Innovation Wrap: Psychedelic Medicine, Stripe’s Carbon-Removal Efforts, Infinite Billie

By Thomas Rice | More Articles by Thomas Rice


Here’s your wrap of the latest technology, innovation, and finance news.

?️  Ecommerce

The New York Times discussed Farfetch and the new alliance of luxury brands. Farfetch stock is up 91% this month.

The move united two of the biggest groups in luxury in common cause and potentially formed a bridge between two of the dominant luxury e-commerce platforms: Farfetch and Yoox Net-a-Porter, also owned by Richemont. It also set the stage for a potential realignment of the online retail landscape, currently suspended between the poles of Amazon and Alibaba, as luxury gravitates toward the ever-increasing might of the Chinese consumer market.

More retailers are experimenting with virtual stores to replicate that in-store feeling. Here’s Ralph Lauren Beverly Hills and Charlotte Tilbury.

But the pandemic is prompting more companies to use technology in new ways to connect with consumers, said Mikey Vu, partner at Bain & Co., a consulting firm. And some retailers now introducing such experiences say they will continue to operate, at least for a few months.

? Finance

Investors have piled into risky ETFs this year.

Leveraged and inverse ETFs have raked in $16.3 billion through the first 10 months of the year, on pace to top 2008’s record haul of $16.7 billion, according to Morningstar. The funds use leverage to double or triple daily returns and sometimes offer investors a chance to profit off the inverse, or opposite, of an index’s move.

Salesforce is reportedly in talks to acquire Slack, which at over $17 billion would be Salesforces’s largest acquisition to date.

While Slack’s fortunes have flagged in a year when other cloud software stocks have been a hot commodity on Wall Street, its potential strategic value to Salesforce looks undiminished.

Created as a new form of channel-based chat service, Slack has evolved into a broader workplace tool. As more and more of a typical company’s activities are handled through software, the Slack service has become a starting point for an increasing range of activities, making it a window for tapping into other applications to do things like launch a video conference or track invoices.

If you’re interested in the Slack bull thesis, TDM Growth Partners in Sydney pitched the stock at the Sohn Hearts & Minds conference less than two weeks before this happened (10-minute video).

Bloomberg told the story of Navinder Sarao, the British day trader the US government accused of causing the May 2010 flash crash that wiped one trillion dollars off the stock market (24-minute video).

?  Health

Computer simulations have identified a new way to reverse the natural aging process in cells (see the paper). The findings were validated with laboratory experiments.

“Our research opens the door for a new generation that perceives aging as a reversible biological phenomenon,” says Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho of the Department of Bio and Brain engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), who led the research with colleagues from KAIST and Amorepacific Corporation in Korea.

Bristol Myers Squibb is paying $55 million upfront to Schrödinger for access to their molecular simulation platform for drug discovery, and up to an additional $2.7 billion if the small molecules being investigated reach certain milestones. Schrödinger stock was up 15% over the week.

The company’s discovery platform proved the impetus for such a deal, which CEO Ramy Farid stressed to Endpoints News is not one of the many machine learning or AI-based technologies that have taken the biotech world by storm. Rather, Schrödinger’s platform creates physics-based molecular simulations that can predict how molecules and compounds will bind to proteins before even stepping foot in the wet lab.

Psychadelic drugs are increasingly being used to treat mental health as acceptance grows among the medical, psychiatric, and pharmacological communities (11-minute video).

All of this is not only revolutionary, but potentially disruptive to the estimated $16 billion antidepressant drug market.

CRISPR gene editing of brain cells might prevent Alzheimer’s disease (see the paper).

The A673T variant is found in roughly 1 in 150 people in Scandinavia, but is rare elsewhere. Because its benefits kick in very late in life, it isn’t selected for by evolution, says Tremblay, meaning the variant doesn’t spread.

Engineering the variant into people’s brain cells could have many of the same benefits as inheriting it, he believes. His team has taken the first step to proving that by showing that beta-amyloid production is reduced when this change is made in human cells growing in a culture dish.

Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and biotech company Organovo have 3D-printed miniature human kidneys, which could help with screening new drugs for toxicity (see the paper).

“Drug development is a very expensive business, but it’s most expensive because most products don’t reach the market, they get to clinical trial, and they’re found to be either not effective or not safe,” Professor Little said. “And the toxicity of a new drug to the kidney is one of the main problems. We don’t find that out until we reach humans because we don’t have good models. And so being able to screen whether a new drug is toxic to the kidney, using a human kidney grown in a dish we think will be a big ­advantage.”

Professor Little said she hoped that full-sized 3D printed kidneys could be made available to those whose only option for long-term health was a transplant.

?  Gaming

A study by researchers at the University of Oxford found that playing video games in lockdown can be good for mental health.

The researchers found that people who played the games for longer reported feeling better, on average, than those who barely played at all (see chart). They stopped short of claiming that playing time directly affected well-being, noting that people who already felt good might have been more inclined to pick up a controller. Nor did they look at the effect of playing on people who are not habitual gamers. They did find, however, that certain feelings provided by video games, such as a sense of freedom and competence, improved the players’ sense of well-being while they played. A greater feeling of social connection from playing with others in the game, crucial when friends cannot meet in person, also boosted their mood.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a technological marvel that’s only possible due to the rise of cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Noclip explores how the game was made in this 34-minute documentary.

?  Environment

The Atlantic covered Stripe’s efforts to kickstart the carbon-removal market.

In this era of greenwashing and sustainable everything, its program, called Stripe Climate, is one of the most compelling corporate climate initiatives now running.

“The biggest challenge when you’re trying to bring a new technology to bear on something like carbon removal is: How do you come down the cost curve?” Peter Reinhardt, the chief executive of Charm Industrial, one of Stripe’s carbon-removal clients, told me. Right now it costs $600 to sequester a ton of carbon using Charm’s technique, but it won’t become a competitive product in carbon markets until that cost is down to about $200 a ton. “By the time we deliver on our contracts with Stripe and others, we’ll be down the cost curve by 10 percent,” Reinhardt said.

⚙️  Mobility

Zoox talked about how they use computer vision in their self-driving system, including how they spot things like construction workers and distracted pedestrians (6-minute video).

California has authorised two new programs to allow commercial robotaxi operations.

The two new programs — the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program and the Driverless Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program — “allow participants to offer passenger service, shared rides, and accept monetary compensation for rides in autonomous vehicles,” CPUC said in a statement.

⚡ Other Snippets

Being in space does weird things to your body.

In a set of 19 studies published today in a slew of different journals (along with 10 preprints still under peer review), researchers like Mason (a senior author on 14 of the papers) studied the physiological, biochemical, and genetic changes that occurred in 56 astronauts (including Kelly) who have spent time in space—the largest study of its kind ever conducted.

The researchers highlight six biological changes that occur in all astronauts during spaceflight: oxidative stress (an excessive accumulation of free radicals in the body’s cells), DNA damage, dysfunction of the mitochondria, changes in gene regulation, alterations in the length of telomeres (the ends of chromosomes, which shorten with age), and changes in the gut microbiome.

Spot (the robotic dog from Boston Dynamics) is being used by architectural firm Foster + Partners to monitor construction progress in London.

Deutsche Bank is considering a permanent 2-day work-from-home policy.

Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing previously said Deutsche Bank will increase the amount of work employees can do from home, as the lender seeks to offer more flexibility and cut down on real estate costs. The new work model is expected to make a significant contribution to an ambitious savings target he unveiled last year.

Bad Guy by Billie Eilish has been covered thousands of times on YouTube; now YouTube has used AI to create an infinite video that mixes them all.

About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

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