Meta Pharmaceuticals lands $15M to make autoimmune drugs with AI, new immuno-metabolism tech

Biotech startup Meta Pharmaceuticals sets itself an ambitious goal as it secures its initial investment. The Shenzhen-based company, which sets out to develop treatments for autoimmune diseases with the help of artificial intelligence, has raised $15 million from its seed and pre-A rounds.

There is no lack of investor interest in companies applying machine learning to small-molecule drug discovery. New York-based Immunai picked up $215 million last year to create an “atlas” of the human immune system. Insilico from Hong Kong recently landed $60 million despite undergoing what the CEO dubbed a “biotech winter.”

Meta’s technology falls under the emerging field of immuno-metabolism, which studies the relationship between the historically distinct disciplines of immunology and metabolism. Drugs created using this new method are purported to regulate the immune system more effectively with fewer side effects. Originally from southwestern China, Meta’s co-founder and CEO Xu Ke graduated from Weill Cornell Medicine and conducted research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the top cancer hospitals in the US.

Meta is merely ten months old but is built off the back of an industry incumbent. It’s a project “incubated” by AI-assisted drug discovery and development upstart Xtalpi, which was founded in 2014 and has raised nearly $800 million in funding to date from the likes of Tencent, Softbank Vision Fund, and Sequoia Capital China.

Investors from Meta’s financing rounds included Xtalpi itself, Forcefield Ventures, IMO Venture, and Tiantu Capital.

Meta and Xtalpi clearly play complementary roles to each other by working to translate new drug targets into patents and marketable products. Meta’s proposed therapeutic targets will first go to XtalPi for drug discovery or de novo drug design, which refers to computer-assisted molecular design. Once a pre-clinical candidate is identified, Meta may take over to carry out subsequent development, investigational new drug (IND) filing, and clinical trials, an Xtalpi spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Meta claims to have already discovered a series of metabolic protease targets after sifting through thousands of proteases on its AI-enabled target discovery platform.

The startup is using public data for the initial training of its target discovery technology and plans to collect samples and omics data from patients and healthy donors in collaboration with hospitals in China down the road, Xu explained to TechCrunch.

“Our pipeline has the potential to be used for treating a wide range of autoimmune problems, cancer, and age-associated diseases,” Xu said when asked about competition. “It’s still too early to share the specifics just yet or limit ourselves to one or two existing drugs and indications.”

Headquartered inside an innovation free-trade zone in Shenzhen bordering Hong Kong, Meta plans to market its drugs globally. In its infancy, the zone is one of many government-led initiatives to promote technological collaboration between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Support for startups comes in various forms and in Meta’s case, it means tax exemption on imported lab equipment. The area is also home to Xtalpi and one of China’s largest autonomous driving startups

Substack acqui-hires team behind subscription social app Cocoon

Subscription newsletter platform kingpin Substack shared today that they’ve acqui-hired the team behind Cocoon, a subscription social media app built for close friends.

We covered the Y Combinator-backed startup’s initial $3 million seed raise led by Lerer Hippeau back in November 2019, shortly before the pandemic dramatically reconfigured how people used social media to communicate with the people nearest and dearest to them. Cocoon’s initial pitch was for a social network for your closest friends, something that could level-up the text group chat you may have been stuck using before, though over time Cocoon evolved its platform’s dynamics to allow for more open social circles that users could fine tune at will. With the app, users could share text and photo updates while also using passive data from sources like mobile location data or fitness stats to deliver automatic updates to Slack channel-like feeds for specific groups of their friends.

The app was co-founded by Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell, who met in product roles at Facebook.

Unlike plenty of other networking apps, Cocoon didn’t rely on advertising or user data to monetize, instead pushing users to pay for a $4 monthly subscription. Despite the app’s slick design, it didn’t seem to make much of a lasting splash or find its market fit and Substack says they won’t be continuing support for the app, instead choosing to bring the small team aboard. Given some of Substack’s recent initiatives around community building for their network of newsletter writers, it isn’t surprising that they’re seeking out more talent in the space to help evolve the functionality of their platform.

Back in March, the startup detailed it had closed a $65 million Series B at a $650 million valuation, bolstering up on cash as they look to define a space that has gotten more eyeballs on it as of late, with both Twitter and Facebook releasing newsletter products this year.  They’ve been snapping up a few smaller startups over the past few months. Earlier this month, they disclosed that they had bought the debate platform Letter for an undisclosed sum. In Maym, they acqui-hired the team from a community-building consultancy startup called People & Company.

ASCAP Lab highlights a quartet of early-stage music startups

Music publishing giant ASCAP said today that a quartet of early-stage startups/university music projects will compete in its Immersive Music Studio Challenge. The 12-week project is a partnership between ASCAP Lab and NY Media Lab (NYCML) that offers the teams grants and access to development resources. They’ll also be showcasing at the upcoming ASCAP Experience.

It’s an interesting little cohort, aiming to tackle some wide-ranging music industry issues. Some have already laid out commercialization plans, while others essentially came together for the program and really haven’t thought that far down the road.

We spoke to the founding teams to get a better sense of the projects.


Image Credits: Boomy

Who’s on your founding team?

Boomy was founded by serial music entrepreneur Alex Jae Mitchell and music industry veteran Matthew Cohen Santorelli in 2019.

Please describe your product. What problems in the market are you trying to address? 

Music-making is a complex skill requiring time, equipment and resources that most people don’t have. Boomy is an AI-powered music automation platform where people create and release music instantly, effortlessly, and for free — even if they’ve never made music before. Over 200,000 people are already using Boomy to create and release music, 85% of whom are first-time music makers.

Do you have any plans to commercialize? If so, what? Have you identified revenue streams?

Through the Boomy platform, users release albums to 40+ streaming services and digital retailers worldwide, including Spotify, TikTok, YouTube, Apple Music and more — all for free. Users keep an 80% share of the associated royalties, with the remaining 20% used by Boomy to power the free service.

What is your funding to date?

Boomy graduated from the Boost VC accelerator in 2019 and has raised follow-on funding from venture capital firms and music funds, but has not yet made a formal announcement regarding its fundraising.


Image Credits: MiSynth

Who’s on your founding team?  

MiSynth began as a fictional business proposal created by Senaida Ng in her freshman year class, “Are Friends Electric?” taught by professor Errol Kolosine. After the class ended, Ng continued with the idea and worked closely with Kolosine to bring the idea to life. She recruited Ph.D. biomedical engineer Sinem Eriksen to lead the R&D alongside the guidance of NYU Music and Audio Research Lab (MARL) researchers Pablo Ripollés and Elena Georgieva.

Please describe your product. What problems in the market are you trying to address? 

MiSynth is a revolutionary music software plugin that will allow musicians, songwriters and producers to synthesize any sounds they hear in their heads. They will bridge the gap between your imagination and your music by taking data from brain computer interfaces (BCIs) and turning them into playable MIDI instruments. The team at MiSynth strongly believes that everyone can and should have the tools to be an artist. Rather than spending hours learning about sound design and trying to re-create the perfect synth, MiSynth is making music more accessible and efficient for everyone.

Do you have any plans to commercialize? If so, what? Have you identified revenue streams?

Yes, we plan on continuing to build our prototype and testing it after the ASCAP NYCML Challenge and we hope to launch our software by August 2024. MiSynth will be sold as a software plugin compatible with any digital audio workstation (DAW), including Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, FL Studio, Cubase and Reason. Customers can buy the license to use the software by paying either a one-time fee or a monthly subscription fee until they pay off the full price of the license.

What is your funding to date?

We are a relatively new company that began only in December 2020, but we plan on continuing to seek funding from investors, research grants and challenges like the ASCAP NYCML Challenge to continue our venture.

The Slashers

Who’s on your founding team? 

Devin Kenny – an interdisciplinary artist, writer, musician and independent curator based out of NYC – and William Leon – an AR/VR developer and teaching fellow at Cornell Tech. The founding team met through the \Art Fellowship at Cornell Tech in 2020.

Please describe your product. What problems in the market are you trying to address?

Otherwards is a mixed reality album listening experience combining music with interactive 3D objects and geolocation technology, creating an explorative album experience for the listener that melds music, gaming and the world around them.

Do you have any plans to commercialize? If so, what? Have you identified revenue streams?

No plans to commercialize just yet. We are in the process of iterating on the application toolchain and doing customer discovery.

What is your funding to date?

We’ve just started working on this project and have not raised any funds yet.

Dot Dot

Image Credits: Dot Dot

Who’s on your founding team?

Kate Stevenson, Elizabeth Perez, Chris White and Jacques Foottit.

Please describe your product. What problems in the market are you trying to address?

Social is a best-in-class online event platform where users can easily meet and chat with other people while exploring virtual spaces with games and live performances. We saw the need to bring serendipitous social moments and ways to spark real-life relationships into the remote, virtual experience, especially at events and live performances.

Every world comes with proximity-activated audio, live-streaming avatars, beautiful customizable visuals and unique brand opportunities. With options to showcase video content, host a social livestream, add entertaining challenges and game packages so attendees and audience members connect through playful exploration and leave wowed by the experience.

Do you have any plans to commercialize? If so, what? Have you identified revenue streams?

Social is being used commercially for product launches, conferences, team-building events, art exhibitions and performances. Revenue streams include monetization through ticketing, donation widgets and sponsorship packages. Our commercial clients include fashion and beauty brands, media, tech and finance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined how we think about virtual communication and experiences. We have seen a level of behavioral change that would typically take more than 10 years happen in just 12 months. There is now a viable market for virtual engagement and therefore an opportunity to consider a hybrid approach for how we can engage audiences as we move out of the pandemic.

What is your funding to date?

We are currently funded through white-labeled development for event companies and brands. Social is growing organically based on user needs, through pilots with physical venues, artists and passionate communities.

Gardening startups like Neverland want to make every day Earth Day for the home gardener

Vera Kutsenko and Hayley Leibson have incredible tech pedigrees, but their latest venture involves as much digging in dirt as it does digging through lines of code.

The two women have founded Neverland, a startup for the home gardener that aims to be a marketplace connecting mom and pop gardening shops with the explosion of amateur horticulturalists that have sprung up since the pandemic began and everyone needed someone (or something) to talk to.

Gardening businesses were among the big winners during the pandemic, with sales at home and lawncare and gardening businesses shooting up 9% in 2020, according to data from the 200 year-old flower retailer, Breck’s.

It’s that surge in business, and the two co-founders own passion for home plants, that led to the launch of Neverland, the two founders said.

For both, it’s a change of pace. Kutsenko studied computer science at Cornell, worked at Facebook on the initiative and led teams working on the mobile app at Uber. Meanwhile, Leibson founded LunchClub and served as that company’s chief operating officer.

Kutsenko and Leibson first connected through a women’s tech networking group in San Francisco and bonded over a shared love of plants. Leibson has roughly 24 plants in her apartment while Kutsenko had a plant nursery that she tended to herself.

“We really view the opportunity for Neverland to be the sustainability focused marketplace,” said Leibson. “The power of what we’re doing is we’re able to create a really consistent support network for the consumer.”

It’s a huge market. Kutsenko said that globally plant and gardening spending is roughly $52 billion and $28 billion of that market is indoor and outdoor gardening.

Using customer data, Neverland prompts users on how to optimize their gardens and horticulture activities based on their geography and what plants customers would want to grow. The company also looks to connect would-be green thumbed growers with companies in their region.

“The educational piece we’re pulling from is the USDA agricultural APIs,” said Kutsenko. “We take and translate the super science-y terms into language that [customers] would understand. We’re pulling this from existing government resources and aggregating it and making it accessible to folks.”

It was both the CVs of the founders and the overall size of the market that convinced investors to throw their financial weight behind the company — and it’s an impressive roster of consumer-focused and sustainability minded investors including: Obvious Ventures, Maveron, Kimbal Musk, and Y Combinator, which had Neverland in its most recent cohort. In all, Neverland managed to bring in $3 million for its marketplace and gardening community. 

And since everything starts with community, the company has managed to amass a healthy following on Instagram even before its scheduled launch this summer. Already 140,000 people follow Neverland’s posts. And the company has signed on 50 sellers in the Bay Area and beyond.


C2i, a genomics SaaS product to detect traces of cancer, raises $100M Series B

If you or a loved one has ever undergone a tumor removal as part of cancer treatment, you’re likely familiar with the period of uncertainty and fear that follows. Will the cancer return, and if so, will the doctors catch it at an early enough stage? C2i Genomics has developed software that’s 100x more sensitive in detecting residual disease, and investors are pouncing on the potential. Today, C2i announced a $100 million Series B led by Casdin Capital. 

“The biggest question in cancer treatment is, ‘Is it working?’ Some patients are getting treatment they don’t benefit from and they are suffering the side effects while other patients are not getting the treatment they need,” said Asaf Zviran, co-founder and CEO of C2i Genomics in an interview.

Historically, the main approach to cancer detection post-surgery has been through the use of MRI or X-ray, but neither of those methods gets super accurate until the cancer progresses to a certain point. As a result, a patient’s cancer may return, but it may be a while before doctors are able to catch it.

Using C2i’s technology, doctors can order a liquid biopsy, which is essentially a blood draw that looks for DNA. From there they can sequence the entire genome and upload it to the C2i platform. The software then looks at the sequence and identifies faint patterns that indicate the presence of cancer, and can inform if it’s growing or shrinking.

“C2i is basically providing the software that allows the detection and monitoring of cancer to a global scale. Every lab with a sequencing machine can process samples, upload to the C2i platform and provide detection and monitoring to the patient,” Zviran told TechCrunch.

C2i Genomics’ solution is based on research performed at the New York Genome Center (NYGC) and Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) by Dr. Zviran, along with Dr. Dan Landau, faculty member at the NYGC and assistant professor of medicine at WCM, who serves as scientific co-founder and member of C2i’s scientific advisory board. The research and findings have been published in the medical journal, Nature Medicine.

While the product is not FDA-approved yet, it’s already being used in clinical research and drug development research at NYU Langone Health, the National Cancer Center of Singapore, Aarhus University Hospital and Lausanne University Hospital.

When and if approved, New York-based C2i has the potential to drastically change cancer treatment, including in the areas of organ preservation. For example, some people have functional organs, such as the bladder or rectum, removed to prevent cancer from returning, leaving them disabled. But what if the unnecessary surgeries could be avoided? That’s one goal that Zviran and his team have their minds set on achieving.

For Zviran, this story is personal. 

“I started my career very far from cancer and biology, and at the age of 28 I was diagnosed with cancer and I went for surgery and radiation. My father and then both of my in-laws were also diagnosed, and they didn’t survive,” he said.

Zviran, who today has a PhD in molecular biology, was previously an engineer with the Israeli Defense Force and some private companies. “As an engineer, looking into this experience, it was very alarming to me about the uncertainty on both the patients’ and physicians’ side,” he said.

This round of funding will be used to accelerate clinical development and commercialization of the company’s C2-Intelligence Platform. Other investors that participated in the round include NFX, Duquesne Family Office, Section 32 (Singapore), iGlobe Partners and Driehaus Capital.

$1.3M in grants go towards making the web’s open source infrastructure more equitable

Open source software is at the core of… well, practically everything online. But while much of it is diligently maintained in some ways, in others it doesn’t receive the kind of scrutiny that something so foundational ought to. $1.3 million worth of grants were announced today, split among 13 projects looking to ensure open source software and development is being done equitably, sustainably, and responsibly.

The research projects will look into a number of questions about the way open source digital infrastructure is being used, maintained, and otherwise affected. For instance, many municipalities rely on and create this sort of infrastructure constantly as the need for government software solutions grows, but what are the processes by which this is done? Which approaches or frameworks succeed, and why?

And what about the private companies that contribute to major open-source projects, often without consulting one another — how do they communicate and share priorities and dependencies? How could that be improved, and with what costs and benefits?

These and other questions aren’t the type that any single organization or local government is likely to take on spontaneously, and of course the costs of such studies aren’t trivial. But they were deemed interesting enough (and possibly likely to generate new approaches and products) by a team of experts who sorted through about 250 applications over the last year.

The grantmaking operation is funded and organized by the Ford Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network, and the Mozilla Open Source Support Program in collaboration with the Open Collective Foundation.

“There’s a dearth of funding for looking at the needs and potential applications of free and open source infrastructure. The public interest issues behind open source have been the missing piece,” said Michael Brennan, who’s leading the grant program at the Ford Foundation.

“The president of the foundation [Darren Walker] once said, ‘a just society relies on a just Internet,’ ” he quoted. “So our question is how do we create that just Internet? How do we create and sustain an equitable Internet that serves everyone equally? We actually have a lot more questions than answers, and few people are funding research into those questions.”

Even finding the right questions is part of the question, of course, but in basic research that’s expected. Early work in a field can seem frustratingly general or inconclusive because it’s as much about establishing the scope and general direction of the work as it is about suggesting actual courses of action.

“The final portfolio wasn’t just about the ‘objectively best’ ones, but how do we find a diversity of approaches and ideas, and tackle different aspects of this work, and also be representative of the diverse and global nature of the project?” Brennan said. “This year we also accepted proposals for both research and implementation. We want to see that the research is informing the building of that equitable and sustainable infrastructure.”

You can read the full research abstracts here, but these are the short versions, with the proposer’s name:

  • How are COVID data infrastructures created and transformed by builders and maintainers from the open source community? – Megan Finn (University of Washington, University of Texas, Northeastern University)
  • How is digital infrastructure a critical response to fight climate change? – Narrira Lemos de Souza
  • How do perceptions of unfairness when contributing to an open source project affect the sustainability of critical open source digital infrastructure projects? – Atul Pokharel (NYU)
  • Supporting projects to implement research-informed best practices at the time of need on governance, sustainability, and inclusion. – Danielle Robinson (Code for Science & Society)
  • Assessing Partnerships for Municipal Digital Infrastructure – Anthony Townsend (Cornell Tech)
  • Implement recommendations for funders of open source infrastructure with guides, programming, and models – Eileen Wagner, Molly Wilson, Julia Kloiber, Elisa Lindinger, and Georgia Bullen (Simply Secure & Superrr)
  • How we can build a “Creative Commons” for API terms of Service, as a contract to automatically read, control and enforce APIs Terms of service between infrastructure and applications? – Mehdi Medjaoui (APIdays, LesMainteneurs, Inno3)
  • Indian case study of governance, implementation, and private sector role of open source infrastructure projects – ​Digital Asia Hub
  • Will cross-company visibility into shared free and open source dependencies lead to cross-company collaboration and efforts to sustain shared dependencies? – ​Duane O’Brien
  • How do open source tools contribute towards creating a multilingual internet? – Anushah Hossain (UC Berkeley)
  • How digital infrastructure projects could embrace cooperatives as a sustainable model for working – ​Jorge Benet (Cooperativa Tierra Común)
  • How do technical decision-makers assess the security ramifications of open source software components before adopting them in their projects and where can systemic interventions to the FOSS ecosystem be targeted to collectively improve its security? – Divyank Katira (Centre for Internet & Society in Bangalore)
  • How can African participation in the development, maintenance, and application of the global open source digital infrastructure be enhanced? – Alex Comninos (Research ICT Africa (RIA) and the University of Cape Town)

The projects will receive their grants soon, and later in the year (or whenever they’re ready) the organizers will coordinate some kind of event at which they can present their results. Brennan made it clear that the funders take no stake in the projects and aren’t retaining or publishing the research themselves; they’re just coordinating and offering support where it makes sense.

$1.3 million is an interesting number. For some, it’s peanuts. A startup might burn through that cash in a month or two. But in an academic context, a hundred grand can be the difference between work getting done or being abandoned. The hope is that small injections at the base layer produce a better environment for the type of support the Ford Foundation and others provide as part of their other philanthropic and grantmaking efforts.

Color receives FDA authorization for COVID-19 test tech that speeds up results

Color has received an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use of a testing method for detecting COVID-19 that provides accuracy it says is on par with currently approved best-in-class methods, but that can also produce results around 50% faster and with different supply requirements. That means more tests, done more quickly, and without the same supply chain bottlenecks — and Color is making its protocol for the tests available publicly for other labs.

In March, Color announced its intent to launch a high-throughput COVID-19 testing lab, and LAMP provides a big part of improving turnaround time since many parts of the testing process can be automated — which isn’t possible with the existing RT-PCR tests. Both these tests are molecular, meaning they detect presence of the actual virus in the body, and LAMP has been used previously as a technique for testing for Zika and dengue fever.

In addition to making the LAMP testing protocol it developed freely available to other labs for their own implementation, Color is offering a protocol it designed based on available data for population-based screening and regular testing in order to facilitate back-to-work efforts, while also keeping workforces as safe as possible. The protocol details two phases, including one where there hasn’t been any confirmed case in a workplace, but alert remains high, and a second where there’s been a number of confirmed cases and containment is necessary.

Color has been working with the city of San Francisco on testing protocosl for its essential and front-line workforce, and it has also been working with MIT’s Broad Institute and Harvard and Weill Cornell Medicine in development of its tech. These combined efforts put it in a good position to share its learnings with others as more in the U.S. seek to stage re-openings while continuing to contain the spread of the virus.

The ‘PuffPacket’ could help researchers learn when, how, and why people vape

Vaping is a controversial habit: it certainly has its downsides, but anecdotally it’s a fantastic smoking cessation aid. The thing is, until behavioral scientists know a bit more about who does it, when, how much, and other details, its use will continue to be something of a mystery. That’s where the PuffPacket comes in.

Designed by Cornell engineers, the PuffPacket is a small device that attaches to e-cigarettes (or vape pens, or whatever you call yours) and precisely measures their use, sharing that information with a smartphone app for the user, and potentially researchers, to review later.

Some vaping devices are already set up with something like this, to tell a user when the cartridge is running low or a certain limit has been reached. But generally when vaping habits are studied, they rely on self-report data, not proprietary apps.

“The lack of continuous and objective understanding of vaping behaviors led us to develop PuffPacket to enable proper measurement, monitoring, tracking and recording of e-cigarette use, as opposed to inferring it from location and activity data, or self-reports,” said PhD student Alexander Adams, who led the creation of the device, in a Cornell news release.

The device fits a number of e-cigarette types, fitting between the mouthpiece and the heating element. It sits idle until the user breathes in, which activates the e-cigarette’s circuits and the PuffPacket’s as well. By paying attention to the voltage, it can tell how much liquid is being vaporized, as well as simpler measurements like the duration and timing of the inhalation.

An example using real data of how location and activity could be correlated with vaping.

This data is sent to the smartphone app via Bluetooth, where it is cross-referenced with other information, like location, motion, and other metadata. This may lead to identifiable patterns, like that someone vapes frequently when they walk in the morning but not the afternoon, or after coffee but not meals, or far more at the bar than at home — that sort of thing. Perhaps even (with the proper permissions) it could track use of certain apps — Instagram and vape? Post-game puff?

Some of these might be obvious, others not so much — but either way, it helps to have them backed up by real data rather than asking a person to estimate their own usage. They may not know, understand, or wish to admit their own habits.

“Getting these correlations between time of day, place and activity is important for understanding addiction. Research has shown that if you can keep people away from the paths of their normal habits, it can disrupt them,” said Adams.

No one is expecting people to voluntarily stick these things on their vape pens and share their info, but the design — which is being released as open source — could be used by researchers performing more formal studies. You can read the paper describing PuffPacket here.

Pinterest CEO and a team of leading scientists launch a self-reporting COVID-19 tracking app

There have been a few scattered efforts to leverage crowd-sourced self-reporting of symptoms as a way to potentially predict and chart the progress of COVID-19 across the U.S., and around the world. A new effort looks like the most comprehensive, well-organized and credibly backed yet, however – and it’s been developed in part by Pinterest co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann.

Silbermann and a team from Pinterest enlisted the help of high school friend, and CRISPR gene-editing pioneer / MIT and Harvard Broad Institute member Dr. Feng Zhang to build what Silbermann termed in a press release a “bridge between citizens and scientists.” The result is the ‘How We Feel’ app that Silbermann developed along with input from Zhang, and a long list of well-regarded public health, computer science, therapeutics, social sincere and medical professors from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Weill Cornell and more.

How We Feel is a mobile app available for both iOS and Android, which is free to download, and which is designed to make it very easy to self-report whether or not they feel well – and if they’re feeling unwell, what symptoms they’re experiencing. It also asks for information about whether or not you’ve been tested for COVID-19, and whether you’re self-isolation, and for how long. The amount of interaction required is purposely streamlined to make it easy for anyone to contribute daily, and to do so in a minute or less.

The app doesn’t ask for or collect info including name, phone numb or email information. It includes an up-front request that users agree to donate their information, and the data collected will be aggregated and then shared with researchers, public health professionals and doctors, including those who are signed on as collaborators with the project, as well as others (and the project is encouraging collaborators to reach out if interested). Part of the team working on the project are experts in the field of ‘differential privacy,’ and a goal of the endeavor is to ensure that people’s information is used responsibly.

The How We Feel app is, as mentioned, one of a number of similar efforts out there, but this approach has a number of advantages when compared to existing projects. First, it’s a mobile app, whereas some rely on web-based portals that are less convenient for the average consumer, especially when you want continued use over time. Second, they’re motivating use through positive means – Silbermann and his wife Divya will be providing a donated meal to non-profit feeding America for every time a person downloads and uses the app for the first time, up to a maximum of 10 million meals. Finally, it’s already designed in partnership with, and backed by, world-class academic institutions and researchers, and seems best-positioned to be able to get the information it gathers to the greatest number of those in a position to help.

How We Feel is organized as an entirely independent, non-profit organization, and it’s hoping to expand its availability and scientific collaboration globally. It’s an ambitious project, but also one that could be critically important in supplementing testing efforts and other means of tracking the progress and course of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. While self-reported information on its own is far fro a 100 percent accurate or reliable source, taken in aggregate at scale, it could be a very effective leading indicator of new or emerging viral hotspots, or provide scientific researches with other valuable insights when used in combination with other signals.

Color is launching a high-capacity COVID-19 testing lab and will open-source its design and protocols

Genomics health technology startup Color is doing its part to address the global COVID-19 pandemic, and has detailed the steps its taking to support expansion of testing efforts in a new blog post and letter from CEO Othman Laraki on Tuesday. The efforts include development of a high-throughput lab that can process as many as 10,000 tests per day, with a turnaround time of within 24 hours for reporting results back to physicians. In order to provide the most benefit possible from the effort of standing this lab up, Color will also make the design, protocols and specifics of this lab available open-source to anyone else looking to establish high-capacity lab testing.

Color’s lab is also already nearly ready to begin processing samples – it’s going live “in the coming week,” according to Laraki. The Color team worked in tandem with MIT’s Broad Institute, as well as Harvard and Weill Cornell Medicine to develop its process and testing techniques that can allow for higher bandwidth results output vs. standard, in-use methods.

The focus of Color’s efforts in making this happen have been on using automation wherever possible, and seeking techniques that source parts and components, including reagents, that can come from different supply chains. That’s actually a crucial ingredient to being able to ramp efforts at scale nationally and globally, since if everyone is using the same lab processing methods, you’re going to run up against a bottle neck pretty quickly in terms of supplies. Being able to process tens of thousands of tests per day is great on paper, but it means nothing if one ingredient you need to make that happen is also required by every other testing lab in the country.

Color has also made efforts to address COVID-19 response in two other key areas: testing for front-line and essential workers, and post-test follow-up and processing. To address the need for testing for those workers who continue to operate in public-facing roles despite the risks, Color has redirected its enterprise employee base to providing, in tandem with governments and employers, onsite clinical test administration, lab transportation and results reporting with patient physicians.

For its post-test workflow, Color is working to address the challenges reported by other clinicians and health officials around how difficult it is to be consistent and effective in following up on the results of tests, as well as next steps. So the company is opening up their own platform for doing so, which they’ve re-tooled in response to their experience to date, and making that available to any other COVID-19 testing labs for free use. These resources include test result reporting, guidelines and instructions for patients, follow-up questionnaires around contact tracing, and support for how to reach out to potentially exposed individuals tied to a patient who tests positive.

To date, Color says that its been able to operate at cost, in part backed by support by philanthropic public and private donations. The company is encouraging direct outreach via its email in case anyone thinks they can contribute to, or benefit from the project and the resources being made available.