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Will COVID-19 vaccines work? What’s the timeline? Here’s the latest on vaccine progress.

Arianne Cohen | Fast Company

Dozens of companies worldwide are swiftly developing COVID-19 vaccines, with trillions of dollars and the health of the planet at stake. Here’s what you need to know:

HOW’S IT GOING?

Roughly 2o vaccines are currently in human trials, eight of those in China. Experts warn that the one-year timeline touted by companies and the Trump administration may not be feasible: Vaccines typically take years to develop and frequently fail human trials. Ignore Phase I and Phase II trial excitement—you don’t find out whether a vaccine works on lots of humans until Phase III.

WHAT VACCINES ARE IN DEVELOPMENT?

Companies are developing afew different vaccine technologies: Novavax and Sanofi are both creating vaccines that work by inserting a viral protein (the antigen) into the body, to provoke an immune response. Moderna and German companies CureVac and BioNTech are using mRNA from COVID-19 to stimulate an immune response—a strategy that has never been used before in a regulated vaccine. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are both delivering coronavirus protection via a benign virus. Moderna, which has not previously brought a successful drug to market, is currently leading the race to large-scale testing in the United States—it’s set to begin Phase 3 testing with 30,000 participants this month.

WILL VACCINES WORK?

Excellent question! Likely not as well as we would like them to. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saysit’s unlikely that a vaccine will confer longterm immunity. “ We’re going to assume that there’s a degree of protection, but we have to assume that it’s going to be finite.” Translation: Booster shots will likely be required.

WHICH VACCINE WILL WORK?

More than one needs to work, because no company has the capacity to swiftly vaccinate everyone, plus boosters. It remains to be seen how most humans on the planet will access a vaccine.

WHAT THE HECK IS OPERATION WARP SPEED?

That’s the Trump administration’s well-funded, multiagency effort to make a vaccine available as soon as possible. In a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, officials refused to disclose which vaccines are front-runners, nor did they say how they are chosen. Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, is a 30-year veteran of GlaxoSmithKline, where he was involved in public deception over the health risks of a blockbuster diabetes drug, Avandia.

DOES OPERATION WARP SPEED GIVE FUNDING?

Oh yes. Today, Novavax, which has never brought a successful medical product to market, announced that it received $1.6 billion in funding to speed the development of 100 million doses of vaccine. British company AstraZeneca was awarded $1.2 billion in May. Other companies, including Sanofi, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna Therapeutics have also received funding.

WHO WINS HERE?

Vaccine companies. A $500 vaccine for the U.S. population would net $150 billion, mostly profit. Moderna’s CEO recently became a billionaire.

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The US government is considering a TikTok ban, says secretary of state

The comments follow months of rising tensions over China

Makena Kelly | The Verge

The US is considering a ban on Chinese social media apps like the popular video-sharing platform TikTok, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Monday.

“We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it,” Pompeo said. “With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, the United States will get this one right too.”

Over the last few years, US lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned over TikTok’s handling of user data and the relationship between its parent company — the Beijing-based ByteDance — and the Chinese government. Lawmakers allege that TikTok could be pressured into handing over data or other intelligence to the Chinese Communist Party.

A TikTok spokesperson responded to Pompeo’s remarks Tuesday in a statement, writing “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

Last week, the Indian government announced that it would ban TikTok and other popular Chinese-connected apps like WeChat over allegations that they are “engaged in activities … prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India.” TikTok responded to the Indian government’s statements, saying, “TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government.”

When asked if he would suggest US citizens use TikTok, Pompeo told Fox News, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Fauci on whether there is evidence of airborne coronavirus spread | NBC

Dr. Anthony Fauci explained that there is not "a lot of definitive evidence" that the coronavirus can transmit through airborne spread, but also warned that it should not be ruled out.

  • Why scientists are eavesdropping on a rainforest in Indonesia?

  • Great Big Story
  • The Kalimantan Rainforest in Borneo, Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse spots on Earth. Bustling with life, the dense greenery is home to orangutans, all kinds of birds, frogs, you name it. But the rainforest won't stay that way if mining and logging continues unchecked. Which is why The Nature Conservancy's Dr. Eddie Game is listening to the sounds of the rainforest to measure the impact of human activity on the area's wildlife.

    Borneo

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    Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes signs most lucrative sports deal in history.

    Kevin Dotson and Hollie Silverman | CNN

    The NFL's Kansas City Chiefs have signed their quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year contract extension that his agent says is the most lucrative contract in sports history.

    Mahomes, who won the NFL MVP award and led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship last season, is now under contract with the Chiefs through the 2031 NFL season. The team announced the contract extension, but did not confirm the terms of the deal.

    The 10-year extension is reportedly worth $450 million. ESPN was first to report on the terms of the contract, followed by NFL Network. The extension brings the total potential value of Mahomes' current contract to as much as $503 million between the 2020 and 2031 NFL seasons, according to ESPN and NFL Network.

    In a post on Instagram, Mahomes' agent Chris Cabott touted the historic nature of the massive contract. "First half billion dollar player in sports history. Largest contract in sports history. First time NFL player has been the highest paid player in sports history," Cabott wrote alongside a picture of Mahomes signing the contract.

    "This is a significant moment for our franchise and for the Chiefs Kingdom," Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said in a statement. "Since he joined the Chiefs just a few years ago, Patrick has developed into one of the most prolific athletes in all of sports."

    "He's an extraordinary leader and a credit to the Kansas City community, and I'm delighted that he will be a member of the Chiefs for many years to come," Hunt added.

    Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid expressed his excitement at the prospect of coaching Mahomes for the foreseeable future, saying in a statement, "I've had the privilege of coaching a lot of incredible athletes and special people in my career, and Patrick is without question on that list of players. The best part is he's still early in his career."

    Mahomes has been with the Chiefs since 2017 when he was selected by the team as the tenth overall pick in the first round of the draft. The Texas native played at Texas Tech before being drafted.

    CNN has reached out to Mahomes' agent for more details on the blockbuster deal.

    Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro gets coronavirus after months of downplaying the pandemic

    The country has more than 1.6 million cases and over 65,000 coronavirus deaths.

    Jen Kirby | VOX

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus, after months of downplaying it as nothing more than a “little flu.”

    Bolsonaro confirmed his diagnosis Tuesday to reporters, saying he felt “fine.” The president reportedly got tested Monday after exhibiting symptoms, including a fever and tiredness. He told supporters Monday that he went to the hospital, and that his lungs were “clean.”

    Bolsonaro’s announcement comes as Brazil is struggling to contain the pandemic. The country has confirmed more than 1.6 million cases of coronavirus and recorded over 65,000 deaths. It is second only to the United States in both number of confirmed cases and fatalities, though those figures are also likely an undercount.

    Bolsonaro’s critics say his cavalier attitude toward the pandemic has undercut attempts to control the virus and stymied any chance at a coordinated federal response, worsening the crisis in Brazil.

    From the start, Bolsonaro has dismissed the illness as a “measly cold” and scoffed at social distancing measures intended to slow its spread, proclaiming in late March that “we’ll all die one day.”

    He’s opposed state governors’ decisions to impose lockdown measures, attended anti-lockdown protests, met with supporters without wearing a mask, and pushed for businesses to reopen despite the growing outbreak. He’s endorsed the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, the controversial antimalarial drugs, though there’s little good evidence they are effective in treating Covid-19. (Bolsonaro has also said he’s taking hydroxychloroquine now.)

    Bolsonaro joins a handful of world leaders who’ve come down with the coronavirus, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. The Brazilian president, who is 65, has undergone at least four tests for the coronavirus, including in March after members of his inner circle tested positive following a visit with US President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

    Whether this confirmed positive result changes how Bolsonaro approaches the pandemic, and the unfolding catastrophe in Brazil, is the “$1 million question,” Valentina Sader, assistant director at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told me.

    “The political outcome of this depends on how well he’s going to be with this disease,” Sader said. “So it’s 100 percent related to that.”

    Bolsonaro tests positive for the coronavirus. Is anyone surprised?

    Bolsonaro has had a few coronavirus scares before, but this time, at least, it’s apparently real. He confirmed his diagnosis with reporters on Tuesday, after reportedly coming down with symptoms.

    The week before, he’d watered down a rule requiring people to wear masks in certain settings. And the weekend before, he attended a Fourth of July party at the US Embassy, which did not seem to include social distancing or mask-wearing. (The US Embassy in Brazil said the US ambassador had tested negative for Covid-19 but that he would quarantine.)

    Bolsonaro is now the highest-profile Covid-19 patient in Brazil, and what that means for the country probably depends largely on one’s politics.

    “This is a very sharp catalyst for nothing changing,” Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, the director for the Latin America region at the Greenmantle LLC, a geopolitical advisory firm, and adjunct professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, said of Bolsonaro’s diagnosis. “Whatever your opinion was of Bolsonaro yesterday, you are going to feel validated by this news.”

    Bolsonaro has previously said he has little to worry about if he gets the coronavirus, and that his “history as an athlete” will protect him. “I wouldn’t feel anything or at the very worst it would be like a little flu or a bit of a cold,” he said in March.

    And if Bolsonaro continues to only experience a mild illness, it would be the ultimate vindication for him and his supporters.

    Bolsonaro has also said he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, which he’s touted as a miracle cure, though research findings don’t bear that out. On Twitter, his son Eduardo touted Bolsonaro’s use of the drug as a reason he’d come out of this, because “chloroquine is very effective at the start of the disease.” (Again, there’s no evidence to back this up.)

    On the other hand, Bolsonaro’s detractors can find their own source of vindication in Bolsonaro’s diagnosis. The president took an anti-science stance — mask-less outings, rejection of social distancing — and wouldn’t you know, he got the coronavirus. Bolsonaro becomes a symbol of his own botched pandemic response.

    His critics will use it to say, “‘Look, even this guy, who dismissed it as nothing but a ‘little flu,’ has caught it,’” Anthony Pereira, professor of Brazilian studies at King’s College London, told me. “And you know, he may well have caught it because of his actions in terms of going out and mingling with people without a mask. I think that it will just reinforce their view that Brazil seems to be competing to be one of the worst country in terms of the way it’s handled the coronavirus.”

    At the same time, experts told me there’s a degree of skepticism around Bolsonaro’s announcement. The coronavirus has devastated the country. Thousands continue to die; hospitals are at their breaking points. The shutdowns, while not uniformly enforced, have hurt the economy, though some cities are reopening, even as experts warn the worst is not yet over. Bolsonaro is also facing political scandals, including investigations into his sons.

    Now that Bolsonaro has the coronavirus, that headline may replace all the others.

    “By one hand, he’s going to change all the subjects from the last week: that we don’t have a health minister, that his sons are really involved in some criminal stuff, and that Brazil is not doing well fighting the epidemic and also economically,” Fernando Brancoli, an associate professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and an associated researcher at the Orfalea Center at the University of California Santa Barbara, told me. “And on the other hand, he’s really going to use this to maintain his initial discourse from the pandemic that it’s not a big deal, he’s going to be fine, he’s taking chloroquine.”

    These competing narratives speak to the level of mistrust and polarization in Brazil right now, which Bolsonaro has helped foment. He attacks the media and pretty much all criticism as “fake news.” He also spreads misinformation — think chloroquine — to achieve his political ends. His well-documented lies also mean it’s hard for his detractors to trust what Bolsonaro says, or his motives.

    As Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez said, the Bolsonaro news is just solidifying the biases people had yesterday. “Either this is a painfully obvious attempt to try to spin a difficult situation for him politically into a stronger position,” he said, “or it’s, ‘Look at how tough our guy is. He has the virus that everybody is complaining about, and he doesn’t really care. He’s doing just fine.’”

    When it comes to Bolsonaro, as Sader said, it’s still quite early to know whether he might change tack, or double down. Sader said she does think it gives the opposition a chance to push for changes, like more restrictive mask measures, or appointing an actual health minister with expertise to help manage the crisis. (Bolsonaro fired one in April who advocated lockdowns, and the other quit about a month later, around the time Bolsonaro was touting chloroquine.)

    It seems less likely, right now, that Bolsonaro will do an about-face on the coronavirus emergency. It would be an admission that he’s completely mismanaged the crisis — and that he only saw it as dangerous, and deadly, when he contracted the virus.

    Bright Pink Snow Is Falling in Europe. That's Bad, Scientists Say.

    Futurism

    Dirty Snow

    If you were to trek up the Italian Alps right now, you’d find your boots covered in a dusting of bizarre, bright pink snow.

    While it’s a beautiful touch that turns the mountaintops into an alien landscape, Earther reports that the pink snow is actually a pretty bad sign. The pink color comes from blooming algae. And while the full extent of its impact on the environment is poorly understood, it could speed up the rate at which snow melts away.

    What We Know

    It’s not so much that the algae is melting the snow itself, Earther reports. But rather, turning the snow into pink “strawberry snow,” as it’s sometimes called, makes it absorb more heat from sunlight, which causes it to melt sooner.

    Blooms like this aren’t unheard of — they’re a relatively common occurrence in glaciers in the spring and summer. It’s not yet clear if rising temperatures linked to climate change will mean more blooms in the future, Earther reports, but there is the distinct possibility that more heat will mean more algae and less snow.

    Missing Information

    Scientists do know that the snow is vanishing from the Alps. And many glaciers could vanish this century, as mild snowfalls fail to replace the melting ice beneath it.

    “Less solid precipitation during winter and higher air temperatures during spring and summer are expected to favor the formation of snow- and glacier-algae,” Biagio Di Mauro of Italy’s National Research Council told Earther.

    How To Win With Quantamental Investing: Focus On Process, Not Just Data.

    Michael Molnar | Forbes

    Human investors seem to be struggling to compete against the machines. Case in point: John Paulson recently called it quits and David Einhorn appears to be losing money again, down 22% this year. If these renowned investors are unable to compete, how can anyone? Put another way: Is there any alpha left in human heads?

    Quantamental investing, the blending of fundamental and quantitative approaches, has gained in popularity as a possible solution. The common narrative is that human-driven fundamental investors can do better by integrating alternative forms of data. But many struggling investors, such as Paulson and Einhorn, have access to a lot of that data. What gives?

    It might not be a problem of data, but a problem related to the investment process. A poor process can miss the potential alpha in human analyst’s heads or in a stream of alternative data. The next persistent alpha generators, regardless of whether they classify themselves today as quantitative or fundamental investors, may be the ones that adjust their investment process to best capture it.

    A Simple Example

    Consider this scenario. A human analyst identifies a technological or regulatory change that is impacting a company. After careful analysis, including that with alternative data, the analyst concludes that the company will earn $2/share in the coming year. The analyst’s valuation work indicates that this company’s stock should trade at 20x earnings and therefore the stock will trade to $40/share, or 20% higher than here.

    Now stop for a second and ask yourself this question: Where is that human analyst adding real insight, real alpha potential?

    I'll cut to the chase. It's not their view that this earnings stream will trade at 20x earnings. In fact, they likely lose all their unique alpha potential in understanding the coming changes impacting that company right there. That lost alpha is not a data problem, but a process one.

    Here’s a brainstorm to get you thinking. What if you adjusted your investment process so that analysts do not even value companies? They would focus solely on the fundamentals. Wait, a process where equity analysts don't value....equity?

    Yes. Or, more intriguing, maybe they aren't even equity analysts (but that's another topic altogether).

    Some may push back, but consider the simple thesis above. It was based on a company trading at 20x an earnings stream of $2/share. Let’s say that just a one standard deviation change in the multiple, something quite possible, means there is not 20% upside, but -5% downside. And let's say that trading to that multiple has become not just possible, but probable, given the following:

    Macroeconomic variables are shifting investor sentiment to become more risk-off, causing likely multiple compression given the level of debt this company has on its balance sheet

    An unfavorable sector rotation is underway driving down multiples for all industrial stocks like this one

    Also, a style rotation against value stocks like this one is set to hurt the multiple

    ETF flows are changing for specific funds directly feeding into this company's stock

    Are you keeping track of all of this in real-time? There's a lot to analyze.

    Some may still yet push back, “but my discounted cash flow says the stock is worth $38/share” or “my view of intrinsic value is $40/share.” Now, let’s be honest here. You don't know what you'll have for lunch tomorrow, but you are going to tell us what cash flows will be in terminal year 2031?

    Fundamental investors may speak confidently on valuation but, in reality, they have no clue. And that's just one way quantitative investors have beat them. Quantitative investors often see the probabilities of valuation more clearly, in real-time, and adjust accordingly. Maybe analysts solely focused on fundamentals, and not valuation, is not such a crazy idea after all.

    Who Wins from Here?

    While quantitative investors have done well in recent years, there are signs of struggle there as well. Many are, after all, poring over the same data with similar techniques. And, just as fundamental investors are integrating quantitative investing methods, the “quants” will evolve as well. Given we all know that “past performance is no guarantee of future results,” this begs a question: who wins from here?

    Will fundamental investors adjust their process to successfully integrate new forms of alternative data and maybe give up some control where machines are better suited (e.g., valuation)?

    or...

    Will quantitative investors figure out how to use fundamental analysts to improve their models (e.g., identify false signals) and adjust their process to creatively monetize unique human insights for specific industries and companies?

    These questions are not comprehensive and successful approaches will vary by firm. However, the common thread for those that outperform will be a focus on process, not just data.

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