Ottawa’s problem-plagued LRT suffered more trouble Sunday when a westbound train on the Confederation Line derailed west of Tremblay station.
Prosecutors accused Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes of ‘lying and cheating’ as opening statements got under way in her highly-anticipated fraud trial.
Opening statements got under way in the highly anticipated $9bn fraud trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, with prosecutors portraying her as a liar and her defence team insisting she was merely a hardworking biotech boss whose once-hyped blood-testing startup had failed.
Holmes, 37, has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy. She could face 20 years in prison if convicted.
She is accused of making false claims about the now-defunct Theranos, including technologies it was developing that it claimed could test for hundreds of diseases by extracting only a few drops of blood from a finger prick.
Holmes said that the blood samples would be tested in a machine it was designing named “Edison” after the famous inventor Thomas Edison, and that they would cost a fraction of traditional tests that required getting a doctor’s sign-off and drawing whole vials of blood from a patient.
The promise of disrupting healthcare with a lower-cost, less invasive blood-testing technology helped Holmes secure a marquee board that included politicians and former diplomats. She also attracted investments from business luminaries such as media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.
“This is a case about fraud – about lying and cheating to get money,” Robert Leach, a member of the prosecution team, told jurors during his opening statement.
“She had become, as she sought, one of the most celebrated CEOs in Silicon Valley and the world. But under the facade of Theranos’s success there were significant problems brewing,” Leach added.
Holmes lawyer Lance Wade spoke after the prosecution.
“Elizabeth Holmes did not go to work every day intending to lie, cheat and steal. The government would have you believe her company, her entire life, is a fraud. That is wrong. That is not true,” Wade said. “In the end, Theranos failed and Ms Holmes walked away with nothing. But failure is not a crime.”
Holmes had a backstory worthy of a Silicon Valley legend in the making. A Stanford University dropout at age 19, she filed her first patent before she turned 20 and founded Theranos in 2003.
At the height of the hype surrounding Theranos, Holmes’s wealth was estimated at $4.5bn, reflecting her 50 percent stake in the firm.
But the startup collapsed in speculator fashion after a series of articles by The Wall Street Journal revealed that Theranos’s devices were flawed and inaccurate.
Some of Theranos’s wealthy investors, as well as former board members, are expected to testify during the trial presided over by US District Judge Edward Davila.
Leach told jurors that evidence will show that Holmes agreed with former Theranos chief operating officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani to carry out a scheme to defraud the firm’s investors and patients after it lost interest from pharmaceutical companies.
“Out of time and out of money, Elizabeth Holmes decided to lie,” said Leach.
Balwani, who has also pleaded not guilty to charges against him, is scheduled to be tried separately.
If Holmes takes the witness stand during the trial, her lawyers have indicated in recently unsealed filings that she will testify that some of her statements and actions while at the helm of Theranos were the result of “intimate partner abuse” inflicted on her by Balwani.
Balwani’s lawyer has denied Holmes’s allegations.
The idea of waning immunity has picked up steam in recent weeks, with some countries using it to justify rolling out third-dose COVID-19 vaccine boosters to their populations. But immunologists say the concept has been largely misunderstood.
While antibodies — proteins created after infection or vaccination that help prevent future invasions from the pathogen — do level off over time, experts say that’s supposed to happen.
And it doesn’t mean we’re not protected against COVID-19.
Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist with the University of Toronto, said the term “waning immunity” has given people a false understanding of how the immune system works.
“Waning has this connotation that something’s wrong and there isn’t,” she said. “It’s very normal for the immune system to mount a response where a ton of antibodies are made and lots of immune cells expand. And for the moment, that kind of takes over.
“But it has to contract, otherwise you wouldn’t have room for subsequent immune responses.”
Antibody levels ramp up in the “primary response” phase after vaccination or infection, “when your immune system is charged up and ready to attack,” said Steven Kerfoot, an associate professor of immunology at Western University.
They then decrease from that “emergency phase,” he added. But the memory of the pathogen and the body’s ability to respond to it remains.
Kerfoot said B-cells, which make the antibodies, and T-cells, which limit the virus’s ability to cause serious damage, continue to work together to stave off severe disease long after a vaccine is administered. While T-cells can’t recognize the virus directly, they determine which cells are infected and kill them off quickly.
Recent studies have suggested the T-cell response is still robust several months following a COVID-19 vaccination.
“You might get a minor infection … (but) all of those cells are still there, which is why we’re still seeing very stable effectiveness when it comes to preventing severe disease,” Kerfoot said.
A pre-print study released this week by Public Health England suggested protection against hospitalization and death remains much higher than protection against infection, even among older adults.
So the concept of waning immunity depends on whether you’re measuring protection against infection or against severe disease, Kerfoot said.
Ontario reported 43 hospitalized breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated on Friday, compared to 256 unvaccinated hospitalized infections. There were 795 total new cases in the province that day, 582 among those who weren’t fully vaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status.
British Columbia, meanwhile, saw 53 fully vaccinated COVID-19 patients hospitalized over the last two weeks, compared to 318 unvaccinated patients.
“You’ll hear people say that vaccines aren’t designed to protect infection, they’re designed to prevent severe disease,” Kerfoot said. “I wouldn’t say necessarily it’s the vaccine that’s designed to do one or another … that’s just how the immune system works.”
Moderna released real-world data this week suggesting its vaccine was 96 per cent effective at preventing hospitalization, even amidst the more transmissible Delta variant, and 87 per cent effective at preventing infection — down from the 94 per cent efficacy seen in the clinical trials last year.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said that dip “illustrates the impact of waning immunity and supports the need for a booster to maintain high levels of protection.”
Pfizer-BioNTech has argued the same with its own data, and an advisory panel to the U.S.-based Food and Drug Administration voted Friday to endorse third doses for those aged 65 and older, or at high risk for severe disease.
However, the panel rejected boosters for the general population, saying the pharmaceutical company had provided little safety data on extra jabs.
Gommerman said the efficacy data presented by Moderna doesn’t signal the need for a third dose.
“The fact it protects 87 per cent against infection, that’s incredible,” she said. “Most vaccines can’t achieve that.”
Bancel said Moderna’s research, which has yet to be peer reviewed, suggested a booster dose could also extend the duration of the immune response by reupping neutralizing antibody levels.
But Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious physician in Mississauga, Ont., said looking solely at the antibody response is misleading, and could be falsely used as justification for an infinite number of boosters.
Israel, which has opened third doses for its citizens, recently talked about administering fourth doses in the near future.
“This idea of waning immunity is being exploited and it’s really concerning to see,” Chakrabarti said. “There’s this idea that antibodies mean immunity, and that’s true … but the background level of immunity, the durable T-cell stuff, hasn’t been stressed enough.”
While some experts maintain boosters for the general population are premature, they agree some individuals would benefit from a third jab.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended boosters for the immunocompromised, who don’t mount a robust immune response from a two-dose series.
Other experts have argued residents of long-term care, who were prioritized when the rollout began last December, may also soon need a third dose. The English study suggests immunity could be waning in older groups but not much — if at all — among those under age 65.
Chakrabarti said a decrease in protection among older populations could be due more to “overlapping factors,” including their generally weaker immune systems and congregate-living situations for those in long-term care.
“These are people at the highest risk of hospitalization,” he said. “Could (the length of time that’s passed following their doses) be playing a role? Yeah, maybe.”
While we still don’t know the duration of the immune response to COVID-19 vaccination, Gommerman said immune cells typically continue to live within bone marrow and make small amounts of antibodies for “decades.”
“And they can be quickly mobilized if they encounter a pathogen,” she said.
Ottawa’s problem-plagued LRT suffered more trouble Sunday when a westbound train on the Confederation Line derailed west of Tremblay station.
No one was injured in the 12:27 p.m. accident, near Riverside Drive, but one train car was significantly damaged after apparently colliding with a signal box next to the tracks. Several panels on one train car were ripped from the vehicle, a window was shattered and the signal box was bent and broken.
“A couple of bumps, and it came to a stop,” one passenger told Coun. Jeff Leiper after the accident. Leiper posted the passenger’s comments and the passenger’s photo of the derailed train on Twitter.
It is the second time in six weeks that one of the city’s LRT trains has left the tracks.
At a late afternoon media briefing, the city’s director of transit operations, Troy Charters, said one set of five wheels derailed from a westbound train soon after leaving Tremblay station. The wheels were in the centre of the second car that made up the train.
It was not travelling at high rate of speed, he said, and preliminary investigation suggests the incident is not connected to the Aug. 8 derailment, which was caused by a faulty axle.
“It does not appear to be connected to the Aug. 8 incident in that the wheels are still attached to the axle,” he said.
In an email to media Sunday evening, OC Transpo general manager John Manconi said “the vehicle involved in the incident had recently returned to service after undergoing repairs to an axle. At this time, we do not know if the same axle was involved in this incident.
“It appears that two axles on the second car of the train had derailed. There were approximately 12 customers on board. There were no injuries to customers or staff. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB), Transport Canada and the City’s Regulatory Monitor have been notified.”
Charter said the train suffered mechanical and cosmetic damage and the derailed wheels caused damage to the track and its infrastructure, including a switching unit.
As a precautionary measure, Charter said, service on the 12.5-kilometre Confederation Line has been suspended and buses deployed to serve passengers between Rideau and Blair stations.
Rideau Transit Maintenance CEO Mario Guerra said it could take up to a week to repair the damage and fully restore service. “There is quite a bit of damage to the infrastructure,” he said.
Replacement bus service will operate until the service is restored, Charters said, and it’s possible that partial LRT service will become available in the next few days.
Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert said the latest incident “definitely doesn’t inspire confidence in the reliability or safety of our LRT system.”
Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday that city staff are gathering information on the derailment and will provide “a full briefing” on what is known about the accident to the city’s transit commission Monday morning. That briefing, he said, will be available to the public on the city’s YouTube channel.
OC Transpo officials immediately de-energized the train after the noon-hour accident, and Ottawa Fire Services helped evacuate passengers. Fire crews remained on scene to ensure the train would not require stabilization.
Toby Allard, 14, was one of the first to arrive on the scene on his bicycle. He said about 20 passengers were taken off the train. “People were obviously panicked,” he said, “but no one was hurt.”
Allard and another frequent LRT passenger said they both noticed the train often “shudders” or vibrates as it rounds the turn west of Riverside Drive.
Ottawa police maintained control of the scene to ensure nothing was moved before accident investigators arrived.
Manconi said the next step after the derailment will be an assessment of the situation by the technical teams. “We are waiting for TSB investigators to provide clearance to undertake the inspection of the derailment.
“The train will be returned to Belfast Yard once it has been cleared to do so by investigators and safety certifiers.”
Manconi said in a later release that replacement buses will operate frequently between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair stations, but that travel times will be longer than regular train service. He said customers could plan their trips by using the online travel planner, which would be updated Sunday night, at octranspo.com .
TSB investigators have already probed cracked wheels and loose axle bearings on the city’s LRT vehicles during the past year.
Earlier this summer, councillors Catherine McKenney and Diane Deans asked that an emergency meeting of the city’s transit commission be called to discuss the Aug. 8 LRT derailment, attributed to a loose axle bearing, and other issues. Their request was rejected.
McKenney reacted to the latest accident Sunday on Twitter: “Another LRT derailment,” McKenney said. “Looks like we are getting that emergency meeting after all. Tomorrow’s Transit Commission must respond to this P3 (public-private partnership) failure. This is an embarrassment for Ottawa.”
Serving 13 stations, the $2.1 billion Confederation Line recently celebrated its second anniversary, but it has been lightly used for much of that time because of the pandemic.
Still, problems persist. It was shut down last month for five days following the derailment on Aug. 8 caused by a loose axle bearing on an out-of-service train.
After a fleet inspection by Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), 10 train cars were sent for repairs to their axle assemblies.
There was another issue on Aug. 24 when early morning LRT service in part of the western stretch switched to replacement buses because a westbound train unexpectedly stopped between Pimisi and Bayview stations. Customers on the disabled train had to be transferred to another train. The backup buses ran for about an hour before regular train service resumed around 6:45 a.m. Defective trains also delayed LRT service at times on Aug. 20 and Aug. 26.
— With files from Jon Willing
A debt crunch involving China’s second largest properly developer has caught investors’ attention in the past week.
Evergrande, the Shenzhen-based company, is facing a default on its debt burden of roughly $300 billion. The crisis has echoes to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which marked its 13-year anniversary last week, a development that at the time sent shockwaves through global markets.
Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, says it’s unlikely Evergrande will have a fallout quite as severe as the Lehman bankruptcy when the global economy and credit markets collapsed. Instead, he sees it as analogous to a different event a decade even earlier.
“If it’s similar to anything, it’s similar to Long-Term Capital Management, which is the calamity that occurred in 1998 but that was dealt with very quickly by the Federal Reserve and the major banks and it didn’t have any global implications,” Yardeni told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday.
Like with hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management, Yardeni sees government intervention in Evergrande preventing any collapse and contagion.
“The reality is it is too big to fail, and I think the Chinese government is going to intervene big time. I don’t think they’re going to save management… but it will be restructured and in a way that won’t harm the economy too much over there and won’t affect the global economy or financial markets the way Lehman did,” said Yardeni.
Even if a crisis tied to Evergrande is avoided, Yardeni does not see Chinese markets rebounding anytime soon. He says Evergrande is just one reason for investors to avoid the region.
“If you’re invested in Chinese stocks, there have been lots of reasons to get out, quite honestly,” said Yardeni. “The Chinese Communist Party which runs the government over there has been meddling, intervening in the markets, interrupting corporate governance, telling companies how they should manage their businesses. And so I think it’s a good opportunity here just to lie low. I would not be buying on the dips in China.”
Beijing has tightened regulations on industries such as technology and private education in recent months. That increased scrutiny has taken their markets and U.S.-listed Chinese stocks lower.
Continued uncertainty in China could be a benefit for U.S. markets, he adds.
“There are lots of global investors that want to be invested in areas where they feel comfortable, where there’s corporate governance rules, where there’s contract laws that are obeyed. I think a lot of money that has gone global and might have been tempted to go to China may very well come to the U.S.,” he said.
Yardeni has a 5,000 price target on the S&P 500 for the end of 2022, though he says the benchmark index could reach that level sooner. The S&P 500 closed Friday at 4,433.
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