• Don’t be surprised when your office installs a sanitation robot
  • Your grandkids’ favorite social media platform could be your next great investment
  • Write down the name of this early stage biotech company…

Dear Reader,

It has almost become difficult to find any news coverage on COVID-19 these days. I checked the websites of a bunch of mainstream news outlets, and COVID-19 was almost nowhere to be found.

Old news? I don’t think so.

While the number of active cases is clearly on the decline along with daily new cases and mortalities, the world will be dealing with the pandemic for some time. In most places, severe restrictions are still in place.

I keep a close eye on medical journals and new research published to make sure I have the latest information about testing and clinical trials.

Dr. Eric Topol – director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California – published some research that summarizes COVID-19 testing studies. The data on the percentage of those who tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic – showed no symptoms – was interesting.

Here is a snapshot of some of the results:

Summary of SARS-Cov-2 Testing Studies

Iceland residents

43% asymptomatic

Vo, Italy, residents

42.2% asymptomatic

Diamond Princess cruise ship

46.5% asymptomatic

Boston homeless shelter

87.8% asymptomatic

New York City obstetric patients

87.9% asymptomatic

U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt

58.4% asymptomatic

Greeks evacuated from the U.K., Spain, and Turkey

87.5% asymptomatic

Los Angeles homeless shelter

62.8% asymptomatic

Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia inmates

96% asymptomatic

New Jersey university and hospital employees

65.9% asymptomatic

Indiana residents

44.8% asymptomatic

Argentine cruise ship

81.3% asymptomatic

San Francisco residents

52.7% asymptomatic

Source: Daniel P. Oran, A.M., Eric J. Topol, M.D., Annals of Internal Medicine

It is very clear from many studies conducted to date that the majority of those who get COVID-19 don’t feel a thing. Yet this gets little coverage in the media.

Additionally, the majority of those who are symptomatic have mild or moderate conditions that do not require medical care.

When we see large numbers of daily new cases, it implies higher levels of testing – in the U.S. alone, almost 20 million tests have been run.

The world continues to need antibody testing – specifically, serological tests that can determine what percentage of a group has already had COVID-19. There has been little done in this area so far.

Now to our insights…

Anti-COVID-19 robot greeters are coming…

Right now, offices around the world remain shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And when they reopen, some large office buildings could have a new addition…

Fully autonomous robot greeters have appeared in lobbies in Seoul, South Korea, to help ward off COVID-19. These robots ensure that everyone entering an office building is wearing a mask. And they also check each person’s temperature using thermal imaging.

To help with cleanliness, the front of the robot is equipped with a hand sanitizer dispenser. And get this: On the side of these robots is a bay of ultraviolet (UV) bulbs that can disinfect a 350-square-foot surface area in just 10 minutes. Here’s a visual:

Robot Greeting Visitors in Lobby

Source: Business Times

This robot caught my eye because it is an impressive convergence of technologies.

It uses autonomous driving technology to move around. It is connected to 5G wireless networks in Seoul. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision (CV) to check for masks and social distancing. It’s laden with sensors to navigate its surroundings and take people’s temperature.

And it is equipped with a hand sanitizer station as well as UV rays for disinfecting the building.

Talk about a tech-heavy product. This is an example of what convergence looks like.

And we can easily imagine seeing these in the lobbies of major office buildings downtown. These robots will help organizations follow whatever present and future COVID-19 guidelines are established by each state, province, municipality, or country. This level of automation makes it much easier.

Wireless operator SK Telecom and Omron Electronics developed the robot, and others are developing similar robots.

We shouldn’t be surprised if we walk into our office building one day soon and are greeted not by a receptionist but by one of these autonomous robots.

The fastest social media app to reach one billion users…

We have to talk about TikTok today.

This is the latest fad in social media. TikTok’s platform hosts short self-produced videos of people doing funny or silly or skilled things.

TikTok was popular mostly with teenagers at first. If you have children or grandchildren, they might already use it.

But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, TikTok saw a spike in adult users as well. In fact, it is the fastest social media platform to reach one billion users. Look at this graph:

TikTok has reached one billion users in less than three years. For comparison, it took Facebook about eight years to hit that target.

Talk about rapid growth. And now TikTok has more users than Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. That’s impressive.

And I see TikTok as the “fat tail” of social media. There are hashtag categories to find videos on pretty much any topic you can think of.

For example, the magic tricks hashtag has over 567 million views. And that’s for an evergreen topic.

I looked up #blacklivesmatter on TikTok, given the protests happening around the country, and the results are astounding. TikTok videos in this category have gotten 5.3 billion views. That many eyeballs in one place surely has advertisers drooling.

We may think this is a silly product. But as technology investors, we need to keep an eye on TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

ByteDance is a private company now valued between $105 and $140 billion today. At these levels, it is certainly gearing up to go public.

But the company has a little more work to do first…

ByteDance got in trouble last year because it violated child privacy laws in the U.S.

It’s legal for companies to harvest and sell data on adult users but not children under age 13 without parents’ explicit consent. However, TikTok has been collecting data on all its users, regardless of age, and sending it back to headquarters in China.

ByteDance was ultimately fined for this and ordered to delete all the data on children. Advocacy groups question whether ByteDance has complied with this order.

That makes TikTok controversial when it comes to its privacy practices. I, for one, won’t be using TikTok, just as I don’t use Facebook. I’d be uncomfortable with my children using it as well.

But the funny thing is, consumers don’t seem to care. They are flocking to TikTok in droves because of its novel approach to social media.

So ByteDance needs to build up its business and reputation in the U.S. before doing an IPO on a U.S. exchange. And yes, many Chinese tech companies prefer to go public on U.S. exchanges because that’s where they can get the best valuations.

Bottom line: As a consumer, be aware of TikTok’s data collection practices. As an investor, let’s keep an eye out for an IPO.

The first COVID-19 antibody therapy just started a Phase 1 clinical trial…

We’ll wrap up today with a positive development on the COVID-19 front.

We may have heard the term “antibody therapy” in the news. Our bodies create antibodies from specialized white blood cells to fight off viruses. They are a key part of our natural immune system.

An antibody therapy involves taking antibodies from a patient who has successfully fought off a virus, recreating those antibodies, and injecting them into other patients to give them similar immunity.

And the first COVID-19 antibody therapy is now being tested in a Phase 1 clinical trial.

Thirty-two patients will be treated at different dosage levels to ensure the therapy is safe. If the trial is successful, the therapy will move into a Phase 2 trial this summer, where the focus will be on whether the therapy works to fight off the virus.

And the company behind this new antibody therapy may surprise us. The industry considered Regeneron and Vir Biotechnology in the lead when it comes to antibody therapies. But Eli Lilly is backing this first antibody therapy to hit clinical trials.

Yet there’s more to the story…

Eli Lilly is really just the pharmaceutical company to support the trials and, ultimately, the commercialization of the therapy. A Vancouver-based early stage company called AbCellera is the one that is developing the therapy.

AbCellera took the blood from an early COVID-19 patient back in February. It then used them to create its own antibodies that resemble those found in the patient’s blood.

Not surprisingly, AbCellera raised $105 million just last week on the back of this work. And the company has some smart money backing it. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are among those who have invested in AbCellera.

So this company is now cashed up and moving aggressively into the Food and Drug Administration clinical trial process with its COVID-19 antibody therapy. As such, I fully expect AbCellera to go public within the next 12–18 months. Let’s add it to our early stage watchlist.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge

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