encounters.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Spotify

  • Spotify revamped its concert discovery feature with the launch of a new Live Events Feed. The personalized feature will allow users to find favorite artists’ events in your area and will now include artist imagery and more tour details. Local events will also be highlighted while streaming and soon, in other places in the Spotify app.
  • Clubhouse is testing a new feature called Houses, per Bloomberg, which are private rooms aimed at encouraging social interactions where anyone can unmute themselves and speak.
  • Reddit Talk, the company’s live audio Clubhouse-like feature, announced its Host program would launch on July 11th. The program will promote hosts’ audio across the site. Reddit Talk also gained new features like a soundboard and topic selector for discovery purposes.
  • Apple Music raised the price of its student plan in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. In the United States and Canada, the price for the plan has increased from $4.99 to $5.99. In the United Kingdom, the price has increased from £4.99 to £5.99.

Gaming

  • Epic Games has come up with a new system for game ratings. While these changes apply to its own online games store, it’s an example of why alternative app stores could be useful to provide competition with Apple’s own — they can be a ground to test out new ideas. In Epic’s case, random players who have played a game for over two hours will be asked to rate the game on a five-point scale. Over time, these will create the game’s Overall Rating. The system, which relies on random sampling, could cut down on review bombing and reviews left by those who aren’t actual players, the company notes.
  • China’s regulation of the mobile gaming market may be leading to declining use of the App Store in the country, according to Morgan Stanley. The firm’s latest analysis estimated that the App Store only saw 1% growth in June so far, compared with 6% growth in May.

Health & Fitness

  • Fitbit added a new premium feature, “Sleep Profile,” which will allow users to track their sleep patterns across 10 key metrics, including new data points like bedtime consistency, the time before sound sleep and disrupted sleep. The feature is rolling out to the Fitbit app’s Premium users and supports devices including Sense, Versa 3, Versa 2, Charge 5, Luxe or Inspire 2.

Travel & Transportation

  • Apple is planning to expand its CarPlay experience to China, according to a job posting.
  • Polestar has now added Apple CarPlay to its all-electric Polestar 2 sedan via an over-the-air software update, after previously only supporting Android Auto.
  • Car rental apps saw their MAUs grow 19% year-over-year in the U.S. in May, reported Apptopia, despite rising gas prices.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Government & Policy

  • TikTok offered a series of commitments in the EU to improve user reporting and disclosure requirements around ads/sponsored content as well as an agreement to boost transparency around its digital coins and virtual gifts. The agreement follows a series of complaints over child safety and consumer protection complaints filed back in February 2021.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice today entered into an agreement with Meta to resolve a lawsuit that alleged Meta engaged in discriminatory advertising in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As a result, Meta has agreed to develop a new system for housing ads and will pay a roughly $115,000 penalty, the maximum under the FHA.

Reading & News

  • India-based VerSe Innovation rolled out its news aggregator Dailyhunt in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, with over 5,000 content partners in the region.

Security & Privacy

  • Google Chrome for iOS gained a number of new features in a recent update, including access to Enhanced Safe Browsing to protect users from dangerous websites and malware, as well as the ability to make Google Password Manager your Autofill provider. Other additions include Chrome Actions (typed commands in the URL bar) and access to Google’s Discover feed on the main page.
  • Daycare apps including those from Brightwheel, HiMama and others were found to lack 2FA and other privacy protections, in an analysis.
  • Google threat researchers detailed a commercial spyware system called Hermit, used in Kazakhstan and Italy, which targeted both Android and iOS. The iOS version had six exploits, including two zero-days. Targeted victims are tricked into installing a malicious app — which masquerades as a legitimate branded telco or messaging app — from outside the app store.

Funding and M&A

Courier raised $35 million in a Series B funding round led by GV. The company provides an API for sending notifications across multiple channels, including email, text, web and mobile.

Ghana-based fintech Fido raised $30 million in equity investment and some undisclosed debt funding in a Series A round led by Israel-based private equity fund Fortissimo Capital. The round brings the total equity investment raised to date to $38 million. The startup says it’s adding savings and payment products to its portfolio later this year and will enter Uganda.

Twitter asked its shareholders to approve the $44 billion Elon Musk acquisition. At the time of its SEC filing, Twitter’s share price was around $38.12 — lower than Musk’s offer price of $54.20 a share. The company’s market cap had also dropped below $30 billion, making a $44 billion deal look very good.

Downloads

WatchTube

Image Credits: WatchTube

Well, here’s something kind of crazy: 9to5Mac this week highlighted the new app WatchTube, which lets you watch YouTube videos directly on your Apple Watch. Yes, really!

The app is not the best experience for watching videos, as you may have guessed, but it is pretty wild that it actually works. The app by default shows you top trending videos, but you can customize this so the videos that appear are selected from a particular genre, like Music, News, Gaming, Movies and more. While it would be enough to just accomplish bringing YouTube to the Watch, the developer also added other features like the ability to search for videos, save videos to the app’s local Library and subscribe to Channels. When you get back to your other devices, you can also scan a QR code to share the video back to your iPhone or iPad.

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