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Oncolytics Biotech® Updates Clinical Development and Operations Activities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

SAN DIEGO, California and CALGARY, Alberta, April 17, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Oncolytics Biotech® Inc. (NASDAQ: ONCY) (TSX: ONC), currently developing pelareorep, an intravenously delivered immuno-oncolytic virus, today provided an update on the potential impact of COVID-19 on the Company’s clinical and business operations. The Company’s clinical and regulatory teams remain active and are working closely with our investigators to identify the most appropriate steps forward for each study. There has been no impact on the continuity of the manufacturing of pelareorep, and Oncolytics is fully capable of supplying pelareorep to all ongoing clinical studies. Although it is too early to determine the absolute effects of the outbreak on specific trial timelines, it is anticipated that COVID-19 will impact clinical trial enrollment timelines to some degree.
“Certain sites have been readied for our BRACELET-1 breast cancer trial, and absent COVID-19 we would have enrolled our first patient by now,” said Dr. Matt Coffey, Chief Executive Officer at Oncolytics. “However, COVID-19 is severely impacting global healthcare systems, and all companies are seeking adaptations to maintain aggressive clinical activities. Our focus, first and foremost, is the safety of our employees and the patients in our trials. Because cancer patients participating in clinical studies are critically ill, we and regulatory bodies will strive to minimize any delays in their treatment, and the nature of our targeted patient population may mitigate long-term impact on our clinical development program, catalysts and milestones. Indeed, we remain fully committed to advancing our clinical studies, and we will seek every legitimate and reasonable measure to deliver potentially life-saving therapies to these patients.”
“The resilience and dedication of our own clinical team and our collaborators is inspiring,” said Dr. Rita Laeufle, Chief Medical Officer at Oncolytics. “We now have all twenty clinical trial sites selected for BRACELET-1, and we are expanding the number of clinical trial sites for our AWARE-1 trial. At this time, we do not expect significant enrollment delays overall and plan to have data from AWARE-1 presented at the 2020 ESMO Breast Cancer Congress, and multiple myeloma and pancreatic cancer data presented at the ASCO conference, as planned.” 
Oncolytics has adopted the FDA guidance issued for the COVID-19 pandemic: “FDA Guidance on Conduct of Clinical Trials of Medical Products during COVID-19 Pandemic: Guidance for Industry, Investigators, and Institutional Review Boards” to ensure patient safety and the appropriate use of healthcare resources.  
About Pelareorep

Pelareorep is a non-pathogenic, proprietary isolate of the unmodified reovirus: a first-in-class intravenously delivered immuno-oncolytic dsRNA virus in development for the treatment of solid tumors and hematological malignancies. The compound induces selective tumor lysis and promotes an inflamed tumor phenotype through innate and adaptive immune responses to treat a variety of cancers and has been demonstrated to be able to escape neutralizing antibodies found in patients.
About Oncolytics Biotech Inc.
Oncolytics is a biotechnology company developing pelareorep, an intravenously delivered immuno-oncolytic virus. The compound induces selective tumor lysis and promotes an inflamed tumor phenotype — turning “cold” tumors “hot” — through innate and adaptive immune responses to treat a variety of cancers.
Pelareorep has demonstrated synergies with immune checkpoint inhibitors and may also be synergistic with other approved immuno-oncology agents. Oncolytics is currently conducting and planning additional studies in combination with checkpoint inhibitors and targeted therapies in solid and hematological malignancies, as it prepares for a phase 3 registration study in metastatic breast cancer. For further information, please visit: 
This press release contains forward-looking statements, within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended and forward-looking information under applicable Canadian securities laws (such forward-looking statements and forward-looking information are collectively referred to herein as “forward-looking statements”). Forward-looking statements, including the Company’s belief as to the potential and mode of action of pelareorep as a cancer therapeutic, the anticipated mitigation of the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our clinical development program, catalysts and milestones by the return of cancer patients to treatment and care, the anticipated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our clinical trial enrollment timelines and manufacturing and supply of pelareorep; uncertainty around the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on specific trial timelines, the expected temporary nature of delays in cancer patient treatment and care; our commitment to advancing all of our studies as quickly as possible; our expectations around enrollment delays for the AWARE-1 study; our ongoing identification of trial sites for the BRACELET-1 and AWARE-1 studies;  the planned presentation of AWARE-1 data at the ESMO Breast Cancer conference in May 2020 and of myeloma and pancreatic cancer data at ASCO; the potential for delay of AWARE-1 biomarker data; and other statements related to anticipated developments in the Company’s business and other statements related to anticipated developments in the Company’s business and technologies involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties, which could cause the Company’s actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements. Such risks and uncertainties include, among others, the availability of funds and resources to pursue research and development projects, the efficacy of pelareorep as a cancer treatment, the success and timely completion of clinical studies and trials, the Company’s ability to successfully commercialize pelareorep, uncertainties related to the research and development of pharmaceuticals, uncertainties related to the regulatory process and general changes to the economic environment. In particular, we may be impacted by business interruptions resulting from COVID-19 coronavirus, including operating, manufacturing supply chain, clinical trial and project development delays and disruptions, labour shortages, travel and shipping disruption and shutdowns (including as a result of government regulation and prevention measures). It is unknown whether and how the Company may be affected if the COVID-19 pandemic persists for an extended period of time. We may incur expenses or delays relating to such events outside of our control, which could have a material adverse impact on our business, operating results and financial condition.  Investors should consult the Company’s quarterly and annual filings with the Canadian and U.S. securities commissions for additional information on risks and uncertainties relating to the forward-looking statements. Investors are cautioned against placing undue reliance on forward-looking statements. The Company does not undertake to update these forward-looking statements, except as required by applicable laws.


Company Contact
Michael Moore
Investor Relations & Corporate Communications

Investor Relations for Oncolytics
Timothy McCarthy
LifeSci Advisors


California governor names Steyer, Yellen and tech CEOs to business recovery task force

Gavin Newsom
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images

Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, who launched an expensive unsuccessful presidential campaign, will co-chair a task force in California that will focus on getting the economy up and running again.
The panel, announced on Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, will be composed of more than 70 members including former Chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Steyer’s co-chair will be Newsom’s chief of staff Ann O’Leary, a former senior advisor to Hilary Clinton.
The task force’s goal is to help Californian’s recover as fast as possible from the economic calamity resulting from the coronavirus.
The economic task force will meet twice a month through 2020.
California’s economy is the fifth largest in the world and Newsom has acknowledged the stunning economic toll of the coronavirus.
A record 2.7 million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits in the last month, according to the governor.

The Newsom administration projects the unemployment rate could top records set during the 2009 Great Recession when close to 13% of Californian’s were unemployed.
Despite California being the most populous state in the country and containing two densely packed cities – San Francisco and Los Angeles – a relatively low 28,000 cases have been confirmed in the state, including 970 deaths, according to California’s Health Department.

By contrast, New York has confirmed more than 222,000 cases and more than 12,000 deaths. 

Newsom has been out front of American’s coronavirus crisis, issuing a stay-at-home order for the state on March 19, making California the first in the country to do so.
Earlier this week he outlined a framework for reopening the economy, along with west coast neighbors Oregon and Washington.
Newsom has declined to give a timeline for when stay-at-home orders would be lifted, it currently extends through May 3 statewide and longer in places like Los Angeles which has an order in effect until May 15.

DAX Soars 3% After Positive Data On Coronavirus Drug

(RTTNews) – German stocks rallied on Friday as investors overlooked bleak China growth data and cheered reports suggesting that the experimental Covid-19 treatment remdesivir is showing promise in a Chicago clinical trial.
Most of its patients had “rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms” and were discharged in less than a week, health-care publication STAT News reported, citing a closely watched clinical trial of Gilead’s antiviral drug.
Investors also welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for a gradual re-opening of the U.S. economy.
The benchmark DAX jumped 311 points, or 3.02 percent, to 10,613 in early trade after closing up 0.2 percent the previous day.
Automakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen rallied 4-6 percent even as industry data showed Europe car registrations recorded a dramatic drop in March.

Passenger car registrations declined 55.1 percent year-on-year to 567,308 units in the month as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association reported.

Data of the dead: Virtual immortality exposes holes in privacy laws

TBILISI (REUTERS) – Have you ever wanted to talk to a loved one after they died? It used to be that only necromancers and mediums could claim to contact the dead, but soon digital versions of the deceased could be living just a few clicks away.
From South Korea to the United States, tech startups are looking at ways to keep the dead alive in a digital afterlife that data experts say poses myriad legal and ethical questions the world is yet to properly address.
“Technically, we can recreate anyone online given enough data,” said clinical assistant professor Faheem Hussain of Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

“That opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical implications.”
Most services only allow people to sign up to their own digital afterlife while they are still alive.
But the lack of regulation on the issue leaves the door open for others with access to the data of the deceased to bring them back to life in virtual form – raising concerns about privacy and consent, data experts say.

“In most countries in the world, the data of the deceased are not protected,” said Dr Edina Harbinja, a senior lecturer in media and privacy law at Birmingham’s Aston University.
“So, nothing in law would prevent the creation of an avatar or android that would resemble the dead.”
That could happen without the consent of the deceased, and the data used could infringe on other people’s privacy if it includes for example conversations the person had with friends and others, she noted.
From virtual reality (VR) to artificial intelligence (AI), advances in technology have spurred a series of initiatives offering different shades of virtual immortality in recent years.

In February, a South Korean broadcaster aired a tearful reunion between a mother and her deceased seven-year-old daughter who was recreated through VR as a digital avatar modelled upon a child actor using photos and memories from her mother.
Other companies have been looking at social media as a source of information to create chatbots that could impersonate us after we are gone.
ETER9, a social network set up by Portuguese developer Henrique Jorge, pairs each user with an AI “counterpart” that learns to copy their online behaviour and can post comments and content on their behalf – even after they are dead.
“When a user decides to keep his counterpart active for eternity, he will have the extension of himself alive forever,” Mr Jorge told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in e-mailed comments.
“Some years from now, your great-grandchildren will be able to talk with you even if they didn’t have the chance to know you in person.”
US-based Eternime offers a similar service, while Replika, a company in California, creates digital alter egos that users can talk to when in need of a confidant or companion.
Other startups like SafeBeyond and GoneNotGone allow people to record videos and messages that will be dispatched to their loved ones after death, like letters from the grave marking birthdays or other life events.
While some people might find comfort in the idea of living on digitally after they die, data experts warn that holes in data protection laws make it possible to virtually resurrect someone without their permission.
Wills can provide some guidelines if they contain directions on how to dispose of the deceased’s digital assets, but in some countries, there is no guarantee these will be honoured, said Dr Harbinja at Aston University.
In Britain, for example, decisions around what to do with data are seen as personal wishes – akin to preferring cremation rather than burial – that can be overridden by executors and heirs and are not enforceable in court, Dr Harbinja noted.
A few European countries allow heirs to exercise data protections granted to the living, such as the right to access or erase personal data or move it from one social media platform to another.
ETER9 founder Jorge said his social network deals with some of those issues by allowing users to set up their account to stop generating posts on their behalf once they have died.
Users can also nominate a person to be responsible for their account after death.
But even those safeguards bring about some ethical conundrums, such as whether it would be right to pull the plug on a digital avatar that someone had set up as a perpetual testament to their life, Dr Harbinja said.
“Should the data protection and other laws cater for the rights of the family or of the deceased?” she asked.
“And where do we draw the line between life and death, or between remembering someone and recreating someone?”
With the number of Facebook profiles belonging to dead people expected to outnumber those of the platform’s living users within a few decades, data privacy questions are becoming more pressing, said Mr Carl Ohman at the Oxford Internet Institute.
Besides helping bereaved people grieve, the data left behind by the deceased can provide future generations with an unprecedented insight into our society, according to Mr Ohman, a digital afterlife expert.
“This (Facebook) is the biggest archive of human behaviour ever assembled in the history of our species,” he said by phone.
And leaving companies who stand to make money from that archive to decide what to do with it could be problematic, he added.
Some might decide to delete profiles that are not profitable, destroying valuable historical data, while others could create avatars that do things their living versions would have not approved of in a bid to increase returns, he said.
One solution would be for the industry to come together and self-regulate around ethical standards similar to those adopted by archaeological museums – treating the data of the deceased as if they were “digital human remains”, Mr Ohman suggested.
Companies could make aggregated and anonymised data of deceased people public for researchers to study, releasing more detailed information – particularly about relevant historic figures – as the years pass, he said.
At the same time, full digital resurrections should be limited to people who consented to it in life, and they should be made fully aware of how their data is going to be displayed post mortem, leaving no room for later modifications, he added.
Guessing how the digital afterlife world will develop – and how popular virtual avatars could become – may take longer still.
The ETER9 website, which has been under maintenance for weeks, has about 70,000 users, Mr Jorge said, compared with Facebook’s 2.5 billion.
The Eternime project counts on almost 47,000 subscribers but is currently on hold due to lack of funding, its founder said.
Asst Prof Hussain of Arizona State University said it is important to start a global conversation to address some of the issues the industry poses before they come to the fore.
This is particularly true at a time where online interactions are ballooning as the new coronavirus pandemic forces many to stay home, he added.
“Human society as a whole is creating more digital footprints than ever before,” he said.
“One of the certainties in life is that we are going to be dead, so where’s the design for that?”

Biotechs are battling to make the first good blood test for Covid-19

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) – When Gunther Burgard read about a new coronavirus spreading in China in early January, he convened his team at PharmAct to find out whether the biotech’s platform of finger-prick diagnostics could be put to work in the outbreak.
The Berlin-based company uses markers in the blood to detect everything from heart attacks to early signs of diabetes, offering results in less than 20 minutes. Harnessing that experience to find Covid-19 antibodies seemed within reach, says Burgard, PharmAct’s medical director.
Four months later, PharmAct’s US$40 (S$57) test kit-and many others like it from enterprising startups and established players around the globe-are one tool that could allow governments and scientists to grasp the pandemic’s true scope.

These antibody tests are at the forefront of a push to assess who has potentially built up some immunity to the new virus, even unknowingly, pinpointing who can probably leave confinement and start rebuilding shattered economies. But the technology is harder to get right than for basic diagnostics, and the new tools proved unreliable in the U.K. and Spain, raising questions about whether the race to supply them has come at the expense of quality.
“Every scientist and his dog is trying to make this test,” said James Gill, a clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School in Coventry, England. “Whichever one is the fastest, whichever one is the cheapest, and whichever one is most reliable will be adopted.” PharmAct’s test, intended for healthcare professionals, suffered a public relations blow shortly after it went on sale last month, when a prominent virologist told a German newspaper that he had used it for research in the country’s biggest coronavirus hotspot and that it had failed to catch two-thirds of cases.
“That hurt us a lot,” Burgard said. “It was written all over that these tests are rubbish.”

He calls that analysis “bad science,” arguing that his company’s test can’t identify infection early on, since people have yet to build up antibodies. The virologist’s sample size was also too small to be instructive, he said.
Still, PharmAct is working on improving its test, which has millions of orders beyond Germany’s borders, according to Burgard. By his own estimates, the test is reliable more than 99 per cent of the time.
Adding to the attraction, the antibody tests are easier to mass produce and handle than the ones currently used to diagnose patients while they’re infected, since they have fewer components and often don’t require skilled lab technicians.
The scramble to make the new tools kicked off on Jan 10, when Chinese researchers published the genome sequence of the new virus. That enabled scientists to analyse its molecular structure, which includes about 29 identifiable proteins.

Antibody test makers have chiefly focused on two of those: the spike protein that sticks out of the virus, giving it its crown-like shape, and one called a nucleocapsid, which is located inside and surrounds the virus’s genetic material.

When a person gets Covid-19, their immune system summons antibodies to neutralise the virus’s proteins. So a reliable test needs to contain proteins-grown in the lab-that are as similar as possible to the virus’s natural ones. (The test’s accuracy also relies on other factors, such as the selection of chemical buffers).
The publishing of the genome sequence brought about a crucial decision for test developers: should they grow the viral proteins in their own labs or buy them from a biotech supplier? The latter option was compelling, since it’s often faster and cheaper, but it comes with a risk.
That’s because a company might order a bad batch of proteins, stick it on their test and only discover weeks later that it’s compromising results. Still, many are willing to take that risk in order to speed up development.
“If you’re a company, you have about 40 competitors doing the same thing, and quickly,” says Stanley Perlman, a microbiology and immunology professor at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. “I’d want to do everything myself.”
PharmAct started out by buying proteins, but it’s now making as much of them as possible on its own.
Once a test is made, the hard part comes-proving that it actually works. To do so, researchers check how the test performs when looking at two categories of blood: some that’s Covid-19 positive, and some that they know isn’t.

If a test can reliably identify positive samples, it’s considered highly sensitive. If it can identify negatives, it’s called specific. That means it knows the difference between Covid-19 antibodies and others raised by, say, another coronavirus that causes the common cold.
Validating the serological tests has been hard. Early on, the Chinese health care system at the heart of the outbreak was so overwhelmed that test makers operating there struggled to access blood samples of patients. That was even more difficult for companies located elsewhere.
“It was virtually impossible to get blood samples out of China,” said Volker Stadler, chief executive officer of PepperPrint, a diagnostics startup in Heidelberg, Germany, that’s developed a so-called peptide microarray to scrutinise the actual bits of protein to which antibodies attach-a level of detail that could help developers make even more discerning tests.
Things got easier after a small outbreak of Covid-19 hit Munich in late January. Blood samples from 14 patients travelled to Berlin’s Charité hospital, and PepperPrint was able to send a technician there to test its research tool. The company has also started developing its own antibody test.
Most test developers tout their products as performing very accurately when properly used, according to Marco Donolato, co-founder and chief scientific officer of BluSense Diagnostics in Copenhagen. “If you see the brochure of every company, it’s 99 per cent,” Donolato said.
In reality, the tests often don’t perform so well in the hands of inexperienced users who are often toiling in sub-optimal conditions. BluSense is working to validate its own antibody test with blood samples in Denmark. The process is often iterative, with test-makers tweaking their kits gradually to improve accuracy.

An impartial review of dozens of antibody tests will be available in coming weeks from the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, a nonprofit group based in Geneva. PharmAct’s test isn’t among them, though the organisation plans to keep investigating more candidates on a rolling basis.
Gill, the lecturer at Warwick Medical School, has a rather clear picture in his head of what a winning product should look like.
“If your test can be dropped down the stairs by a health-care worker who has fumbled the box, and be left on a counter in Nairobi in the blistering heat, and be dunked in a river accidentally in America,” he said. “If your test can survive all that and give the accurate result, your lab is going to make an awful lot of money.”

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The tech industry's early work-from-home mandates helped California and Washington flatten the curve

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., left, speaks as Marc Benioff, chairman and co-chief executive officer of Inc., listens during a keynote at the 2019 DreamForce conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

On March 19, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide shelter-in-place order to stem the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee followed four days later.
While they were moving aggressively relative to the rest of the country, the top employers in their states were weeks ahead of them.

Twitter was the first to move, strongly encouraging its nearly 5,000 employees to work from home on March 1, because of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, and making the order mandatory on March 11. Amazon told its roughly 50,000 Seattle-area employees on March 4 to work from home if they could. Facebook informed its Bay Area workers the next day that it was “strongly recommending” they work remotely. Over the next week, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce mostly emptied out, keeping about 200,000 people away from the office.
Tech has taken a beating in recent years as critics have attacked the industry’s growing power, privacy abuses and executive malfeasance. But the industry’s early social-distancing moves are a big reason that California and Washington, two early U.S. hotspots of virus outbreak, have bent the infection curve while other states are deep in crisis.
“lt comes down to a real sense of civic responsibility,” said Amy Weaver, Salesforce’s president and chief legal officer. “If we’ve got the ability to work from home and save lives we’ve got to be doing that.”
In California, Covid-19 has killed two people for every 100,000 residents, and in Washington the number is eight, according to data collected by the New York Times. Both states are seeing a slowdown in the number of new cases. New York, meanwhile is at almost 60 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people, New Jersey is over 35 and Louisiana and Connecticut have reached 24.

Early government moves on the West Coast helped, such as banning large gatherings and closing schools. But tech companies led the way in getting people to stay home.

Steve Grobman, chief technology officer of security software vendor McAfee, says the industry was able to respond because it’s been spearheading the move to a world of cloud computing and collaboration, enabling people to work from anywhere and on a multitude of devices.
By contrast, banks in New York, auto companies in Detroit, and big retailers, energy producers and food producers in other regions don’t have the same luxury. The same is true for Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers.
“The Bay Area is largely a digital economy and digital workplace,” said Grobman, who’s based in Plano, Texas, but supports about 400 of the company’s employees in and around Silicon Valley. “Workers were largely familiar with remote working technology and businesses were well-suited to run many aspects of their business remotely.”

Salesforce saw what Trump missed

For Salesforce, the problem started to become clear in late January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said Weaver, who attended along with about a dozen other company executives, including CEO Marc Benioff. Panels were beginning late, she said, because leaders from various parts of the world were taking calls about the coronavirus, which at the time was centered in China.
President Trump said not to worry. In response to a question on Jan. 22, about the coronavirus, Trump told CNBC in Davos that, “We have it totally under control” and “it’s going to be just fine.”

Weaver was seeing something different.
“I got the sense something was going on even though it wasn’t in the headlines at that point,” Weaver said.
By Feb. 10, Salesforce had a steering committee meeting daily, and nine days later the company canceled a big event scheduled for March in Sydney and made it virtual-only. Then came an end to non-essential travel and handshakes. Finally, on March 7, employees were asked to work from home.
Of Salesforce’s 50,000 employees, about 10,000 are in San Francisco. It also has a large presence in Seattle after the company’s acquisition of Tableau Software last year. 
Hundreds of miles to the north of Salesforce’s headquarters, Challenge Seattle, an alliance of 19 CEOs from the city’s top employers, convened a dinner on Feb. 25, to discuss how to take unified action. It was four days before Washington state officials confirmed the first U.S. death from coronavirus, a man in his 50s in the Seattle area.
Former Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle, said the group snapped into action right away, putting health experts out front in regular briefings to describe the severity of the coronavirus, which blew up in Seattle with an outbreak at a senior center. Executives from Microsoft and Starbucks also detailed what they experienced at their operations in China.
On March 4, Microsoft encouraged employees in the Seattle region and Bay Area to work from home. 
“When the larger employers did so, the medium-sized to small businesses began to follow suit,” Gregoire said. “No-one here doesn’t think that has contributed significantly to why our curve really flattened faster than anybody anticipated.”
Gregoire calls the collaboration between corporate executives and government leaders the “most heartwarming thing I’ve ever seen” in terms of public-private partnership. For example, when the National Guard said it was having trouble getting and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), Challenge Seattle put out a call and got experts from Microsoft and Amazon to run the process for the state, she said.
Gregoire said Challenge Seattle is still leading daily calls with experts, and on Wednesday 200 people joined.

Richard ‘Rich’ Barton, co-founder and CEO of Zillow Inc.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Real estate marketplace Zillow is one of the group’s members. In late February, the company put together a taskforce to meet daily and prepare its facilities, human resources, communications, operations and finance teams for what was coming. 
The company asked all employees to cancel non-essential travel on March 1, and Zillow CEO Rich Barton opted not to attend Morgan Stanley’s technology conference in San Francisco the next day, dialing in instead. A couple days later, on March 4, it recommended that 2,500 employees in Seattle and 400-plus in San Francisco work from home.
“We feel that we certainly took action as quickly as possible,” said Dawn Lyon, Zillow’s chief corporate relations officer, adding that it took longer for the company to shut down other parts of the business in markets where conditions were different. In Seattle and the Bay Area, “talking to government and city officials and working in collaboration with other businesses was super helpful,” she said.
Lyon said Zillow learned of its first known Covid-19 infection two weeks ago and that there haven’t been many within the company.
Joseph Ansanelli is still in the early stages of building his San Francisco-based company Gladly, which sells customer service software. He sent his 100 employees home the first week in March.
Ansanelli, who was previously a venture capitalist at Greylock Partners, suggested tech executives were quick to act partly because the industry appreciates scientific data and understands the concept of viral growth. Businesses like Facebook, LinkedIn and Airbnb (all Greylock companies) took off because one person who liked the service would tell three people who would each tell three more. Tech investors compare the phenomenon to an infectious virus for a reason.
“We understood theories of virality, not from a medical standpoint but from a growth standpoint,” Ansanelli said. “We said this may be in the early stages, but this thing grows geometrically, and in a week it’s going to be really bad.”

Trying to reboot

Saving lives, however, is very different than saving the economy.
Tech start-ups in Northern California and the Seattle area are getting battered with layoffs, particularly for companies tied to travel, tourism and mobility. A website,, was created to track job cuts at start-ups. Since March 11, the site says, 253 companies have eliminated over 24,600 positions, and many more are expected. Even Google is slowing hiring for the rest of the year.
But because of the effective shelter-in-place efforts, the West Coast is now mapping out a plan for restarting the economy. On Monday, Newsom, Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a regional partnership to coordinate their efforts, and on Tuesday, Newsom outlined six indicators that will guide California’s decision. They include the ability to protect residents through testing, the health system’s ability to handle a possible surge, the development of therapeutics and the ability for businesses and schools to implement physical distancing. 

As government leaders start planning to reopen, tech companies that switched quickly into remote mode can take their time returning to the office, and can even become more flexible as they look to the future. 
Outreach, which sells software for salespeople, started sending its 450 employees home on March 2, the morning after CEO Manny Medina returned from a trip to the U.K. 
“We made it not a hard stop, but you have to have a damn good reason for coming to the office,” said Medina. 

Outreach CEO Manny Medina

He’s since been holding office hours on Zoom multiple times a week, inviting employees to ask about anything — personal or business-related. The Seattle-based company has continued to on-board new hires as well, bringing in more than 50 employees this week. All of them are working remotely.
Seeing how the business keeps chugging along, Medina is now considering ways he can be more efficient.
“If I don’t have to spend on real estate, that’s very attractive,” he said.
WATCH: How the coronavirus is changing the movie industry

Three experts break down latest unemployment and housing start data

Austan Goolsbee, professor at the University of Chicago Booth School and former chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors, Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and David Bailin, chief investment officer at Citi Private Bank, joins “Squawk Box” to discuss the latest weekly jobless claims amid the coronavirus crisis.


24 minutes ago

How governments and Big Tech are looking to curb the spread of coronavirus with your smartphone

Singapore’s new contact tracing app, TraceTogether, which is being used as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus in the city-state.
Catherine Lai | AFP via Getty Images

Governments around the world are developing mobile apps to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus using a method known as “contact tracing.”
Contact tracing is the process of asking infected patients who they’ve recently come into contact with. The logic being that, by doing so, health authorities are able to better identify the people at risk of infection and have them quarantined or monitored.

Experts say that logging that data through a smartphone would be a much more effective strategy, but there are concerns over what that means for users’ privacy. Some of the initiatives use Bluetooth to notify people when they’ve been near someone infected with coronavirus, while others use GPS location data, which is harder to anonymize.
CNBC runs through all the major global initiatives on contact tracing technology — and how the companies and governments behind them are thinking about privacy.


The U.S. is yet to endorse any form of contact tracing technology, but there are a number of initiatives across different states looking to develop such systems.
One, from a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, uses anonymized GPS data and Bluetooth to log interactions and alert people if they’ve come into contact with someone who has Covid-19.
Called Safe Paths, those behind the initiative call it a “privacy-first” solution, as it would let users match a personal log of location data on their phone with an anonymized location history of infected patients.

There are also two other apps, Stanford University-backed Covid Watch and Seattle-based CoEpi, which are working with MIT’s Safe Paths to achieve a technical standard that works across different platforms and regions.
Meanwhile, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, has said that the U.S. should introduce “very aggressive” contact tracing in combination with testing to tackle the pandemic.
He didn’t promote the use of smartphone data to achieve such contact tracing, but said such ideas were under “aggressive evaluation.”


There are several projects in Europe working to develop contact tracing platforms to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The U.K.’s National Health Service is creating a contact tracing app that would use Bluetooth to gather anonymous proximity information to alert someone if they’ve been near an infected individual and need to self-isolate.
Addressing privacy concerns, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said any data gathered through the NHS app will be handled ethically and securely and no longer than is necessary.
It comes after Oxford University researchers recommended the use of such an app to slow the rate of transmission. Academics at the university recommend that any contact-tracing app should however be complimentary to other measures like social distancing and testing.

In Europe, there is a regulatory incentive for contact tracing initiatives to get privacy right. That’s because the General Data Protection Regulation, a sweeping privacy law introduced in 2018, has given consumers more rights over their data and how it’s used by organizations.
That’s been top of mind in Germany, where the government is working on an app that tracks possible chains of Covid-19 contagion with Bluetooth.
Chris Boos, one of the developers behind the app, has explicitly said he doesn’t want to “recreate the situation in some Asian countries where people are completely exposed.”
Boos is also part of a broader effort called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, or PEPP-PT, which would use low-energy Bluetooth to log proximity data locally on a user’s smartphone instead of a central server.


Asia is where the coronavirus outbreak originated, so it’s no surprise that the continent has also been home to the most active digital contact tracing schemes.
Singapore rolled out an app last month that exchanges short-distance Bluetooth signals between handsets when users are near one another. Not long after launch, the city-state said it would make the source code of that software freely available to developers worldwide.
South Korea has used cell phone location data for contact tracing, while China’s government has deployed tracking apps with QR codes in order to control people’s movements and contain the virus.

The latter has triggered fears over the potential for abuse of technology by some governments for surveillance. In Singapore’s case, the health ministry has tried to allay such concerns, claiming it doesn’t collect personal data or location information.
India meanwhile also has an app that uses Bluetooth and location data to alert users if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. But some have criticized the initiative for being too vague and open to privacy abuses.

Google and Apple

Last week, Google and Apple announced that they’ve been working together on software that traces the contacts of “affected individuals” by using Bluetooth technology.
The two tech giants’ mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, collectively power more than 99% of the world’s smartphones. That makes their involvement much more significant for the tracking of the coronavirus than individual government efforts.
Google and Apple are however working with public health officials to develop the technology.

First off, they’re releasing developer tools known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, next month to allow official contact-tracing apps to operate across Android and iOS.
The next step will be for both firms to build Bluetooth-based contact tracing into their own operating systems, which suggests people will be able use it without downloading an app. Users will have to opt in to get access to the feature though.
Google and Apple say users won’t need to worry about privacy breaches as the companies won’t be collecting personal or location data.
“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders,” both companies said Friday.

Electronic platforms are challenging bond broker-dealers

ONE OF THE minor miracles of financial markets is that, in volatile periods such as these, sellers of securities can be readily matched with buyers. Though the direction of prices is uncertain, trading volumes are solid. Yet worrywarts say that while liquidity is plentiful at first when volatility rises, it cannot be relied on if markets stay jumpy for a while.
Corporate bonds cause the biggest headaches. A cheap and convenient way to hold them is via exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, low-cost vehicles that hold baskets of bonds and trade on stock exchanges. Part of the appeal of bond ETFs is the ease with which they can be bought or sold. But the corporate bonds held in such funds are typically less liquid than shares. Bonds are not as standardised; a company may issue them at varying maturities. Investors may still think they can sell them at a moment’s notice. There have long been concerns about a shortage of willing traders should the markets become stressed.

The broker-dealers who have traditionally stood between buyers and sellers of corporate bonds have scaled back their role as risk-takers (see chart). New forms of market-making are emerging. Slowly at first, and lately more quickly, the corporate-bond market is embracing trading on electronic platforms. Bloomberg is one of the main players. Another is Tradeweb, a venue favoured for the trading of government bonds. A third platform, MarketAxess, is the one best known for corporate-bond trades. A big question is, can such platforms make up for the diminution of old-school sources of liquidity?
Until 2008, the ease with which investors could trade corporate bonds relied on the willingness of big investment banks to hoard securities. These telephone-based dealers would buy bonds during periods of heavy selling and warehouse them for when investors were willing to bid for them again. But new rules since the financial crisis have made it expensive for banks to use capital for trading activities of any kind. The stockpile of corporate bonds they held dropped like a stone.
Enter the trading platforms. MarketAxess started 20 years ago as a way for pension funds and insurers to trade with the big dealer-brokers in an efficient way. After the financial crisis, it became clear that its clients needed something more. The firm started a programme to bring smaller, regional dealers and other liquidity providers into the fold. Individually none could match the muscle of the big Wall Street banks. But put them together and they provide meaningful liquidity for MarketAxess’s big clients. The firm has over 1,700 users, including mega-funds such as BlackRock and Legal & General. Volumes have risen for 11 years in a row. It handles a fifth of trading in investment-grade bonds in America. By far the fastest volume growth in the year to the end of February was in less-liquid securities, such as high-yield and emerging-market bonds.
The wonder is that it has taken so long for electronic trading to take hold in bond-land. It seems rather quaint that some deals are still brokered by traders with a phone glued to each ear. Screen-based trading is more transparent and far more efficient. But old habits die hard. A challenge for any platform—whether it is a dating website or an online-trading venue—is to persuade customers that there will be plenty of other customers to transact with. The barriers to “open trading” were high; traders were at first chary of advertising their bids and offers to all and sundry for fear that prices would move against them. But that has changed, says Rich Schiffman, head of Open Trading at MarketAxess. “They have come to realise that the benefits far outweigh the risks.” The more people who see your order, the better chance someone will fulfil it. Renewed market volatility might even attract more arbitrageurs to the platform.

Big tests lie ahead. Half of all investment-grade bonds have a credit rating of BBB. In a deep recession some of those bonds will be downgraded to junk. A lot of mutual funds can hold only investment-grade bonds. If big blocks of bonds have to change hands quickly, it might overwhelm the market’s liquidity. A lot rests on the further success of the electronic platforms.■
This article appeared in the Finance and economics section of the print edition under the headline “Match point”
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Tesla will sell electric cars in the Middle East

Elon Musk in 90 Seconds
Tesla is bringing its electric cars to the heart of the oil producing world. The automaker announced Monday that its first official venture in the Middle East will be in the United Arab Emirates. The first cars — the Model S and Model X — will hit the road this summer. “Timing seems to be good to really make a significant debut in this region starting in Dubai,” Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk said at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Tesla owners will have access to two existing supercharging stations in the UAE, and Telsa plans to open five more by the end of the year. Despite sitting on huge oil and gas reserves, the UAE has ambitious plans to go green. Last month it said it will invest $163 billion to boost alternative energy use over the next three decades. Related: Tesla reveals what it will charge for a charge It’s the latest in a series of expansion announcements for Tesla. Last week, Musk hinted that Tesla may soon come to India. Musk has also teased plans to build “heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport” as well developing a ride-hailing network, which could be similar to Uber. Speaking in Dubai, the entrepreneur expounded on the future of robotics. “We will see autonomy and artificial intelligence advance tremendously,” Musk said. “In probably 10 years, it will be very unusual for cars to be built that are not fully autonomous.” Related: Elon Musk’s surprising secret weapon: Trump? But he also warned of the “disruptive” nature of autonomous vehicles. “That disruption I’m talking about will take place over about 20 years. Still, 20 years is a short period of time to have something like 12% to 15% of the workforce be unemployed.” Musk said governments must pay close attention to artificial intelligence, create sustainable transport and be wary of mass unemployment. “This will be a massive social challenge. Ultimately, we need to think about universal basic income. I don’t think we have a choice,” he said. “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.” — Seth Fiegerman contributed reporting.

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