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  • AI is our “secret weapon” for fighting the COVID-19 virus

Dear Reader,

As promised, today I’d like to share promising developments in some very early data from clinical trials working on a solution to COVID-19.

Note that these results are from a very limited number of patients, and larger trials for both safety and efficacy need to be conducted before there are any real victories. But there is most certainly cause for optimism.

A drug produced by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, favipiravir (also known as Avigan), has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Originally, it was developed as a treatment for new strains of influenza. China’s science and technology ministry said that the drug “has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment.”

The drug has already been used in a clinical trial involving 340 patients in Wuhan and Shenzhen, China.

Patients who received favipiravir turned negative for the virus after a median of four days after being diagnosed as positive for COVID-19. This is contrasted by a median of 11 days for patients who did not receive the drug.

Equally positive is that X-rays were able to confirm improvements in lung conditions in 91% of the patients that were treated with favipiravir. However, these early results also indicate that the drug is not that effective for patients that have severe symptoms.

In addition to favipiravir’s positive progress, a combination of two existing drugs, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, has also shown promise. In the chart below, we can see that by day five after the combination treatment, patients no longer tested positive for COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine is an analog of chloroquine, which is an antimalarial drug that has received a lot of press over the last week as showing promise against COVID-19. Azithromycin is a common antibiotic used for bacterial infections.

As we can see in the blue line above, hydroxychloroquine does show some level of efficacy against COVID-19, but the best results came from the combination of the two drugs.

Worth mentioning is that the trial was only composed of 36 patients, six of whom were asymptomatic (they had COVID-19 but were showing no symptoms at all). Obviously, this was a much smaller trial than the one with favipiravir (about a tenth of the size). These are still very early days. And we’ll wait for more data to see if this therapy proves to be effective with a larger trial.

The use of these existing drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 will act as a bridge until we have an actual vaccine for COVID-19. Early trials for vaccines are beginning over the next few months and most certainly will continue, at a larger scale, into 2021.

As a final note: You may have seen stories recently about people hoarding hydroxychloroquine. Some have even hurt themselves by self-medicating. I hope it goes without saying, but that is a very bad idea. Please, let’s allow the clinical trials to progress so we can better understand the safety and efficacy of these therapies.

Now let’s turn to today’s insights…

Apple’s new iPad Pro is the gateway to augmented reality…

News is out that Apple is putting a lidar scanner in the new iPad Pro.

Lidar is a technology that can produce a 3D image of the space around it. Self-driving cars often use it to “see” the objects around them.

What’s exciting about this is that it will bring augmented reality (AR) to the masses. As a reminder, AR is a technology that overlays video, images, and data on top of the user’s actual surroundings. It is like placing computer graphics as an overlay on top of our real world.

To showcase the new technology, Apple demonstrated a game called Hot Lava. The game projects lava onto the floor. Then players must make an avatar jump from one piece of furniture to another to avoid the lava. Here’s a visual:

The Hot Lava Game

Source: The Verge

And gaming isn’t the only application for AR. We will see many other useful apps developed to take advantage of this technology.

For example, a physical therapy app could examine a patient’s angle or range of movement, issue a diagnosis, and tailor a recovery program – all from the patient’s living room.

This is a particularly relevant application considering so many are stuck at home to stop the spread of COVID-19. In fact, I haven’t been able to see my physical therapist for the last two weeks (I’m still recovering from my shoulder surgery).

Alternately, an interior design app could project items into our homes so we can see how things look before we buy them. This would be useful when shopping for new furniture, paintings, or decorations.

In the same way, a fashion app could allow us to “try on” clothes before we buy them online. We would just need someone to hold the iPad up with the camera pointed at us. Then the app would produce a picture of what we would look like wearing various outfits.

And I believe this application would be useful now more than ever. Think about it. With so many people self-isolating, fewer and fewer customers are going to retail stores to try on clothes or look at new furniture.

But imagine if you could sample these items via an AR application and then order them directly to your doorstep. There would be almost immediate demand.

So we can expect to see an explosion of creative AR applications come from this. Once the hardware is in place, the applications can proliferate. And it will be interesting to see how Apple’s new lidar technology compares to Google’s smartphone radar sensors, which we talked about yesterday.

We can certainly expect lidar and/or radar to become standard in mid- to high-end smartphones and tablets. And that will accelerate AR adoption… which will ultimately be a gateway to high-end AR eyewear.

Square is going to disrupt the banking industry…

Payment processing company Square just got approval from federal and state regulators to become a bank. That’s right, this scrappy technology startup is going to become a traditional bank headquartered in Utah.

The bank’s name is Square Financial Services. And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will supervise it, just like all other banks.

This is incredibly exciting. Regular readers know that I have been following Square (SQ) for years now. In fact, I first recommended the company in my Exponential Tech Investor service back in August 2016. We ended up booking gains of 221% on the stock about 16 months later.

What’s unique here is that Square is fundamentally a technology company. Square simply developed a payment processing system that made life easier for small and midsize businesses. That’s how it got started. Then it backed into the financial services industry.

The payment processing system gave Square all kinds of data on the companies it serves. Revenue… cash flows… inventory – all of it is tracked in Square’s database. And that’s how the company got into financial services.

Square applied artificial intelligence (AI) to this data and used it to offer small business loans at exactly the right time.

Customers can accept these loans and get funded with just a few clicks on their terminal. It’s a far more pleasant experience than walking into a bank. No time is lost, and the loan is automatically paid back as a small percentage of the sales revenue that Square processes.

This convenience has enabled Square to grow its customer base to over 24 million monthly active customers. And because of its AI-driven analytics, Square can issue these loans at nearly zero cost.

Compare that to the incumbents. Traditional banks do not like serving small and midsize businesses. Often, it’s just not profitable for them. That’s because it’s expensive for a bank to acquire a customer. And since smaller businesses don’t do high-volume business with the bank, the margins are paper-thin.

Plus, the bank doesn’t have real-time data on how its small business customers are doing daily. All it has are static financial statements. And that makes its loans far riskier… and its default rates higher.

The incumbents have been fighting to keep Square from getting a bank charter because they know it has a competitive advantage. Now we’re going to see how far that advantage takes the company.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Square is now 45% off its recent high. With so many small businesses closed in the wake of COVID-19, the concern is that fewer payments are being processed with Square’s terminals.

This is a short-term overreaction. The long-term prospects of the company have never been brighter.

Another early stage biotech company is using AI to fight COVID-19…

We’ll conclude today with another piece of good news in the fight against COVID-19…

We just got big news from an early stage Canadian biotech firm called AbCellera. This is a tiny company in Vancouver that employs about 100 people.

Less than a month ago, AbCellera received a blood sample from a patient who recovered from COVID-19. The company used artificial intelligence (AI) to screen more than five million immune cells in that sample. And it identified about 500 antibodies that helped the patient fight off the virus.

This is incredible. These antibodies may very well be the key to fighting COVID-19. And the industry took notice…

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly rushed to partner with AbCellera. The two will work on a treatment leveraging these antibodies. And they hope to advance a therapy into FDA clinical trials this summer. Naturally, we can expect to see an expedited review process. That’s great news.

Perhaps more impressive is how fast this happened.

It took AbCellera 11 days to comb through the five million immune cells and identify the antibodies for therapeutic development. This is something that historically would have taken years to do. That’s the power of applying AI to precision medicine.

And I should mention that the entire biotechnology industry is moving in this direction. The pace of development is unlike anything I’ve seen before. This type of thing just wasn’t possible without the advanced AI and computing power we have today.

So this is another great development in the fight against COVID-19. I remain confident that we’ll weather this storm and get back to normal sooner rather than later.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge

P.S. As we continue to see great progress made in the fight against COVID-19, I want to remind you of the emergency briefing I mentioned yesterday.

In this briefing, we smash some dangerous myths about COVID-19. We reveal the one critical item everyone in your family should have – and it’s not a surgical mask.

We provide a list of the 10 stocks every investor should avoid during this crisis. We detail the one biotech company that could lead the race to provide a treatment for COVID-19.

And we release the tech stocks every investor needs to own right now – even during this market volatility. While many companies are suffering, others are prospering.

I believe this information is critical right now. The mainstream media is fomenting fear and panic… but offering little useful information. I want to fill in those gaps in a rational, objective way. To access the emergency briefing, simply go here.

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