- A CRISPR pioneer is taking the fight to COVID-19
- “Natural killer” cells could be the secret to battling COVID-19
- Pittsburgh’s medical school is developing a COVID-19 vaccine, and you won’t believe how it wants to administer it…
I’m going all in on technology related to COVID-19 today. There are just too many positive developments not to.
In the last 24 hours, the rate of hospitalization in the New York area has continued to decline along with the number of intubations and patients placed in intensive care.
New York state governor, Andrew Cuomo, also stated that the number of deaths from COVID-19 over the last few days has been “effectively flat.”
While any unnecessary death is heartbreaking, the data are showing us that we are peaking and can expect a continued decline in the number of new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations.
This is bringing us one step closer to the day when we can return to school and work. And yes, that is cause for optimism.
The stock market certainly agrees. At writing, the S&P 500 is up nearly 10% from Monday. And while it is too soon for the travel and hospitality sector to rebound from my perspective, this is cause for a bounce in asset prices.
Days ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an emergency authorization for a rapid antibody test for COVID-19.
This serological test uses a finger prick of blood to determine if someone has had COVID-19. The test can determine the presence of antibodies used to successfully fight off COVID-19.
Those who are curious whether they had COVID-19 during the last three months can get this test with a prescription.
Hopefully, countries around the world will run serological tests on a large population to determine how far and widespread COVID-19 has been transmitted. It is the only way for us to have accurate data on what percentage of the population has already contracted COVID-19 and not known it.
Last week, I wrote about a recent study out of Oxford that estimated somewhere between 36% and 68% of the population in the U.K. had already contracted COVID-19.
I suspect the same is true in the U.S. and many other countries that are widely engaged in international trade and tourism.
And more data is coming to support an early spread of COVID-19.
Get this… In December, January, and February, 759,493 people entered the U.S. from China.
Only about 228,000 of those were Americans returning home, and the rest were Chinese citizens traveling for business, school, or tourism. That’s more than 530,000, many of whom many have contracted COVID-19.
We can think of it this way. If the exponential growth was just doubling each day (e.g., one person will infect two, then those two infect four the next day, and so on), by day 28, more than 200 million Americans will have contracted COVID-19. That’s how fast it happens.
While we’re now standing at 11,851 total deaths in the U.S., we can also put these numbers in context. During the U.S. 2017–2018 influenza season, about 61,000 people died.
Here’s my prediction: We will not reach anywhere near those levels with COVID-19.
And even Anthony Fauci, the top immunologist in the U.S., is beginning to change his position. He admitted that there is a chance that the total number of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 may fall below the lowest previous estimate of 100,000.
We’ve come a long way from the prediction of 2.2 million deaths from the Imperial College in the U.K.
And as we’ll see below, both the private sector and academia couldn’t be more focused on developing a therapy, supporting testing, or finding a vaccine to manage the effects of COVID-19 the world over.
There are now an incredible 254 clinical trials exploring vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, with many more in the pipeline.
The positive and proactive actions being taken by the private sector, academia, and the government are unlike anything we have ever seen before. And these efforts will make the world far better prepared for the next outbreak in the future.
Now let’s turn to our insights…
One of CRISPR’s founders is leading the charge to test for COVID-19…
We’ll start today with big news in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Jennifer Doudna just converted a 2,500-square-foot lab at UC Berkeley into a testing center for COVID-19. I’ll explain why this is important in a minute. But first a little background…
Working out of UC Berkeley, Doudna was one of the key scientists who developed the CRISPR genetic editing technology.
For the benefit of new readers, CRISPR is like software programming for DNA. It allows us to “edit” the genetic mutations that cause many diseases. Ultimately, CRISPR will help us cure all human disease of genetic origin.
So Doudna’s contribution to the development of CRISPR is historic. And she went on to become one of the founders of CRISPR Therapeutics (CRSP). This is a stock that Exponential Tech Investor subscribers know well. We booked gains of 322% on CRSP back in December.
Doudna was able to use her clout to get the COVID-19 testing lab set up. So far, she and her team can process more than 1,000 patient samples per day with a 24-hour turnaround time. And the lab can scale up to 3,000 samples per day if necessary.
Why is this so important?
An abundance of test kits became available over the last few weeks, but there has been a lack of throughput to analyze the tests and send back data.
In many cases, results can take a week or longer to return. Often, patients have already recovered by the time they receive the test results.
Doudna and the team recognized the need to automate the analysis of the test kits in order to return the results quickly enough to be actionable by health professionals.
As of today, more than two million COVID-19 tests have been run in the U.S. Interestingly, about 81% of those tests came back negative. Either patients were sick with something else, or they contracted COVID-19 and recovered.
And that raises the need for the kind of serology tests that I mentioned earlier. Serology tests can detect antibodies in the blood – something existing COVID-19 test kits can’t do. If we could detect COVID-19 antibodies, we would know whether someone did, in fact, have the virus and recover from it.
With that data, we could better understand the true mortality rate of COVID-19.
From the early data that I have seen so far, I believe that the actual mortality rate is significantly lower than all of the assumptions that have been used around the world.
This early stage company is pioneering a cell therapy approach to treating COVID-19…
New Jersey-based startup Celularity just received FDA approval to take its COVID-19 therapy into clinical trials.
What really caught my eye here is Celularity’s unique approach. It is applying “natural killer” (NK) cell therapy to the coronavirus.
NK cell therapies are typically used to boost the immune system to fight against cancer. Historically, this takes cells from cancer survivors and produces a therapy. The drawback is it takes a lot of time and a lot of money. It’s hard to scale up that way.
Well, Celularity developed a way to derive NK cells from stem cells cultivated from placental tissue. That may sound odd, but most hospitals throw this tissue away every day as medical waste. So Celularity is converting that waste into useful research and potentially a therapy for both cancer and COVID-19…
Most of Celularity’s work is in oncology. But the company believes it has developed an NK therapy that will work against COVID-19. It has a therapy that will go into a Phase 1 clinical trial soon. I will certainly follow its progress closely.
And Celularity has some big financial backing. The company popped up on my radar after its massive $250 million early stage venture capital round in February 2018.
Among the investors in that round were genetics and anti-aging company Human Longevity, pharmaceutical giant Celgene, and former Apple CEO John Sculley. These are some heavy hitters in the industry.
I am excited to see how Celularity’s NK therapy does against COVID-19 in clinical trials. And I think Celularity is also doing fantastic work with its core oncology therapies.
This is a company we should add to our early stage watchlist.
The University of Pittsburgh is getting in on the COVID-19 fight…
And let’s conclude with one more insight in the fight against COVID-19…
The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC) just announced a vaccine for COVID-19. Normally, we would expect to hear such an announcement from a biotechnology company, but the Pittsburgh School of Medicine is experienced in this area.
The team of scientists did extensive research on MERS in 2014 and SARS back in 2003. Both of those coronaviruses were similar to COVID-19 in structure.
And it appears the team at Pittsburgh is on to something.
The vaccine research was just published in The Lancet, which is one of the leading medical journals. That makes this one of the first proposed vaccines that has been peer-reviewed. That’s a great sign.
What’s unique about this vaccine is the delivery mechanism. It uses a microneedle array to deliver the therapy.
It’s a small patch the size of a fingertip that has 400 tiny needles on it. We can think of it like a small bandage that we place on our skin. Then the tiny needles deliver the therapy over time, which teaches the body how to produce antibodies to fight COVID-19.
Here’s what the patch looks like.
The Needle Array
And I should point out that this delivery is not painful. Four hundred needles may sound scary, but they are small enough to fit on a fingertip. That’s small enough that we would hardly feel anything.
So this vaccine shows a lot of promise.
And the great thing about this approach is that the microneedle arrays are easy to mass-produce and simple to administer. People don’t need to worry about getting an injection to get the vaccine. Instead, they just need to put on a small “bandage.”
This ease of use will help speed up adoption tremendously if the vaccine makes it to market.
Editor, The Bleeding Edge
P.S. Don’t forget about my State of 5G investing summit tomorrow night. We’ll kick off at 8 p.m. ET. During the event, we’ll talk about why 5G is such an incredible investment opportunity right now.
We’ve seen a major market pullback as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic… but the build-out of 5G networks hasn’t slowed in the least. In fact, it has sped up. President Trump went so far as to release a paper called the “National Strategy to Secure 5G.”
In it, the president said that 5G will be a primary driver of our nation’s prosperity and security in the 21st century. He even said that this new technology will change the way we live, work, learn, and communicate. This is exactly what I’ve been saying for several years now.
So we’ve got a dynamic right now where 5G stocks have pulled back significantly, but the 5G build-out is accelerating. That’s a disconnect every technology investor should take advantage of.
So please join me tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET. We’ve got an amazing investment window right now, and I want all my readers to capitalize on it. Just go right here to reserve your spot.
See you tomorrow night.
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