Silicon Valley’s surreal weekend

As Silicon Valley Bank collapsed before our eyes on Thursday, a founder told me that the world felt like it did when COVID-19 first bared its teeth. I scoffed at his analogy at first: are we really using a still on-going and devastating pandemic to describe the fall of a prominent bank? But then I realized, we are indeed witnessing the crumbling of something sacred.

Now, I see the similarity between those dreary COVID days and the surreality of the past weekend — even among the collective relief that echoed through Silicon Valley as regulators told depositors funds would be accessible in full starting Monday. Over the past four days, we’ve reported on a Twitter-induced bank run, SVB taken over by regulators, venture’s resulting scramble to help startups and entrepreneurs’ resulting scramble to survive. All while Tech Twitter went from panic to anger to dread to relief, all with fear sitting heavily on both shoulders.

Some investors spoke up, others pointed fingers, and even though Twitter was full of hot takes and ill-timed jokes, my DMs have never been more active with raw, real stories of how SVB’s collapse is impacting the people on the frontier of innovation. Now my DMS are full of people celebrating, pouring one out, and appreciating a moment of straight up relief that felt like the end of lockdown.

But while it may feel like the cheery ending to a nightmare, here’s what has irreversibly changed: people were slapped in the face by the interconnectedness of tech and over-dependency on certain institutions and voices. I think we all were reminded that a finance story is innately a human story; and that a failure of this magnitude impacts well beyond “tech elite” and whatever your definition of Silicon Valley is. And, I’ll add, I hope there was the realization that we should all stop trying to be banking experts (just like we should all stop trying to be epidemiologists).

I don’t see tech functioning the same after what was said, seen and pushed out loud over the past few weeks. Founders are more aware than ever on which of their investors truly add value. VCs, often ever publicly cordial, have drawn lines and picked teams I’m sure we’ll see act together in the future. And normal people just had their eyes opened on how the often insular world of venture and startups works (messy as it is).

Silicon Valley let out a collective exhale with the news that depositors will be covered by regulators. There’s still more questions to iron out before the rebuilding starts. But the big story ahead is still being written, both in better understanding what broke and what is breaking in Silicon Valley’s broader tank.

Silicon Valley’s surreal weekend by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

‘Pan-variant’ COVID vaccine could defang future strains thanks to machine learning

A new approach to vaccines with a machine learning twist could put an end to boosters and seasonal variant shots, according to MIT researchers. This “pan-variant” vaccine would ignore the virus itself but quickly control infections by cracking down on infected cells.

To be quite clear, this is still in animal testing and is nowhere near being deployed. But with COVID becoming a resident virus in the human population, longer-lasting solutions than occasional boosters for particularly bad strains are in demand.

The problem is that, as amazing as the mRNA vaccines are, they are reactive, not proactive: you see a variant, you sample its spike protein or some other distinctive feature, and you slip it into the immune system so it knows to be on the lookout. It’s a bit like letting a rescue dog sniff the belongings of a lost hiker.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory wanted to find another, more enduring way to keep the body safe from COVID attack. A paper describing their findings was published today in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

The team decided to punt on the idea of attacking the virus itself, because its most distinctive feature, the spike protein, is always changing. Instead, they focused on certain molecular signals that reliably appear on the surface of cells infected by the virus. If these could be spotted early and the immune system’s T cells deployed quickly, the infection would be stalled before it reached dangerous or potentially even infectious levels.

These surface signals, called human leukocyte antigens, and they present a variety of peptides to T cells, kind of like raising semaphore flags. If everything is in order, it’s the usual combination of familiar peptides and the T cell moves on. If something is wrong, a fragment of the virus may be hoisted up the flagpole, and the T cells open fire.

So what does machine learning have to do with all this? There’s a lot of data out there cataloguing the various proteins and amino acid chains found in COVID, and what they turn into once they’ve infiltrated a cell, and how the cells indicate using HLAs that they’re infected.

Machine learning algorithms are good at solving optimization problems like this, where lots of noisy data must be sorted through for specific combinations of qualities. In this case they designed algorithms to catalogue the relevant peptides and select about 30 that are present or “conserved” in all versions of the virus, but also are associated with HLAs, and are likely to be used as flags for T cells to see.

Transgenic mice given our versions of HLAs and this new vaccine showed a far more voluminous immune response in the short term after infection, and none died of the virus.

“This study offers proof in a living system, an actual mouse, that the vaccines we devised using machine learning can afford protection from the COVID virus,” said MIT PhD student Brandon Carter, one of the paper’s lead authors, in an MIT news article.

An interesting possible benefit is that immunocompromised people may get important protection from this approach while the mRNA vaccines don’t work for them. “Long COVID” sufferers too may get some relief in the form of a more comprehensive immune assault on their especially resilient infection.

As the study’s abstract puts it:

The undetectable specific antibody response in MIT-T-COVID-immunized mice demonstrates specific T cell responses alone can effectively attenuate the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Our results suggest further study is merited for pan-variant T cell vaccines, including for individuals that cannot produce neutralizing antibodies or to help mitigate Long COVID.

It’s a promising line of inquiry and a great way to employ advances in computation in service of global health. But it’s also important to recognize it is still early days for the “pan-variant” option. For one thing, it may work with or against existing vaccines — what if the best peptides for the immune response vaccine are the ones targeted for destruction by mRNA priming? The two would be working at cross purposes. And too strong an immune response also runs the risk of collateral damage, mistaken culling of ambiguously signaling cells and the like.

But these are the good kind of questions — ones that are relevant because the basic function of the new vaccine appears to work. We’ll know more as the team progresses through more tests of this promising approach.

‘Pan-variant’ COVID vaccine could defang future strains thanks to machine learning by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Peloton Product Managers Search For Ways To Keep Growth Going

How can Peloton keep growing after the pandemic is over?
How can Peloton keep growing after the pandemic is over?
Image Credit: Tony Webster

You might be thinking that there is no good side to a pandemic. However, you wouldn’t be thinking that if you were a product manager who works for the stationary bike company Peloton. Their sales have shot up as more and more people were forced to stay home and could no longer go to the gym to exercise. Their pricy bikes seemed to fill a need in people’s lives. However, all good things have to come to an end. When the pandemic is over, how are these product managers going to keep a good thing going?

Everybody Starts To Exercise At Home

Peloton’s stationary bikes and remote fitness classes have been in high demand since the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic began. All of sudden the gyms closed and millions of people who still wanted to exercise were cooped up at home. Product managers at Peloton were thrilled when orders for new bikes surged, and Peloton changed their product development definition and stopped most advertising for several months as it struggled to fulfill the demand for its products. As the pandemic wore on, wait times for new bikes reduced, while orders remained up. The benefit of the pandemic is that the company was able to report its first quarterly profit. What made things even better for the Peloton product managers was that the number of $39-a-month connected-fitness reoccurring subscriptions for owners of Peloton bikes and treadmills more than doubled. This would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. The product manager’s challenge then became to figure out how to sustain that growth as gyms in parts of the country reopened.

The product managers at Peloton realize that there are over 180 million people around the globe who pay monthly for access to a gym. Currently Peloton only has 3.1 million members on their platform today. What this means is that they believe that they have a tremendous runway for growth. Thanks to the pandemic, the product managers think there’s a fairly large percentage of the population who are unlikely to, or who may not ever, return to a gym. What this means for the product managers is that it’s important to continue growing their connected-fitness memberships as quickly as they possibly can to keep their first-mover advantage.

When you are selling a stationary bicycle that people can use in their homes, you are competing with people that use your product who also have gym memberships. However, the product managers believe that that percentage has declined from about 60% of their members two years ago to less than 40% today. The Peloton product manager’s plan is to aggressively grow different fitness offerings. They hope to continue to add more value to the connected-fitness subscription. An example of what they are trying to do can be seen in their recent announcement of the addition of Barre [a ballet-inspired fitness workout]. The product manager’s goal is that over time they can eliminates any need for their members to need anything else other than their Peloton connected-fitness memberships.

Preparing For The Future

One issue that the product managers need to remain aware of are gym reopenings slowing down their growth? The product managers do want everyone to return to normal and this means for all businesses to reopen, including gyms. They are not that concerned about the completion that gyms represent because the fitness market is massive and has room for many players. Their hope is that there is room for both bricks and mortar and connected fitness online. Well before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Peloton product managers believed that streaming digital media was shifting. They believed that shift was also going to happen in the fitness industry as more exercise moved into the home. During the pandemic people had to suspend or cancel their gym memberships and build new habits at home. In order to keep them engaged, the Peloton product managers continue to add new content and programming.

The good news for the product managers is that even where gyms have reopened, they’re still seeing significant demand for their products. Many outsiders saw Peloton as a Covid-19 story; however, the pandemic just accelerated trends that were already there. In order to win in global connected fitness, the Peloton product managers have to win in cardio. Additionally, they have to win in strength training. Both of these areas are the two pillars within fitness. In order to accomplish this, Peloton has been introducing new products. The product managers now have a “better, best” portfolio in bikes. They also have plans to create a “better, best” portfolio of treadmills.

However, the Peloton product managers are planning on being very careful. They won’t be launching dozens of new products. Instead, they’re going to have a very pruned portfolio of cardio equipment that stands the test of time, things that people have been doing for a long time. For strength, the product managers are planning on turning more to their digital content. For this product it is unlikely to require heavy investments in any hardware. The thinking is that most of what a customer needs to do strength training is either their own body weight, or a set of free weights or resistance bands. The product managers think if they can win both cardio and strength then that will ultimately pull people out of the gym and fully into the home where they can use Peloton products.

What All Of This Means For You

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a revolution to happen in the home fitness market. The product managers at Peloton stationary bikes were originally caught off-guard by a surge in orders but were then able to quickly start to deliver the products that customers had ordered. The challenge that is now facing them is that as gym start to reopen, can they use their product manager job description to continue to keep the customers that they have while gaining even more customers?

The product managers at Peloton believe that they have a great opportunity to capture gym members who want to start working out from home. The product managers realize that they are competing with gym memberships and so they are actively working to distinguish their product from the gym experience. As gym reopen, the product managers are not that worried because they believe that the fitness market is large enough to support both gyms and their product. The product managers believe that they have to capture customers in both the cardio and strength training areas. The Peloton product managers are releasing more products, but they are not planning on releasing too many new products.

Having a pandemic suddenly cause customers to start to come flocking to your product is something that no product manager could have predicted. However at Peloton this is exactly what happened. Now that the pandemic is going away, the product managers have the challenge before them of finding ways to both keep their existing customers and finding ways to continue growing their business. If the new products and services that they introduce allow customers to continue to enjoy working out from home, then they will probably be able to continue to be successful. We’ll have to watch and determine if Peloton is truly a pandemic success story.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Peloton product managers should encourage their customers to drop their gym memberships?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Once upon a time, being a product manager for a strip mall was a pretty good job. Your mall was a mecca for the local population and so it was easy to attract customers and all your product development definition said that you had to do was make sure that each of your stores was leased out. However, times have changed. As more and more people start to do their shopping from home, the need to go out to the mall has gone away. Strip malls have fallen on hard times. However, some may be starting to make a comeback. How can strip mall product managers breathe new life into their products?

The post Peloton Product Managers Search For Ways To Keep Growth Going appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Virtual research institute battles Long COVID with backing from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin

A new nonprofit “startup” is emerging from stealth today with $15 million in funding from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin, with a focus squarely on studying and treating Long COVID.

While the global pandemic may have neared something close to a conclusion for many, millions of people around the world are still suffering long-term effects from COVID-19. Studies suggest that anywhere between 20% and 40% of those who have contracted COVID-19 experience at least some longstanding symptoms, ranging from mild fatigue and “brain fog,” to more serious debilitating conditions such as headaches, sickness, muscle weakness, and respiratory problems.

The truth of the matter is that we simply don’t know enough about Long COVID and how best to treat it, which is where the Long Covid Research Initiative (LCRI) is looking to make its mark.

LCRI is spearheaded by a quartet of founders, one of which is Dr. Amy Proal, a prominent microbiologist at the Polybio Research Foundation with more than 10 years experience studying conditions similar to Long COVID — Proal has herself been an ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) patient, which is similar to Long COVID, for nearly 20 years. Proal is accompanied by Henry Scott-Green, a London-based product manager who has been absent from his day job at Google’s YouTube for the past two years due to Long COVID; Helga Gutmane, previously an investor at KKR; and Nick Harrold, a former SaaS startup founder.

LCRI’s Dr. Amy Proal

Move fast and fix things

Scott-Green first contracted COVID in August 2020, and the symptoms he experienced in the months and years that followed include what he calls “crushing fatigue” and brain fog. “I’ve improved significantly over the past year thanks to a variety of treatments — at my worst, I was very seriously unwell and unable to do even basic tasks,” he explained to TechCrunch.

But it was his experiences trying to treat his condition, including working with health professionals, that led him down the path to where he’s at today — though he feels he has been more fortunate than some other Long COVID sufferers.

“Two years ago, very few people — doctors included — knew about Long COVID, and it was hard to even get a diagnosis,” Scott-Green said. “I have been lucky to eventually make my way to great specialists who have helped me a lot, but many people aren’t so lucky. Getting good quality care is still a huge problem for the vast majority of the huge number of people with this condition.”

Though LCRI is being led substantively from the U.K., officially it belongs to the U.S.-based PolyBio Research Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that focuses on studying complex chronic inflammatory diseases. Despite its nonprofit status, the LCRI founders’ tech backgrounds could serve as the bedrock for something more like a “lean” startup, and solve what Scott-Green calls the “global public health emergency” that is Long COVID.

Indeed, as well-intentioned and rigorous as some of the government-led funding programs and initiatives have been, Scott-Green said that from his experience, things just move far too slowly, which is why LCRI is adopting an operating model more akin to the “urgency and pragmatism” of a startup.

“A Long COVID research program reliant only on government grants would take a long time to show results,” he said. “As a patient, I recognized the need to move faster and bring rapid answers to the enormous number of people who are suffering around the world.”

To support his mission, the founders have amassed an impressive team of researchers and specialists from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, UCSF, John Hopkins University, among other renowned institutions, philanthropists, and patient communities, who will work together with a view toward solving Long COVID.

“We’re running as a lean organization that prioritizes fast execution and close collaboration — and generally, and where it makes sense, trying to apply the organizational principles that have allowed tech to deliver big, ambitious projects quickly,” Scott-Green said. “This has allowed us to bring together a team of the world’s best researchers to work collaboratively in a model that isn’t that common, on a mission to solve a disease, and executing a shared research roadmap that addresses the most pressing questions in the space.”

LCRI’s Henry Scott-Green

A virtual research institute

The remote, collaborative nature of LCRI — none of the founding team have met in person — essentially makes it a virtual research institute. And it plans to adopt a two-pronged approach to achieving its mission, spanning research and therapeutics.

For the initial research phase, scientists from some of the world’s most esteemed institutions will share their collective expertise and study the disease mechanisms that constitute Long COVID, while follow-on clinical trials will strive to put the research program’s findings into real-world treatments.

None of this comes for free, of course, which is where today’s funding announcement comes into play. Buterin, better known as one of the creators of the Ethereum blockchain, is investing around $15 million in USDC stablecoin via the $100 million Balvi fund, which he set up earlier this year specifically for COVID research projects. Additionally, LCRI has secured commitments from the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation (CSSFF), a charitable body led by surgeon, scientist, and billionaire businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong with his philanthropist wife Michele B. Chan.

“Balvi and Vitalik reached out to Amy to ask about supporting her research projects, and the partnership grew from there,” Scott-Green said. “CSSFF has made commitments to donate with a minimum, but we’re still discussing the final amount.”

While $15 million gives LCRI a decent start, it likely won’t be enough for the long haul, which is why it’s targeting some $100 million in funding in the coming years — with plans to eventually expand its model to related conditions such as Epstein-Barr virus and enteroviruses. But first, they need to get to grips with Long COVID.

“In one to two years, we want to have raised substantially more funding for Long COVID research and have extensive research and clinical trials programs underway,” Scott-Green continued. “We will have our first results from the research program, and we will be able to use those results to inform our clinical trials efforts. Our sole focus is on finding answers for the people who are suffering with Long COVID, and our goals are to understand the disease mechanisms, and identify treatment options.”

Virtual research institute battles Long COVID with backing from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

It’s the era of at-home health diagnostics and Senzo is finding its flow

Biotech company Senzo just raised a $2 million round at a $20 million pre-money valuation to further extend options for lateral flow diagnostics. “Lateral flow,” in this case, is the same type of testing you’ve seen from at-home pregnancy or COVID-19 tests.

The company is creating a product it calls Amplified Lateral Flow (ALF). For starters, it’s hoping to bring a COVID-19 at-home rapid test through regulatory approval and then to market, but the company has a plethora of other tests up its proverbial sleeves.

The innovation is in the “amplified” part of the ALF — the company recently announced promising results from a third-party study demonstrating that its ALF COVID-19 antigen test was 100% accurate in concordance with PCR testing, even in cases with very low viral loads. That’s where other at-home lateral flow tests often come up short and (part of) the reason why we do PCR testing in the first place. The upshot is that the ALF tech enables better and earlier detection of viruses.

“Our vision at Senzo is clear: to make the diagnosis of disease as fast, simple, inexpensive, and accurate as taking a temperature or blood pressure reading,” Jeremy Stackawitz, CEO of Senzo told TechCrunch in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the potential for accurate point-of-care diagnostics. Our ALF technology converts that potential to reality in myriad applications where more and earlier diagnosis results in better patient outcomes and more timely and cost-effective patient care.”

Senzo is also working on lateral flow tests for at-home and professional use for other applications. The company suggests that a wide variety of infections — including influenza, HIV, tuberculosis, strep, hepatitis C, sexually transmitted infections and many viruses — could be candidates for at-home tests. These diseases are usually diagnosed in central laboratories, with the cost and time implications thereof.

The company recently announced the $2 million equity funding round led by BioAdvance. Wellness Coaches also participated in the round. The company tells me it raised at a $20 million pre-money valuation and points out that that was a huge step up from its Q1 2021 fundraising valuation. The company views the round as being pre-seed, suggesting it will raise a larger Series A in early 2023.

FDA won’t require lengthy clinical trials for COVID-19 boosters

Future COVID-19 vaccine boosters won’t have to go through a traditional, lengthy clinical trial process to attain emergency use authorization in the U.S., according to a report in Reuters. An agency official, speaking to the publication today, said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will instead rely on data from trials on shots developed earlier in the pandemic to combat specific virus variants as well as manufacturing data in considering whether to clear boosters for administration. Preclinical animal study and safety data might also be used, the official said.

As The Verge notes in its coverage of the news, the COVID-19 variant known as omicron has branched into multiple substrains since emerging late last year, including BA.4 and BA.5. The FDA is encouraging vaccine producers to target BA.4 and BA.5 — the most widespread lineages in the U.S. But boosters currently in testing target an earlier omicron version dubbed BA.1.

Boosters targeting BA.1 are still effective against BA.4 and BA.5, early data from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech suggests. But the immune response they generate against the newer lineages is weaker than the response against BA.1. Pfizer is also developing BA.4- and BA.5-specific booster, which is in the early testing  stages.

New boosters are expected to be available in the fall fall. It remains unclear, however, how many eligible folks will seek them out. Across the U.S., over 78% of the population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. But it’s proven to be an immense challenge to get subsequent doses to adults, with one study showing that as many as 50% of people failed to get a follow-up shot — or shots —  within a year after their first.

With omicron, nearly 60% in U.S. have been infected during pandemic, according to stats released in April from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, national hospitalizations from COVID-19 are averaging around 1,400 to 10,500, with deaths hovering between 1,300 and 4,600.

In an encouraging development this week, COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for children as young as 6 months old.

Startups keep laying off swaths of employees as the downturn continues

It’s nearly been two months since we started this accidental weekly column about layoffs happening within startups. Workforce reductions have impacted startup employees in every massive sector, from crypto to SaaS to edtech and mobility. And what felt at first like a trend that only impacted growth-stage startups that had gotten over their skis, a much wider swath of companies has begun letting employees know they are making meaningful cuts.

TechCrunch listed this week’s known and confirmed layoffs below:

Ro cuts 18% of staff despite narrowing focus, raising additional capital

Ro, a healthcare unicorn that last raised $150 million just months ago at a $7 billion valuation, has cut 18% of its staff to “manage expenses, increase the efficiency of our organization and better map our resources to our current strategy,” leadership wrote in an e-mail obtained by TechCrunch and confirmed by multiple sources.

“Due to our obligation to protect patient healthcare information, there will not be a transition period for those departing the company,” the e-mail continues. “We know that this will feel abrupt and hope you can find alternative ways to connect to say goodbye to your teammates.” Impacted employees will get two months of severance pay and support for job placement. The healthcare unicorn is offering two months of paid healthcare benefits.

Ro confirmed the news to TechCrunch and provided a copy of the aforementioned e-mail that CEO Zachariah Reitano sent to staff. A spokeswoman said that Ro is still hiring.

Ro’s decision to lay people off comes after a number of executives left the company, including Ro COO George Koveos, GM of Ro Pharmacy Steve Buck and most recently, Modern Fertility co-founder Afton Vechery. Vechery’s departure, which happened around one year after her company was acquired by Ro, has been rumored for over six months — first sparked by an employee exodus that peaked last year. At that time, former and current employees spoke about rising tensions at Ro that were caused by the health tech company’s inability to gain meaningful revenue from newer products.

MasterClass cut 20%, or 120 people, of its team

MasterClass, an education platform that sells subscriptions to celebrity-taught classes, has cut 20% of its team to “adapt to the worsening macro environment and get to self-sustainability faster,” CEO David Rogier tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. The layoff impacts roughly 120 people across all teams, but no C-suite executives were cut, a MasterClass spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch.

“Our mission — to make it possible for anyone to learn from the best — hasn’t and won’t change,” Rogier continued on Twitter. “This very tough step will strengthen our position both financially and strategically, allowing us to serve our members, employees and instructors for many years to come.”

A MasterClass spokesperson said that the company will be offering 11 weeks of base pay to all employees as part of a severance package, with one additional week for every year spent at MasterClass. The company is also waiving the one-year investing cliff, and employees will have the chance to extend options. The startup has committed to covering employee healthcare through the end of the year. It is also providing mental health counseling until the end of the year and job counseling for the next three months. Laptops can be kept for personal use.

Superpedestrian, Voi continue layoffs in the micro-mobility world

Voi Technology announced this week that it has cut 35 jobs, or 10% of its staff, to focus on ‘further increasing” profitability and a goal to reduce headquarter-related costs, per Mathias Hermansson, chief financial officer and deputy CEO at Voi. Meanwhile, Superpedestrian confirmed to TechCrunch that it will be reducing the size of its global team by 7%, impacting 35 employees.

As TC’s Rebecca Bellan points out, the micro-mobility industry, which has long struggled to be profitable, is starting to get hit by layoffs. A few weeks ago, scooter company Bird laid off 23% of its staff.

Netflix (again)

Netflix has laid off 300 people, or around 3% of its workforce, because of slowing growth and the downturn. This is the entertainment company’s third round of layoffs in three months: it let go of 150 staffers in May, a number of staffers for its editorial arm in April, and now is cutting a large chunk of U.S. employees, with some impacted in Asia Pacific, Latin America and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), as well.

As Ivan Mehta reports, “the company hit a growth roadblock this year, as it lost more than 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter. At that time, the firm said that it expects to lose 2 million global paid subscribers in the second quarter. The company cited the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the COVID pandemic and password sharing as some primary factors causing the slowdown.”

Netflix stock, which was around $512 a year ago, is trading at $188 at time of publication.

Canada sunsets its COVID Alert app based on the iOS and Android exposure notification API

The Government of Canada today announced that it is ending use of the app it commissioned based on the COVID-19 exposure alert API developed jointly by Google and Apple as a measure to help combat the spread of the illness. The system is disabled immediate, according to a government alert, which also advises users to delete the COVID Alert app from their devices.

As to why it’s ending the program, the release indicates that it’s tied to a significant drop in PCR testing in the country, which is resulting in very few one-time keys being issued to patients for use in the app, so usage has apparently slowed to a trickle.

Canada implemented the COVID Alert app in July 2020, and Health Canada says that since then it’s been downloaded by 6.9 million people, and provided notifications of exposures on behalf of 57,000 people who tested positive and entered their one-time key into the app.l

The COVID Alert app was developed in part by engineers at Shopify, with security review by BlackBerry, working in collaboration with provincial and federal government resources.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, the health system is seeing record demand — mostly due to spin-off effects from COVID, including staff outages, rather than COVID cases themselves. Wastewater data (the best source of infection info since most at-scale PCR testing programs have been suspended) from Ontario also indicates a rise in COVID cases in the province over the past couple of weeks.

FDA clears COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized user of the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech, and from Moderna, for kids between 6 months and 5 years of age. The FDA’s decision follows a length review process, and the dosage for children under 5 is greatly reduced relative to those for older children and adults.

While Pfizer’s vaccine was previously authorized in the U.S. for people 5 and up, Moderna’s inoculation was limited to those aged 18 or above. The new authorization clears use of Moderna for children aged 6 months to 17 years.

This isn’t the final step before inoculation programs begin for the new age groups: The Centers for Disease Control will offer additional guidance and a recommendation, which is a step not strictly required, but usually followed, by doctors and pharmacists who perform the inoculations. Still, vaccinations for those under 5 in the U.S. could begin rolling out as soon as Monday.

The FDA’s decision is based on tests of more than 4,526 volunteer participants, while Moderna’s is based on a study involving over 6,300 children.