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Billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma touring Dutch research institutes-SCMP

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Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma has been touring Dutch research institutions to pursue his interests in agriculture technology, Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post (SCMP)reported, quoting people familiar with his trip.

The Chinese billionaire has largely been out of public view since he publicly criticised China’s regulatory system in a speech last year. His empire promptly came under heavy scrutiny from regulators and the $37 billion blockbuster IPO of his fintech affiliate Ant Group was suspended.

Ma, once China’s most famous and outspoken entrepreneur, reappeared in Hong Kong in October, where he met at least “a few” business associates over meals, two sources told Reuters.

He then flew to the Spanish island of Mallorca, where his luxury yacht is anchored, his first trip abroad since he fell out with Chinese regulators, two Spanish newspapers reported last week.

SCMP, owned by Alibaba, published three photos of Ma, sourced as handouts and dated Oct. 25.

In two of them he was seen wearing a white protective gown and holding flowerpots, while in the third he was wearing jeans and a hoodie and the caption said he was analysing technology by aluminium extrusion specialist BOAL Systems.

The billionaire, who retired as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019, will continue touring European companies and research institutions involved in agricultural infrastructure and plant breeding, according to people familiar with his plans, SCMP reported.

Ma believed combining the technology he researched with Alibaba’s cloud computing, big data analysis and artificial intelligence could help modernise Chinese agriculture, the people told SCMP.

On Sept. 1, photographs of Ma visiting greenhouses in eastern Zhejiang province, home to both Alibaba and Ant, went viral on Chinese social media.

The next day, Alibaba said it would invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) by 2025 in support of “common prosperity”, becoming the latest corporate giant to pledge support for the wealth sharing initiative driven by President Xi Jinping.

 

(Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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Will psychedelics become mainstream? This Calgary company is betting on it – CBC.ca

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Danny Motyka discovered his love for chemistry when he was high on LSD back in the mid-2000s. The single tab of blotter acid — emblazoned with images of tongues from the rock band Kiss — set him on a path to push psychedelics out of the shadows.

Now 31, Motyka is the CEO of Psygen, a Calgary business hoping to manufacture synthetic psychedelics for the pharmaceutical industry. While the application of hallucinogens in medicine is in its infancy and remains highly speculative, Motyka and his company of believers are encouraged by renewed interest in the field.

“There’s a huge market opportunity here,” Motyka said. 

A spate of early scientific research — along with big injections of cash from wealthy and celebrity investors — has triggered a renaissance of sorts for psychedelics, which for decades were pushed underground by the war on drugs. 

Companies want to be the next psychedelic unicorn

Dozens of companies have emerged in recent years, seeking to get in on the ground floor of a fledgling industry they bet will take them higher. Some, like Germany-based Atai Life Sciences and the U.K.’s Compass Pathways, have become unicorns — not some kind of hallucination, but the type of startups worth more than $1 billion.  

Danny Motyka, left, and Peter van der Heyden are co-founders of the Calgary startup Psygen, which has ambitions to supply the pharmaceutical industry with psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

“We’re really breaking ground here in that psychedelic chemistry has been illegal, and now we’re able to do it in a legal context,” said Peter van der Heyden, Psygen’s co-founder and chief science officer. 

“It’s never been done before.”

Potential for a new industry

Magic mushrooms, LSD and other psychedelics are hallucinogenic drugs that remain illegal to possess for recreational use. But some regulators such as Health Canada have allowed for research into them as possible treatments for mental health conditions, sending companies and investors on a trip to a new industry.

While the sector initially attracted an early rush of investor enthusiasm, some of the euphoria has already begun to fade as shareholders come to grips with the long and uncertain road ahead.

Researchers are still running clinical trials looking into whether substances like psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can effectively and safely treat depression, or whether MDMA, often found in ecstasy or molly, can help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We have to go through the entire drug approval pathway and demonstrate safety and demonstrate efficacy,” van der Heyden said. “So it’s too early, really, to say we know that these things work.”

Production expected early 2022

Psygen’s lab, currently under construction, would initially manufacture psychedelics for research and clinical trials, though it still needs Health Canada approval. The company hopes those trials lead to the creation of new therapeutic drugs, allowing its lab to expand to commercial-scale production of medical-grade substances.

They’ve asked Health Canada for a dealer’s license, which gives special permission to handle and produce controlled drugs that are otherwise illegal to possess. The designation comes with a strict set of rules, including security measures to prevent theft, proper record keeping and reporting.

Van der Heyden, left, and Motyka stand inside the construction site of the firm’s psychedelics manufacturing facility, expected to be operational by March 2022. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

For now, company officials are optimistic the first phase of the project will secure the green light from federal regulators and they can start producing psychedelics by the end of March 2022.

By then, the facility would be capable of producing 12 to 15 kilograms of synthetic psilocybin a year, enough to fill demand from clinical research, Motyka said.

Marijuana paves the way for mushrooms

The Alberta business has applied to handle eight different psychedelic drugs, though its CEO said psilocybin is the substance most in demand from drug development companies, likely because of loosening cannabis laws.

“That’s reflective of this liberalization of plant medicines. It’s easy to go from cannabis as a medicine to mushrooms as a medicine,” Motyka said. “It’s a bit harder to make that next jump to LSD, especially with the amount of stigma that’s associated.”

Researchers are looking at psilocybin’s potential to treat various conditions, from anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, to problematic substance use. Health Canada, which has approved three clinical trials testing the drug in treatment of depression, said psilocybin has so far shown some promise in some cases, but further research is needed.

“Clinical trials are the most appropriate and effective way to advance research with unapproved drugs such as psilocybin,” the regulator said in a statement.

“Clinical trials ensure that the best interests of patients are protected and that a product is administered in accordance with national and international ethical, medical and scientific standards.”

‘Hungry for something new’

Industry observers say the legalization of cannabis for recreational or strictly medical purposes in many parts of the world has helped to ease stigmas and convince investors to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into psychedelics.

Plus, the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 virus — and the rounds of restrictions that came with it — triggered a fresh wave of mental health concerns. And it’s happening at a time when people are interested in unconventional ways of looking at problems, said Leila Rafi, a Toronto lawyer with clients in the industry.

Leila Rafi, a Toronto lawyer, says a fresh wave of mental health concerns emerging from the coronavirus pandemic has helped to bring renewed focus to psychedelics as possible medicines. (Leila Rafi)

“There’s a lot of investors out there who are willing to put a little bit of money into this industry and see what happens — and even take a bit of a hit,” said Rafi, a partner in McMillan’s capital markets group.

“And I think investors are just hungry for something new.”

Psychedelic stocks in a lull

Steve Hawkins, the CEO of financial services company Horizons ETFs, runs a fund that allows people to invest in the broader psychedelics market. The exchange traded fund (ETF) tracks a couple dozen publicly traded companies that are heavily involved in, or have significant exposure to, the industry.

So far, it’s individual investors, rather than big pension funds, that have parked money in the fund, Hawkins said.

“This is still a very early stage investment proposition.”

An initial burst of investor excitement has given way to a lull in recent months, with share prices for drug development firms plunging. The Horizons psychedelics ETF has lost half of its value on the stock market since hitting a peak in February. 

In an industry where companies are not making money, stock prices are driven by other developments, including news of breakthroughs in research. But there haven’t been enough intoxicating incentives to lure investors back, Hawkins said, noting that while share prices have fallen from their peaks, they are still above where they were in 2020.

Investors hooked on psychedelic ventures also face plenty of risk.

“All investors who are investing in early stage drug development companies need to be prepared to lose a substantial amount of money– Eric Foster, Dentons lawyer

Firms that are attracting troves of investment dollars are often burning through all that cash researching drugs that may not materialize, Hawkins said. “These are very risky companies.”

Some could fail, similar to what happened in the cannabis industry

“All investors who are investing in early stage drug development companies need to be prepared to lose a substantial amount of money,” said Eric Foster, a partner at Dentons law firm who helps investment banks finance psychedelic ventures.

“The (potential) upside is that they will be able to take a candidate all the way through the regulatory approval process, and effectively get to a drug that’s been approved … Then, all of a sudden, it’s going to be worth significantly more.”

A new frontier

The very idea that psychedelics could emerge from the shadows of a decades-long drug war and pave the way to a new frontier of medicine has inspired other investors with deep pockets.

Liam Payne, pictured here performing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2019, is among a growing list of celebrity investors betting on psychedelics. (Khalid Alhaj/The Associated Press)

Liam Payne, the British One Direction singer, along with PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Theil are on the growing list of celebrity investors. New York Mets owner Steven Cohen, Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary and Tim Ferriss, the podcaster and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, are also on the roster.

Then there’s Sa’ad Shah. Convinced that researchers are only scratching the surface of psychedelics’ potential power to reshape mental healthcare, he co-founded a venture capital player focused on the industry. 

Sa’ad Shah, co-founder of a psychedelics venture capital fund, says the industry is ‘a bit of the Wild West. (Sa’ad Shah)

Shah has been raising money from friends, various CEOs and ultra-high-networth investors to build a warchest to unleash on dozens of companies. The Noetic Fund, based in Toronto, raised $32 million US in its first round and invested it into 22 ventures, including Calgary’s Psygen. Now, it’s on the hunt for another $200 million.

Nearly halfway there, Shah said he’s not facing the same kind of investor burnout that has sent stock prices tumbling. He said most of the “crown jewels” in the industry remain privately held companies that continue to raise funds.

“It’s a burgeoning industry,” Shah said. “It’s an incredibly exciting industry. It is a bit of the Wild West.”

An opportunity and a business venture

Van der Heyden, Psygen’s co-founder, says he found a gap in this Wild West landscape when he spoke with researchers who couldn’t get their hands on pharmaceutical-grade psychedelics for their studies. He saw an opportunity. 

A child of the hippie era of the 1960s and early 1970s, he said the counterculture movement exposed him to drugs like LSD. But it wasn’t until his retirement that psychedelics became a possible business venture. 

And it’s made for some unusual conversations.  

“I might be sitting at the barber and he asks me, ‘What do you do?’ And so I say, ‘Hey, guess what? We make psychedelic drugs.'”

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S&P/TSX composite falls to end a third-straight losing week on angst about Fed – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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TORONTO – The rebound in Canada’s main stock index was short-lived as it pushed lower Friday to end a third-consecutive losing week amid concerns about impending action by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 128.76 points to 20,633.27 despite hitting an intraday high of 20,825.21. The Toronto market had a strong morning start after posting its best performance in 10 months Thursday. It then lost ground throughout the session before recovering a bit approaching the close.

The TSX was down 2.3 per cent on the week but is up 18.4 per cent so far in 2021.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 59.71 points at 34,580.08. The S&P 500 index was down 38.67 points at 4,538.43, while the Nasdaq composite was down 295.85 points or 1.9 per cent at 15,085.47.

Investors have been jittery this week in response to the more hawkish comments from the U.S. central bank around speeding up the tapering of bond purchases at the same time as a new COVID-19 variant has surfaces and economic activity is slowing, said Greg Taylor, chief investment officer of Purpose Investments.

“The risk this week is around the Fed making a policy error,” he said in an interview.

Taylor said investors have been nervous in the last few days about the Fed taking away stimulus while the economy in the rest of the world slows down a little bit.

Canadian markets have been somewhat insulated by strong bank earnings.

The heavyweight financials sector was slightly lower on the day, led by a 4.4 per cent drop by Canadian Western Bank. That was partially offset with BMO and CIBC rising 2.4 and 2.1 per cent, respectively, as the Canada’s big banks wrapped up strong quarterly reports that saw them each boost dividends.

Telecommunications was the only sector on the TSX to close higher on Friday.

The broad-based decrease on the TSX was led by health care and the technology sector, which sustained even stronger declines in the U.S.

Tech dropped 2.5 per cent as shares of Hut 8 Mining Ltd. fell 10.8 per cent while Lightspeed Commerce Inc. was down 7.7 per cent and Shopify Inc. was 2.4 per cent lower.

There was a disconnect in the sector’s movement because bond yields were weaker, which is typically a supportive move for these companies.

Big tech stocks have really come under pressure in the last few days as previous pandemic winners such as DocuSign Inc. suffered a 42 per cent decline, Taylor said. 42.2

After starting the day higher, energy lost 0.3 per cent as crude oil prices fell.

The January crude oil contract was down 24 cents at US$66.26 per barrel after climbing as high as US$69.22 in the morning. The January natural gas contract was up 7.6 cents at US$4.13 per mmBTU.

Suncor Energy Inc. and Cenovus Energy Inc. led the declines, losing 2.1 and 1.7 per cent, respectively.

The Canadian dollar traded for 78.05 cents US compared with 78.03 cents US on Thursday.

Materials also fell as copper prices softened while gold was stronger as shares of Lithium Americas Corp. lost 8.7 per cent.

The February gold contract was up US$21.20 at US$1,783.90 an ounce and the March copper contract was down 3.2 cents at nearly US$4.27 a pound.

Earlier, the United States and Canada posted November employment numbers. U.S. non-farm payrolls disappointed as they increased by 210,000 jobs, far below forecasts for about 550,000 jobs. However the unemployment rate fell to 4.2 per cent, the lowest since February 2020.

In Canada, the jobless rate fell to six per cent as 153,7000 jobs were added as the share of the core working population with a job climbed to an all-time high.

Taylor said markets were at risk coming into the week.

“We haven’t had a correction in a long time and were due for some volatility. The question will be when will buyers step back in.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CVE, TSX:SU, TSX:CWB, TSX:CM, TSX:BMO, TSX:HUT, TSX:LSPD, TSX:SHOP, TSX:LAC, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD

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Google real estate executive says 5% more workers coming in to office each week

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Alphabet Inc’s Google has seen an increasing number of employees coming in to its offices each week, particularly younger workers, the company’s real estate chief said during an interview at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.

On Thursday, Google indefinitely pushed back the mandated return date for employees due to concerns about the Omicron variant. The company had previously said its 150,000 global employees could be required to come in to the office as soon as Jan. 10.

Nevertheless, David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president for real estate and workplace services, said many Googlers are returning of their own volition. About 40% of its U.S. employees on average came in to the office daily in recent weeks, up from 20-25% three months ago, he said. Globally, 5% more employees are returning to offices week after week, he added.

“People are actually showing voluntarily that they want to be back in the office,” Radcliffe said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Younger employees and those who joined Google more recently have been coming in at higher rates, seeking opportunities to learn from colleagues, Radcliffe added.

Google expects workers in the office at least three days a week once it mandates a new return date.

Based on feedback from those already back, it is redesigning floor plans to increase private, quiet spaces for distraction-free individual work and adding conferencing and other collaboration areas in open spaces both indoors and outdoors.

Real estate and human resources experts have considered Google a trailblazer for the past 20 years in sustainable office design and variety of workplace perks, including free meals, massages and gyms.

To extend those sustainability and wellness benefits to remote work, Google has encouraged employees to buy carbon offsets and non-toxic furniture for their home offices. It also has provided free cooking classes and discounts to fitness studios near workers’ homes.

“It was amazing how many employees had really never cooked themselves,” Radcliffe said.

 

(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif., and Julia Love in San Francisco; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Matthew Lewis)

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