Elon Musk, the outspoken entrepreneur behind Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, is now the richest person on the planet.
A 4.8 per cent rally in the electric carmaker’s share price Thursday boosted Musk past Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 wealthiest people.
The South Africa-born engineer’s net worth was US$188.5 billion at 10:15 a.m. in New York, US$1.5 billion more than Bezos, who has held the top spot since October 2017. As chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, Musk is also a rival to Bezos, owner of Blue Origin LLC, in the private space race.
The milestone caps an extraordinary 12 months for Musk. Over the past year his net worth soared by more than US$150 billion in possibly the fastest bout of wealth creation in history. Fueling his rise was an unprecedented rally in Tesla’s share price, which surged 743 per cent last year on the back of consistent profits, inclusion in the S&P 500 Index and enthusiasm from Wall Street and retail investors alike.
The jump in Tesla’s stock price further inflates a valuation light-years apart from other automakers on numerous metrics. Tesla produced just over half-a-million cars last year, a fraction of the output of Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. The company is poised for further near-term gains as Democrats captured both Georgia Senate seats and handed control of Congress to the party that’s advocated for quicker adoption of electric vehicles.
Musk, 49, has benefited from Tesla’s stratospheric rise in more than one way. In addition to his 20 per cent stake in the automaker, he’s sitting on about US$42 billion of unrealized paper gains on vested stock options. Those securities come from two grants he received in 2012 and 2018, the latter of which was the largest pay deal ever struck between a CEO and a corporate board.
Despite his astronomical gains, Musk has said he has little interest in material things and has few assets outside his stakes in Tesla and SpaceX. He told Axel Springer in an interview last month that the main purpose of his wealth is to accelerate humanity’s evolution into a spacefaring civilization.
“I want to be able to contribute as much as possible to the city on Mars,” Musk said. “That means just a lot of capital.”
The world’s 500 richest people added a record US$1.8 trillion to their combined net worth last year, equivalent to a 31 per cent increase. The gains were disproportionately at the top, where five individuals hold fortunes in excess of US$100 billion and another 20 are worth at least US$50 billion.
Less than a week into the new year the rankings have already been upended by extraordinary rallies. China’s Zhong Shanshan has vaulted past Warren Buffett to claim the sixth slot after shares of his bottled-water company surged, adding US$15.2 billion to his fortune.
–With assistance from Anders Melin and Tom Maloney.
Calgary company begins clinical trials for Canadian-made COVID vaccine candidate – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 26, 2021 5:47PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 26, 2021 5:48PM EST
A prospective COVID-19 vaccine touted as a made-in-Canada response has begun human clinical trials in Toronto, and the company says it’s already preparing a followup that will target more infectious variants.
Providence Therapeutics of Calgary says if all goes well, it could start manufacturing millions of doses of its first prospective vaccine by the end of the year, guaranteeing a Canadian stockpile that wouldn’t be subject to global supply pressures or competition.
That’s if the formulation proves safe and effective, of course.
Among the challenges of developing a vaccine amid a raging pandemic is the uncertainty of how more infectious variants now emerging will complicate the COVID battle.
Even if successful, by the time Providence Therapeutics releases its vaccine hopeful, much of the country could be in the throes of a more infectious virus that does not respond to this formulation, said company CEO Brad Sorenson.
“We don’t believe that this is going to be resolved by a single vaccine,” said Sorenson, whose biotech also produces a personalized mRNA-based vaccine against cancer.
It’s a challenge now facing Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have each said its products appear to respond well to the variant initially identified in the United Kingdom, and to a lesser degree, the variant first detected in South Africa.
Moderna said earlier this week it plans to test two booster vaccines aimed at the variant associated with South Africa.
Sorenson said Providence is already internally testing a vaccine candidate that targets the variants, and he hoped to begin clinical trials by the end of the year.
“We believe that there’s going to be a need to be in a position of readiness to be able to respond as these variants are coming up, and to be able to make sure that we have that capacity.”
That doesn’t mean Providence is changing production runs just yet.
Sorenson said the immediate focus is to establish the safety and efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine, dubbed PTX-COVID19-B and designed in the early days of the pandemic last March.
It uses messenger RNA technology and focuses on the spike protein located on the surface of a coronavirus that initiates infection, similar to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products.
The trial involves 60 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 25 who will be monitored for 13 months, with the first results expected in February.
The subjects are divided into four groups of 15, three of which will get three different doses. The fourth group gets a placebo.
Sorenson said immediate pandemic efforts should be focused on the novel coronavirus currently devastating many parts of the country.
“It’s a matter of capacity. Right now these variants are there, they’re concerning, and we’re keeping a close eye on it, but that’s not predominantly what the needs of the population are,” said Sorenson.
“Right now the needs of the population are still tied to the primary spike protein virus that’s out there and is ravaging around the world.”
Sorenson said his next vaccine candidate takes a broader approach by attempting to elicit a T-cell response, thereby creating a longer-term vaccine “and cover what we believe would be a lot more variants.”
“We have to prove it out, but we believe that if we are successful that it will allow for a much more durable immunity and a much broader immunity.”
The other goal is to prepare for large-scale manufacturing in Calgary, if all goes well with the trials and approval process.
Sorenson said doses for the Phase 1 trial are being made in Toronto, but the plan is to commercially manufacture the completed vaccine through a contract with the Calgary-based Northern RNA Inc.
That won’t be up and running by the end of the year, Sorenson allowed, so the short-term plan is to send raw materials made in Canada to a plant in the United States that would make the commercial product.
Eventually, the whole process would be completed in Canada, he said.
“We’re building the entire chain within Canada, so we’re not going to run into a problem where this particular input into the vaccine is unavailable,” he said.
Much of this also depends on financial support from the federal government, Sorenson added.
While the National Research Council of Canada has backed Phase 1 trials, Sorenson said he’s awaiting word on further support. He’d also like Ottawa to back Providence’s efforts to address the new COVID variants.
“They’ve already recognized the importance of mRNA technology. What they don’t realize is the power of mRNA technology to be responsive to these challenges that are coming up,” he said.
“Hopefully the politicians and the people that cut the cheques and write the policies that give direction to the bureaucrats will hear that and we’ll start seeing a more concerted approach that looks at a fuller picture.”
Pending regulatory approval, Sorenson said a larger, international Phase 2 trial may start in May with seniors, younger subjects and pregnant people, followed by an even broader Phase 3 trial.
The Providence project is just one of several Canadian efforts underway to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
The biopharmaceutical company Medicago, based in Quebec City, began clinical trials on its plant-based candidate last July. If successful, the company has said manufacturing would take place in Durham, N.C., until it can complete a large-scale manufacturing facility set for Quebec City.
And last month, Health Canada gave the green light to the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan to launch its Phase 1 clinical vaccine trial.
Infectious disease expert Jason Kindrachuk, who works with VIDO but is not involved with its vaccine candidate, said a varied vaccine strategy will be key to controlling the pandemic.
“Vaccines are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all and maybe with this pandemic, people are getting a greater appreciation for some of the logistical hurdles of trying to transport vaccines. Cold chain storage is not something most people knew about or thought about prior to COVID and everybody in the community now I think has heard about it,” said Kindrachuk, a visiting scientist from the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair.
“This is something that, in regards to vaccine development, we really have to put a lot of thought into as a research community because of the fact that we have to make vaccines that are accessible for the communities that are ultimately going to be treated with them.”
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged Tuesday that appetite was strong for a homegrown answer but noted Providence was still a considerable ways from offering a viable option.
“First it has to go through the appropriate approval process, go through Health Canada to make sure that it’s going to be satisfactory and safe and efficacious,” said Elliott.
Tensions rise as AstraZeneca, EU spar over vaccine delays – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Raf Casert, Samuel Petrequin And Danica Kirka, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, January 27, 2021 2:08PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 27, 2021 6:00PM EST
BRUSSELS – The European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca sparred Wednesday over a delay in coronavirus vaccine deliveries amid a deepening dispute that raises concerns about international competition for limited supplies of the shots needed to end the pandemic.
AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot addressed the dispute for the first time, rejecting the EU’s assertion that the company was failing to honour its commitments. Soriot said vaccine delivery figures in AstraZeneca‘s contract with the 27-nation bloc were targets, not firm commitments, and the company was unable to meet them because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity.
“Our contract is not a contractual commitment, it’s a best effort,” Soriot said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “Basically, we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed. In fact, getting there, we are a little bit delayed.”
AstraZeneca said last week that it planned to cut initial deliveries in the EU to 31 million doses from 80 million due to reduced yields from its manufacturing plants in Europe. The EU claimed Wednesday that it will receive even less than that – just one quarter of the doses that member states were supposed to get during January-March 2021.
The EU says it expects the company to deliver the full amount on time, and on Monday threatened to put export controls on all vaccines made in its territory.
Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, rejected Soriot’s explanation for the delays, saying that “not being able to ensure manufacturing capacity is against the letter and spirit of our agreement.”
Kyriakides said AstraZeneca should provide vaccines from its UK facilities if it it is unable to meet commitments from factories in the EU. The comments are certain to create tension in the UK, which completed its exit from the bloc less than a month ago.
“I call on AstraZeneca to engage fully to rebuild trust, to provide complete information and to live up to its contractual, societal and moral obligations,” Kyriakides said at a media briefing in Brussels.
The EU’s contract with AstraZeneca is confidential and can’t be released without the agreement of both sides. The EU has asked AstraZeneca for permission to release the contract, Kyriakides said.
After a third round of talks aimed at resolving the dispute on Wednesday evening, Kyriakides regretted the “continued lack of clarity on the delivery schedule” and urged AstraZeneca to come up with a clear plan for a quick delivery of the doses reserved by the EU for the first quarter. In a message posted on Twitter, Kyriakides however noted “a constructive tone” in the discussions with Soriot.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said after the meeting that the company has “committed to even closer co-ordination to jointly chart a path for the delivery of our vaccine over the coming months as we continue our efforts to bring this vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic.”
The dispute comes as the EU, which has 450 million citizens and the economic clout of the world’s biggest trading bloc, lags far behind countries like Israel and Britain in delivering coronavirus vaccines to its people.
The EU has signed deals for six different vaccines, but so far regulators have only authorized the use of two, one made by Pfizer and another by Moderna. The EU’s drug regulator will consider the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.
Robert Yates, director of the global health program at the Chatham House think-tank in London, said the EU-AstraZeneca dispute highlights the danger of “vaccine nationalism” as countries compete for limited supplies.
“For politicians, this is red hot. And, you know, unfortunately, what we’re seeing as well is that Brexit politics is playing into this,” he said.
“This is this is really, really bad news – not only bad news for the European countries involved,” he said. “I think what’s much worse is that these squabbles between rich countries potentially deny vaccines to people in the rest of the world.”
AstraZeneca is setting up more than a dozen regional supply chains worldwide to meet regional demand for its vaccine. Overall, AstraZeneca plans to deliver up to 3 billion doses to countries around the world by the end of 2021.
However, establishing each facility is a complicated process that involves training people and ensuring each batch of vaccine is safe and effective. Sometimes this goes smoothly, but in other cases there are problems, Soriot said.
“We train them on how to manufacture,” he said. “And then, you know, some people are new to this process … They don’t know how to make the vaccine and they’re not as efficient as others.?
There are two basic steps in producing the vaccine. The first is a biological process that involves growing cells, which are injected with a virus, Soriot said. The second involves turning this “drug substance” into the final product, filling vials and testing each batch of vaccine.
Soriot said AstraZeneca had to reduce deliveries to the EU because plants in Europe had lower than expected yields from the biological process used to produce the vaccine. This has also happened in other regions as AstraZeneca sought to rapidly expand production capacity to meet demands from countries battling the pandemic.
“We’ve also had teething issues like this in the U.K. supply chain,” Soriot said. “But the U.K. contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal, so with the U.K. we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced. As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches.”
An official from the European Commission, the EU’s executive, said the bloc has agreed to give 336 million euros ($407 million) to AstraZeneca to develop its vaccine and deliver doses. The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said the commission would be entitled to recover part of the money if the company fails to live up to the terms of this advance purchase agreement.
“We reject the logic of first come, first served,” Kyriakides said. “That may work at the neighbourhood butchers, but not in contracts and not in our advance purchase agreements. There’s no priority clause in the advanced purchase agreement.”
The shortfall in planned deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine is coming at the same time as a slowdown in the distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech shots as Pfizer upgrades production facilities at a plant in Belgium.
“There are a lot of emotions running in this process right now, and I can understand it: people want vaccine,” Soriot said. “I want the vaccine too, I want it today. But, at the end of the day, it’s a complicated process.?
Danica Kirka reported from London.
Discord bans r/WallStreetBets server (for hate speech) – Gamasutra
The GameStop trading fiasco has taken a new turn. Discord has announced that it’s banning the /r/WallStreetBets server from the platform.
While all of the finance industry is in an uproar over what a small group of redditors have accomplished (driving up the price of GameStop stock to counter a planned short sell by a hedge fund group), Discord says its reasons are not tied to the group’s current news activity. It’s apparently being banned for violating the platform’s hate speech policies.
“The server has been on our Trust & Safety team’s radar for some time due to occasional content that violates our Community Guidelines, including hate speech, glorifying violence, and spreading misinformation,” the company said in a statement. “Over the past few months, we have issued multiple warnings to the server admin.”
“Today, we decided to remove the server and its owner from Discord for continuing to allow hateful and discriminatory content after repeated warnings.”
Elsewhere, the group’s Reddit page
suddenly switched to private, (Updated: it’s public again) though it’s unclear if this is over language used in the group or over the possibility that the US Securities and Exchange Commission might be monitoring it for fraudulent activity.
A colleague who checked in on the subreddit briefly confirmed to Gamasutra that one could quickly find ableist slurs all over the group.
This is the second time Discord has banned a server that’s affiliated with a specific Subreddit in the last month. The first was the TheDonald Discord server, which was shut down after the right-wing siege of the US Capitol on July 6th.
Discord seemed intent on communicating that today’s ban was not related to the group’s successful manipulation of GameStop’s stock price. “To be clear, we did not ban this server due to financial fraud related to GameStop or other stocks. Discord welcomes a broad variety of personal finance discussions, from investment clubs and day traders to college students and professional financial advisors,” it stated.
“We are monitoring this situation and in the event there are allegations of illegal activities, we will cooperate with authorities as appropriate.”
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