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A new Chinese drug for colorectal cancer could mark an important milestone

WALK into the Shanghai laboratories of Chi-Med, a biotech firm, and you encounter the sort of shiny, cutting-edge facilities common in any major pharma company in America, Europe or Japan. Chi-Med has just had positive results in a late-stage trial of its drug for colorectal cancer, which is called Fruquintinib. If the drug is approved both in China and in Western markets it could be the very first prescription drug to be designed and developed entirely in China that will be on a path to global commercialisation.

Given China’s ageing population, higher incomes and rising demand for health care it is clear why innovation in drugs is a priority for the country. Its national market for drugs has grown rapidly in recent years to become the world’s second-largest. It could grow from $108bn in 2015 to around $167bn by 2020, according to an estimate from America’s Department of Commerce. By comparison, America spends about $400bn a year on drugs.

Chinese firms mainly sell cheap, generic medicines that earn only razor-thin margins. The pharma industry is extremely fragmented, with thousands of tiny manufacturers and distributors. That helps explain the limited amount of finance that is available for investment in new medicines. Most Chinese pharma firms devote less than 5% of sales to R&D, according to a report last year from the World Health Organisation (big global drug firms typically spend 14%-18% of sales on R&D). And the bulk of that spending goes to research into generics.

But things are changing quickly. The government is encouraging the industry to consolidate, chiefly by raising standards for the quality of new medicines. It is also improving the country’s regulatory infrastructure, which should make it more efficient, and faster, to develop drugs. The value of deals in the health-care sector has been increasing as a result. ChinaBio, a research firm, reckons that over $40bn of foreign and local money went into the life sciences in China in 2016. In the same year just three Chinese biotech firms—CStone, Innovent and Ascletis—together raised more than $500m of financing.

Another boost is the arrival of talent from abroad, whether Chinese-born executives returning with a Western education or Westerners with experience of multinational pharmaceutical firms. Christian Hogg, the boss of Chi-Med—which was founded in 2000, has eight drugs in clinical development and listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2016—used to work at Procter & Gamble, a global consumer-goods firm. Samantha Du, the firm’s very first scientific officer, was formerly an executive at Pfizer, an American pharma giant. Now known as the godmother of Chinese biopharma, she used to manage health-care investments for Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley venture-capital firm. In 2013 she helped found Zai Lab, which licenses late-stage drugs from Western pharma companies to develop and sell in China. Zai Lab also aims to develop innovative medicines in immuno-oncology.

Another firm attracting attention is BeiGene, an oncology firm based in Beijing, which has four clinical-stage drug candidates and which raised $158m in an IPO last year. Chi-Med’s Fruquintinib may even be beaten in the race to approval in America and Japan by a cancer drug called Epidaza from Chipscreen Biosciences of Shenzhen. China approved it in 2015.

It is too early to say whether these innovative firms will remain rarities. Only a few large ones have emerged, since the industry is resisting consolidation. But the size of the local market will itself help the industry grow. And developing a drug in China is far cheaper than it is in America or Europe. Given the outrage at the high cost of drugs in America, in particular, there is every incentive for Chinese firms to develop medicines for the global market.


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Mercedes-Benz sells 180,539 vehicles, January




Mercedes-Benz delivered 180,539 vehicles to its customers worldwide in January (-6.7%).

The second-best start to a year for sales was influenced by important model changes in the high-volume SUV and compact-car segments.

In particular, the model change of the B-Class, CLA and GLE, each with a double-digit sales decrease, had a negative impact on total unit sales worldwide despite the ongoing high demand for the cars with the star insignia.

From today’s perspective, the company expects the model changes to affect deliveries in the first quarter.

With a high degree of probability, the full year will be affected also by exogenous challenges and geopolitical risks, the company announces in its global sale report for January.

A member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Mercedes-Benz cars marketing and sales, Britta Seeger, said “With more than 180,000 vehicles delivered, Mercedes-Benz has started the year 2019 with the second-best January ever”.

“With the B-Class, the CLA and the GLE, we look forward in the coming months to the new generations of models very popular with our customers and expect the model offensive in our high-volume segments to provide significant sales impetus”.

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Snapdragon 712 arrives with faster CPU and Quick Charge 4+




Qualcomm announced a new addition to its chipset portfolio – the Snapdragon 712. It is built on the 10 nm process and comes as a modest upgrade to the popular Snapdragon 710. It has faster octa-core processor “that adds performance boost and makes it a powerhouse for gaming and beyond”.

Snapdragon 712Snapdragon 710
Process10 nm FinFET10 nm FinFET
CPU8x Qualcomm Kryo 360 CPU @ 2.3GHz8x Qualcomm Kryo 360 CPU @ 2.2GHz
GPUQualcomm Adreno 616Qualcomm Adreno 616
PhotoUp to 20 MP dual camera
Up to 32 MP single camera
Up to 20 MP dual camera
Up to 32 MP single camera
ModemSnapdragon X15 LTE Cat.15 / Cat.13
800 Mbps DL / 150 Mbps UL
Snapdragon X15 LTE Cat.15 / Cat.13
800 Mbps DL / 150 Mbps UL
Fast chargingQuick Charge 4+Quick Charge 4

The key difference is the CPU’s eight Kryo 360 cores now run at 2.3 GHz compared to 2.2 GHz. The 712 also brings Quick Charge 4+ instead of Quick Charge 4 and better Bluetooth audio, thanks to the TrueWireless Stereo Plus and Broadcast Audio technologies.

The Snapdragon 712 keeps the Adreno 616 GPU and the Hexagon 685 DSP, as well as most of the other specs. The modem remains a Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X15 that supports LTE Cat.15 downlink and Cat.13 uplink, reaching peak speeds of 800 Mbps and 150 Mbps, respectively. Camera support stays at up to 20 MP dual camera or 32 MP single shooter with the same Spectra 250 ISP.

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Columbia Researchers Developed Technology That Can Translate Brain Activity Into Words




Neuroengineers from Columbia University reportedly developed a way to use artificial intelligence and speech synthesizers to translate one’s thoughts into words.

The team’s paper, published Tuesday in Scientific Reports, outlines how they created a system that can read the brain activity of a listening patient, then reiterate what that patient heard with a clarity never before seen from such technology.

The breakthrough opens the path for speech neuroprosthetics, or implants, to have direct communications with the brain. Ideally, the technology will someday allow those who have lost their ability to speak to regain a voice. This can help patients who have suffered a stroke or are living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) communicate more easily with loved ones.

“If the wearer thinks ‘I need a glass of water,’ our system could take the brain signals generated by that thought, and turn them into synthesized, verbal speech,” Dr. Nima Mesgarani, the paper’s senior author and a principal investigator at Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, explained in a statement.

“This would be a game changer,” he continued. “It would give anyone who has lost their ability to speak, whether through injury or disease, the renewed chance to connect to the world around them.”

Right now, the technology can only voice what one’s listened to, not what they wish to say. But further development can improve the system for this purpose.

The technology is based on decades of research that show that when people speak or listen—or even imagine speaking or listening—certain patterns of activity occur in the brain.

To create their technology, Mesgarani and his team worked with Dr. Ashesh Dinesh Mehta, a neurosurgeon at Northwell Health Physician Partners Neuroscience Institute and co-author of the paper who works with epilepsy patients that undergo regular brain surgeries.

“Working with Dr. Mehta, we asked epilepsy patients already undergoing brain surgery to listen to sentences spoken by different people, while we measured patterns of brain activity,” said Mesgarani.

This trained a vocoder—a computer algorithm like Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri that can learn to recreate speech from recordings. Instead of recordings, the study’s vocoder needed to learn from brain activity.

After the system was familiar with the brain activity, patients were asked to listen to a recording of someone reciting the numbers zero through nine. Their brain activity was recorded and run through the vocoder. The vocoder’s reiteration was analyzed and cleaned up using an artificial intelligence system, and the resulting sound was a robotic voice reciting digits zero through nine.

Subjects were asked to listen to the recording, and were able to “understand and repeat the sounds about 75% of the time, which is well above and beyond any previous attempts,” said Mesgarani. “We’ve shown that, with the right technology, these people’s thoughts could be decoded and understood by any listener.”

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