As governments push forward to leverage technology to fight COVID-19, we should be fully aware that this integration can and probably will open the floodgates for technologies that will directly impact our society in ways that are much more profound than the pandemic.
AHA, facial recognition technology
These are systems that scan images and videos for people’s faces, and either attempt to classify them or make assessments of their character.
Recent updates from the world’s leading technology and surveillance firms enables the identification of people while they are wearing masks, and with high accuracy.
In parallel, thermal imaging tech is also being proposed to identify potential coronavirus carriers by measuring their temperature. Recently, London Heathrow Airport announced that it will be implementing this technology for large-scale passenger temperature checks.
Some governments (China, Russia, India, and South Korea) are taking it a step further and can now identify patients with higher temperatures, revisit their location history via automated analyses of CCTV footage, and can then directly identify and even notify people who might have been exposed to the virus. And yes, while all this does sound amazing and can be seen as a positive direction to rid societies of COVID-19, we must stop and ask ourselves – at what cost?
The enormous uptake and rapid adoption of contact tracing apps around the world is a sign that most of us seem willing to compromise our privacy in order to manage the pandemic.
The more serious concern here is the unanswered legal, democratic and constitutional questions that arise with this technology to fight COVID-19.
These new facial recognition technologies fail to realize the significant risk of discrimination and abuse, namely the probability of false positives.
False positives are more common than you might think, and they are due to several reasons. The imaging equipment could be damaged, broken, or used incorrectly. Human reviewers can misinterpret readings, or what is worse, an automated process can which one has no control over.
What else can facial recognition do?
The use of facial recognition systems as a technology to fight COVID-19 has other potential uses (and criticisms) as well.
Studies indicate that the practice of categorizing and classifying humans according to visible differences has a deeply troubled past with roots in eugenics – a set of beliefs that advocate notions like selective breeding. This movement and its ideology have proven to be very dangerous.
Where do we go from here?
The pandemic has clearly illustrated that we’re at a crossroads. On the one hand, technology to fight COVID-19 is being developed and used to fight and mitigate the spread of the disease. On the other hand, we might be digging our own graves by releasing oppressive systems into our society that are ultimately not in the best interest of public life.
The team at the Interaction Design Lab have developed Biometric Mirror, a speculative and deliberately controversial facial recognition technology designed to get people thinking about the ethics of new technologies and AI.
After thousands of people from all different walks of life tried their app, they found out there is a lack of widespread public understanding/awareness regarding the way facial recognition works, its limitations, and most importantly how it can be misused.
Worrying, don’t you think?
Vaccine maker BioNTech says no need to waive patents
The head of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech said Monday that there is no need to waive patents on coronavirus vaccines because manufacturers will be able to produce enough shots to supply the world over the coming year.
Ugur Sahin, the chief executive of BioNTech, rejected the U.S.-backed proposal to temporarily lift some intellectual property rights for vaccines in order to boost global supply during the ongoing pandemic.
In a call with investors announcing the company’s first-quarter net profit of 1.13 billion euros ($1.37 billion), Sahin said BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer had already delivered vaccines to more than 90 countries and more than doubled its forecast production capacity for the year.
“We have now scaled the manufacturing capacity up to 3 billion doses in 2021, and more than 40% of these doses are expected to go to middle- and low-income countries,” Sahin said.
Waiving patents would not ease supply shortages in the coming months, he said, citing the complexity of producing the mRNA-based shot his company developed last year.
Sahin said his company is working to further expand its manufacturing network with its own sites, such as one now planned in Singapore, and through cooperation with other manufacturers to ensure greater supply while maintaining the quality of the vaccine. But he also noted that rival manufacturers have their own shots either on the market already or in the pipeline.
“We believe, together with the other vaccine developers, in the next 9 to 12 months, that there will be more than enough vaccine produced and there is absolutely no need for waiving patents,” he said.
BioNTech’s estimated revenues surged to over 2 billion euros for the period from January to March, compared with just 28 million euros in the same period last year, after it launched the first widely used vaccine against COVID-19 together with Pfizer, which holds the market and distribution rights in much of the world.
The Mainz-based company said its revenues included over 1.75 billion euros in gross profits from vaccine sales in Pfizer’s territories, and almost 200 million from sales to customers in its region. Based on current orders for some 1.8 billion doses, it expects full-year revenues of 12.4 billion euros in 2021.
BioNTech shares rose by more than 7% to $196.60 in early trading Monday on Nasdaq.
The results are a significant turnaround for the company, which made a net loss of 53 million euros in the first quarter of 2020.
Early last year as the pandemic began, BioNTech pivoted from researching treatments for cancer to developing a vaccine against COVID-19. Like its rival Moderna, the company’s vaccine uses mRNA technology to prime the body’s immune system to attack the virus.
BERLIN (AP) — By FRANK JORDANS Associated Press
Scientists invent device for less invasive blood vessel repairs
Scientists led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) developed a device that offers a quicker and less invasive way to seal tears and holes in blood vessel repairs, using an electrically activated glue patch applied via a minimally invasive balloon catheter.
The benefit of this device is to replace the need for open or keyhole surgery to patch up or stitch together internal blood vessel repairs and defects.
“The system that we developed is potentially the answer to the currently unmet medical need for a minimally-invasive technique to repair arteriovenous fistulas (an abnormal connection between an artery and a vein) or vascular leaks, without the need for open surgery. With Voltaglue and the catheter device, we open up the possibility of not having to make surgical incisions to patch something up inside – we can send a catheter-based device through to do the job,” Assoc Prof Steele said in a statement.
After inserting the catheter into an appropriate blood vessel, the glue patch – nicknamed ‘Voltaglue’ – can be guided through the body to where the tear is located and then activated using retractable electrodes to glue it shut in a few minutes, all without making a single surgical cut.
Patented by NTU and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists, Voltaglue is a new type of adhesive that works in wet environments and hardens when a voltage is applied to it.
The catheter device that deploys Voltaglue is jointly developed by Associate Professor Terry Steele from the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering, former NTU PhD student Dr Manisha Singh, now at MIT, and Associate Professor Ellen Roche from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science at MIT, USA.
The device is the first proof-of-concept application of Voltaglue in a medical setting since it was invented by Assoc Prof Steele in 2015.
The team showed in lab experiments on a pig’s heart that the Voltaglue patch can be safely and effectively administered in a variety of situations, including withstanding the high pulsatile pressure of blood in arteries like the aorta.
The device was used to close a 3mm defect in an explanted pig aorta connected to a mock heart under continuous flow of blood of 10ml per minute.
Drawing on their findings, the researchers foresee that the catheter device may someday be used to deliver patches to repair birth defects such as holes in the wall of the heart.
Pfizer’s posts $4.9B 1Q profit as vaccine strategy pays off
Selling vaccines during a pandemic has boosted Pfizer’s bottom line and proven that a strategy it embarked upon over a decade ago is now paying off handsomely.
The New York-based pharmaceutical giant reported Tuesday that it earned $4.9 billion in the first three months of the year and it dramatically raised its profit forecast for all of 2021 thanks to strong demand for its COVID-19 vaccine. The company, along with its German partner BioNTech, anticipate strong revenue from the vaccine and booster shots for the next three years.
Once viewed as a marketing machine for blockbuster treatments such as Viagra and Lipitor, Pfizer has transformed itself into a powerhouse for delivering drugs that treat cancer, rare diseases — and vaccines.
Pfizer on Tuesday almost doubled its sales projections for the COVID-19 vaccine this year, from $15 billion to roughly $26 billion. The partners expect to be able to deliver about 2.5 billion vaccine doses this year, including 300 million doses for the U.S., and already are prepping for what could become annual booster shots.
Pfizer got into the low-profile, low-profit vaccine field in 2009 when it acquired Wyeth and its then-experimental pneumococcal vaccine. That vaccine, Prevnar, which protects against ear, bloodstream and other pneumococcal infections, was approved by the U.S. the following year. It became the world’s most lucrative vaccine with annual sales of about $5 billion — once unheard of.
“Investors were skeptical of the Wyeth acquisition because vaccines were a sleepy area with lots of risk and rarely enough profit to justify spending money on them. Pfizer proved them wrong,” said Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan.
Pfizer began developing more vaccines and building up expertise. Then in 2018 it began a partnership with BioNTech focused on creating a flu vaccine with a then-new technology called mRNA for short. This vaccine type uses genetic material rather than an inactivated virus to teach the immune system to produce antibodies if the real virus infects someone.
But while the flu vaccine was still in testing, the coronavirus hit and the companies turned on a dime to use the technology for a vaccine against it. Their vaccine has proven to be more than 90% effective and has rapidly won emergency approval in country after country while avoiding the manufacturing delays and safety questions stinging some rivals.
“Partnering with BioNTech was a stroke of genius or of good luck,” Gordon said.
Now the partners are testing a potential booster shot, and they continue to test the two-dose shot in new patient groups, including pregnant women, 12- through 15-year-olds and children from six months to 11 years old. They’re also working on new vaccines formulations with a longer shelf life and less stringent requirements for deep freezing.
Pfizer also is testing both a pill and a different drug that’s injected as COVID-19 treatments.
Pfizer, which splits vaccine costs and profit with BioNTech, reported $3.46 billion in first-quarter sales in all but three countries; BioNTech will report the remaining revenue on May 10.
Some patient advocacy and consumer groups now accuse COVID-19 vaccine makers of profiteering as they’ve only pledged to stick to nonprofit prices until the pandemic emergency ends. Some want patents suspended to enable poor countries to get cheaper vaccines sooner.
On a conference call Tuesday, Pfizer noted its three price tiers for the vaccine, depending on each country’s financial situation. In the U.S., Pfizer charges $19.50 for each dose, far below what Prevnar and many other vaccines cost here.
Pfizer reported quarterly net income of $4.88 billion, or 86 cents per share, on Tuesday. That was up from $3.36 billion, or 60 cents per share, in the same period last year, when the global coronavirus pandemic began triggering lockdowns, and doctor visits, diagnostic tests and new prescriptions for other medicines dropped significantly.
Adjusted earnings jumped 48% to $5.26 billion, or 93 cents per share, far above the 79 cents Wall Street was expecting. Revenue was $14.58 billion, up 45% and also well above forecasts of $13.49 billion.
Sales of cancer drugs jumped 18% in the quarter and sales of medicines administered in hospitals rebounded 11% as patients got treatments delayed by hesitance to go to hospitals swamped with COVID-19 patients. Sales of clot preventer Eliquis jumped 26% to $1.64 billion.
Pfizer now expects full-year earnings in the range of $3.55 to $3.65 per share, up from $3.10 to $3.20 per share in February, and revenue in the range of $70.5 billion to $72.5 billion, up from $59.4 billion to $61.4 billion in the February forecast.
By LINDA A. JOHNSON AP Medical Writer
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