Health Startups Confront Covid-19: SOSV/Alpha Webinar 

 

Brian Smiga:

Welcome everyone, we’re really pleased you could join us tonight. We have a great, esteemed lineup led by Sean O’Sullivan and his team at SOSV. We thought it’d be a great idea to gather all of you and the SOSV team to look at how startups are confronting the COVID-19 crisis. And it’s my pleasure to gather this group, both the audience and the SOSV team to have this discussion. 

 

Alpha is a growth venture fund that works as the opportunity fund for many early stage funds like SOSV. And it’s been our pleasure to be a co-investor with Sean, who I now am happy to introduce. So please welcome Sean O’Sullivan, he’s going to speak about his venture firms’ response to COVID and introduce our guests as we go along tonight. 

Sean O’Sullivan:

Thank you very much Brian. It is great to work with Alpha Venture Partners. SOSV is a very early stage VC firm. We manage about $700 million in investment capital directly. We invest in about 150 new startups every year. We are dependent on later stage firms as we run accelerators. These companies we fund every year through syndicates like with Alpha Venture Partners and others that invest alongside us. We actually get about $700 to $800 million invested every year into the SOSV portfolios of companies.

Sean O’Sullivan:

SOSV has about half our staff, 60 of our staff,in China. But even with that sort of advanced warning, I’d say, pretty much shocked with what’s happened here with COVID-19 in the United States. And so we started in March working with our portfolio companies to try to get them some additional capital. We had a call for applications for COVID-19 companies that wanted to get started and funded. And we helped a number of our companies do some pivots and get them some additional capital. We earmarked around $20 million in funding just for the COVID-19 response of the companies that we’re backing.

Sean O’Sullivan:

So we have launched a call for applications for the COVID-19 accelerator. Really, it’s just on top of our existing IndieBio New York and IndieBio San Francisco accelerators, as well as our Hacks accelerators. We’ve got 160 applications which we received and spoke with every one of those teams in 34 days and selected eight of those companies for funding giving them the first funding of about 400  thousan each across a wide a variety of different application areas from therapeutics to diagnostics to disinfecting technologies to hardware, robotics, et cetera.

Sean O’Sullivan:

On this call tonight, you’ll see some real stars in the life sciences area. Here are three companies that came out of IndieBio: Renegade Bio, Caspr and Prellis are on this call tonight. And two of those are diagnostics related companies, you can’t tackle this disease. You don’t want to, as Trump said, “Let this disease wash over the United States.” Before I think realize how terrible that would be because as we’ve seen it’s been pretty horrendous. 0.25% of New York City is already dead which is such a shocking number, unimaginable. And we’re looking at 2,000 deaths a day for the next couple of months in all likelihood, if not higher, if the wave doesn’t get worse.

Sean O’Sullivan:

So we’re probably looking at an infection fatality rate of somewhere between 1 to 2%. Our calculations are like 1.35% at least, if we don’t have a better response. So what can we do as a better response? We can stop the genie from getting to … But the genie’s already out of the bottle. But what we can do is stop it from getting to everyone. Social distancing has been doing a charm there. But we need to track, trace and we need to have therapeutics that can help us survive the second wave and many of us who are still obviously going through the first wave.

Sean O’Sullivan:

And if we are able to have some small molecule therapeutics, we have a couple of shots on goal there as well.  And there are processes which reduce the viral load, then it’s very possible that we could end up with… actually going ahead and letting everyone get infected and letting it because it won’t be fatal or it won’t produce the long time the impact of having this become a lifelong disability for many people.

Sean O’Sullivan:

Also on this call we’ll be hearing from Brad Higgins, who’s an SOSV partner who did get COVID-19 and was hospitalized, was in the ICU and is now recovering. Brad can speak to some of the impact of what it’s like surviving COVID-19 and it is not easy. We also have backed a number of hardware companies. Sean 

One of our technologies blocks all viruses, and everything below 100 nanometers is actually locked. So that’s a new technology. We’ve other hardware technologies, robotics companies for disinfecting, and temperature sensing. We have monitoring systems for people who have pulmonary disabilities, et cetera, liquid handling robots, and automated testing. Now I’m going to turn it over to Craig, for Craig to give us a view as to how important a role the PCR based testing is. Craig.

Craig Rouskey:

Thank you Sean. I’m Craig Rouskey, the CEO of Renegade Bio. I’m really excited to share with you how we are bringing fast, accessible, secure triage for COVID-19 to the community at large. So to start off, this is our team. I have my master’s in molecular biology and immunology and have worked pretty extensively throughout the field. And Gabriel Paulino and I worked together or met each other in IndieBio Class Nine. And when the pandemic was announced, we immediately jumped to action. We brought on Solu Ribeiro who manages our collections. And together the three of us have formed a team of more than 20 physicians, scientists, programmers, business leaders and advisors.

Craig Rouskey:

Here is a map of our activity over the last two months. March 11th, the pandemic was declared, the CDC released their primer and probe sequences. By March 18th we were incorporated as a public benefit corporation. March 24th we completed 120 research tests in San Francisco and on March 28th we were recruited to New York City to start testing first responders here. April 15th was a big day for us, it was the first day we released our results in New York City and tomorrow our first EUA emergency use authorization will be filed.

Craig Rouskey:

So what do we do? We are a full services laboratory. We help organizations collect their samples through logistics collections. We operate and built our own laboratory information management system to track samples and data through our lab from the patient through the lab and back out to the patient. We develop assays and optimize other assays that have been created in the case of SARS-CoV-2 and then we perform those assays in our CLIA Laboratories in New York City and in Oakland.

Craig Rouskey:

So what is the principle behind the Renegade XP assay that we developed for COVID? So basically what happens is the sample is collected either a nasal pharyngeal swab, an oral pharyngeal swab or even sputum is collected from the patient. We do a pretty quick RNA preparation. That takes about half a minute per sample. That preparation is then reverse transcribed into what is called cDNA, complementary DNA, and amplified by DNA polymerase. As that DNA polymerase sort of chomps along the single strand of DNA, it releases a fluorophore that is attached to a probe and as that fluorophore is released, it is released into the assay matrix and we detect a fluorescent signal on our qPCR machine. Specifically our assay is targeting one gene in the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is the nucleocapsid gene. And we also look at RNA SP, which is human RNA, just to assess the quality of the RNA that we recover from our RNA preparation stage.

Craig Rouskey:

So our emergency use authorization data is being submitted tomorrow, as I mentioned. The analytical specificity of our test is 100%. What that means is when we say we detect SARS-CoV-2, we detect SARS-CoV-2, nothing else! The analytical sensitivity is the limit of detection of the assay and we can recognize down to 10 copies at the current moment in our assay. That’s 10 copies per microliter. Our diagnostic specificity is the rate at which negatives are detected as negatives. So also a measure of false positives, and we are at 0% false positives or 100% diagnostic specificity. The diagnostic sensitivity is the ability of our tests to detect how many or the number of positives at the limit of detection. And there, we’re at 95%. And you can see in the data in this experiment that I included here. We have one out of 20 that didn’t respond to the test at the limit of detection. 

Craig Rouskey:

We are four times as fast as the CDC method. We do a minimal RNA preparation, one of the big complaints with a lot of the qPCR, qRT-PCR assays is that there is an extensive RNA preparation time that takes about five minutes per sample. Our RNA preparation takes half a minute per sample, which allows us to run 96 samples in two hours, which is amazing. So per day per machine with a 96-Well Block, we’re actually able to run 1,200 samples a day at our current capacity.

Craig Rouskey:

So we see our assay as a way to reopen the economy. We’ve begun partnering with organizations to administer certificates of compliance through their occupational safety and health departments. And we’re also talking about immunity passports. The World Health Organization has gone back and forth on the immunity passport. As we further discover the role of antibodies in this infection. That is, are they protective or not? One of the issues that we’ve heard a lot about immunity passports is the HIPAA issue. How do employers have the right to know their employees’ status, and we refer to HBV or tuberculosis. If you are a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, et cetera, you’re required to get these tests and have your results reported to your employer. So it would be no different for SARS-CoV-2.

Craig Rouskey:

And for context we’re here in New York State and currently New York State is running about 40,000 tests per day or trying to get to 40,000 tests per day, and at our current capacity, that’s three machines running the tests that were developed here at Renegade Bio. That’s 1,440 tests per day. That’s 3.6% capacity and the Renegade Bio capacity in 10 days, that is the number of tests per day will be 5,760 tests per day, representing about 14.4% of the total New York State capacity.

Craig Rouskey:

So the way we see this working, opening up the economy is basically having an employee or a patient tested for virus. If they test positive for virus, they would be quarantined for 14 days, at which point you would retest them for the virus. If they’re positive, they go back into quarantine and continue in that loop. If they’re negative, they shift over to the antibody tests. And we are working with partners to bring antibody testing into our clinical labs as well. And if they’re positive for the antibodies, they’re considered immune. If they’re negative for the antibodies, they’re considered susceptible and that information would be reported to the OSHA Department or to the patient through an immunity passport. So yeah, that’s what we’re doing, if you or your organization would like to get tested, please feel free to reach out to me, craig@renegadebio, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

Sean O’Sullivan:

Melanie, you’re up next. 

Melanie Matheu:

I am the founder and CEO of Prellis Biologics. I was part of IndieBio’s Class Five. I have a PhD in physiology and biophysics where I spent my time studying the immune system as well as additional tissues within the immune system. The immune system is extensive –  it’s throughout our body. So it gave me a really good background to start a tissue engineering company. I’ve spent 15 years looking at pretty much every tissue in the body. And while we are a part of Class Five IndieBio, one of the first tissues we built as a tissue engineering company is something we call mini human lymph node. It’s basically an externalized human immune system that you can use to test viral responses. You can use it to make antibodies. And that’s what we did.

Melanie Matheu:

When this crisis became apparent that it was going to become a global pandemic, we took a hard look at restarting that technology, which we have granted IP on, and decided to shift our efforts towards producing monoclonal antibodies that are virus neutralizing. And I’m happy to share what we’re doing and a progress update. So because we can do this with an externalized human immune system, we get the immune cells from a blood draw. We can produce these, neutralize the antibodies in about 30 days in the lab. So we’re faster than any other technology out there. It often takes people several months to get this going. Even if they’re getting the cells from someone who was already infected. 

Melanie Matheu:

In about three months, our world was shifted forever, and so it’s time to do something about it. This is the greatest pandemic in living memory. And my opinion as someone who’s studied immunology for many years is that this is not going away, it’s going to be persistent. And we have produced pandemic stopping antibodies in the lab now, and we’re currently screening them. So I’m really happy to share why and how we’re doing that. As I said before we produce living human tissues, we can leverage these human tissues to produce valuable products such as antibodies, human albumin is another one. And this ex-vivo human biology can produce products that are made outside of the human body in a really safe, quick way. So why antibodies? We consider them a modern panacea, human antibodies are highly specific protein tools that our immune system rapidly develops to stop pathogens in their tracks. They can completely neutralize the pathogen and just a few 100 milligrams can protect you from viral or bacterial infection. Human antibodies from a human source are generally considered safe.

Melanie Matheu:

We believe that we’ll be able to move through an FDA approval process very fast with this. Why produce antibodies? Again, they confer passive immunity for up to three months. And they can be used repeatedly in patients without side effects. So they have a pretty good dosing profile as long as there’s no other additional side effects associated with them. This virus is starting to undergo antigenic drift and I’ll share some of the information on that in a minute. That means that prior vaccines that take a year and a half or more to develop, antibodies from convalescent serum or from other sources are going to be quickly outdated as this virus evolves. Using human antibodies you can get some rejection of the human antibody in patients, so having backup antibodies is really important. You want to have more than one shot on goal in a situation like this.

Melanie Matheu:

There has been some evidence that Coronavirus immune responses are not long lived. And this is from papers looking at the SARS-CoV from 2000 to 2003. A lot of patients about a year and a half, two years later have lost their protective antibodies in the system. And so having something … Now, we can check therapeutically to replace is a good strategy in my mind. And genetic diversity of human antibody production is also something that could be very important. By just taking a simple blood draw and then growing up hundreds of these in a dish, we’re able to parallelize development of multiple people. And so we can really leverage genetic diversity and search out the best antibodies cheaply and efficiently.

Melanie Matheu:

And we do have the potential to start creating a universal antiviral cocktail where it doesn’t matter what strain of the virus you have. We could have five or six antibodies injected together that would neutralize the virus on site or confer for protected immunity for frontline workers or physicians. And so we are quite novel in the way we do this. It doesn’t require human infection. We don’t have an intensive screening process. It’s actually quite fast. We developed our own in-house sterilizers for this specifically. And we can do it in about four to five weeks as I mentioned before. Other methods of getting after human antibodies especially with people who’ve been infected, include a lot of travel time, labor,patient contact, and antibody development doesn’t guarantee good hits, so is quite labor intensive in the screening process.

Melanie Matheu:

We believe we’ve hit that sweet spot of leveraging human tissues to do what they do best, to get after the best possible antibodies. We’ve done this before,  in 2017 as part of IndieBio’s Class Five, we produced human antibodies against the Zika virus. This is data that we saw, you can see over there, well, D3 had stronger antibody responses than the kit’s positive control. So we believe we have a very good antibody there. And we moved on from this though because we weren’t set on becoming a therapeutics company. We’re really a tissue engineering company. That said though, we did file IP on this, and we have a patent granted in late December of 2019.

Melanie Matheu:

And so here’s how the process works. We start with the heat-killed virus or gamma-irradiated virus. We’ve already obtained that from the CDC and we’ve been using it in the lab. We have our many human lymph nodes. We create them and then we inoculate them much like you would give someone a vaccine shot. We basically make our own vaccine cocktail in the lab. And then we do monoclonal antibody screening from those and then we create long lived hybridomas. We fuse the antibody producing B cell with a myeloma cell. This technology has been around since the ’70s, and it continues on as this outline that just spits out the antibody, and we can go into sequencing mass production from there, GMP scale up and distribution. So currently the company is right here. We’re screening our final hybridoma clones. We have over 50 human antibodies that bind to the S1 or the S2 of SARS-CoV-2. We’re quite happy with that and we expect to be making announcements about that in a couple of weeks. So you get to hear it first.

Melanie Matheu:

So we did leap into action. We shifted our whole lab process in one week. We obtained the virus from the CDC, we reached out to other antibodies, we reengaged G-CSF Blood Bank to get blood. We became a BSL-2+ certified laboratory and we started recruiting people to work on this. And one thing that’s really personally exciting about this technology for me is that we can actually beat the viral mutations as fast as they’re discovered. We can get an antibody into our production pipeline and actually perhaps isolate and stop the spread of specific strains that other therapeutics have lost efficacy to. So we can beat the virus and then we can actually start to predict mutations and make antibodies to those proteins. And because it’s so inexpensive for us to do this, we could have those in stock on the shelf and ready to go. 

Melanie Matheu:

This is very current and this is actually a slide I put together last night with about 40 … Maybe more like 15 represented here, but there’s about 40 mutations that have been identified in the virus and it seems to be regional. This means unfortunately that I think it’s going to become more of a seasonal virus. There hasn’t been selective pressure demonstrated to make this a less variant virus than one that doesn’t spread. And so having technologies that can adapt quickly to this and rapid testing technologies as well, really will help. One interesting point, I just highlighted it in red is that we do have this mutation D614G and it does seem to be a super spreader virus. It took over the US viral population in about two weeks. It came here from Europe and now everyone is testing positive in the New York area and moving West is showing up with this virus. It doesn’t seem to have a lower death rate associated with it which is too bad but it does seem to have a higher spread rate.

Melanie Matheu:

And the other thing that’s interesting about this chart too is that a lot of these viruses are located in specific areas and they aren’t spreading outside of them. And so that means that we’re going to start to have isolated virus mutation in specific geographic areas where they accumulate mutations as we have ceased most of our global travel. 

Melanie Matheu:

So I’m proud of my senior team here, they’re all highly experienced and many, many PhDs on our team working with us, prior founders. And we’re hoping to move this to market as fast as we possibly can. So thank you everyone.

Sean O’Sullivan:

It’s super exciting. I think we’re onto Franco who has a highly scalable diagnostic that he’s looking to introduce in multiple phases to the worldwide markets with Caspr.

Franco Goytia:

Thank you for introduction, Sean. So my name is Franco Goytia, I’m co-founder and CEO of Caspr Biotech, we’re developing a portable molecular diagnostics platform. Right now focused on taking to market our diagnostic solution for COVID-19. So molecular diagnostics today is mostly limited to centralized labs with trained personnel and expensive equipment. And what we at Caspr are doing is shifting precision molecular detection from the centralized lab closer to the field. And by the field we mean closer to the patient, to a hospital, point of care, clinic and even the pharmacy. And we do that through CRISPR, so many of you might know about CRISPR, mostly associating it as a gene editing technology.

Franco Goytia:

While the core ability that CRISPR biotechnology brings is for its specific identification of DNA or RNA sequences with great simplicity and ease of use. And that’s kind of what CRISPR has been all about in its natural form. And at Caspr, we discovered another CRISPR-Cas12 enzyme from unpublished metagenomic data from extreme environment, which is not only very different from the ones of the foundation and institutions, UC Berkeley, Broad Institute, but also has a differential activity in terms of its performance in specific conditions which we leverage for our diagnostics purpose. So this enzyme is basically a platform in which we can detect various kinds of samples, blood, saliva, swab, plant tissue, even materials and the tech for specific viruses, bacteria, genetic mutations, and human GMO in this accessible, fast and precise way.

Franco Goytia:

And this has been the focus of Caspr since the very first day that the company started in 2019. We were part of IndieBio batch eight, and we’ve done validations for up to 2022 targets. And obviously when COVID-19 emerged we quickly designed our RNA guide on our system on detection of SARS-CoV-2. We did initial validations with contract samples and published a preprint about that. And then moved into the valuations with clinical samples. In terms of the products that we’re developing using this technology, using this enzyme these are two main solutions. One which is the most immediate, which we’re soon to take in for FDA EUA for which we already have kind of our production pipeline in place is a CRISPR test kit. So this is basically a lyophilisation of our CRISPR enzyme coupled with an isothermal amplification enzyme preconfigured for SARS-CoV-2 detection and with a readout enabled in a lateral field format.

Franco Goytia:

So this is of high value for that instance of point of care diagnostics of SARS-CoV-2 in a point of care in hospitals basically. And the second solution that we were developing is our phantom device, which integrates our CRISPR-Cas enzyme in a lyophilized format into paper into this paper cartridge. And this is coupled with the device, which the device basically provides some heating components. And with this solution you’re able to perform a fully automated sample to resolve detection for COVID-19. And these are kind of the two initiatives that we’re right now working with. In terms of the value proposition of the technology and the product itself for COVID-19, is the possibility of detecting in less than 45 minutes, in a direct from sample format using a direct license buffer without the need for RNA extraction.

Franco Goytia:

The ease of use of being able to detect without having to use a PCR equipment or an expensive equipment or external reagents but rather with a readout which is simplified to a lateral flow and with a sensitivity and specificity, which is comparable to what is currently being performed in labs with qPCR. And these are our most recent results from a clinical validation that we’ve done with the Health Ministry of Argentina. Working out with 36 samples, extracted RNA from those samples in which we had 100% sensitivity and specificity both in the detection on fluorescence plate reader as well as with lateral flows. And this is the equipment that is needed to perform our Casper CRISPR kit, which is basically tips, tubes, a micropipette and a heat block. So it really decreases the burden of needing qPCR equipment or needing external equipment, to components which can be bought for less than $300, $400.

Franco Goytia:

Right now we have four ongoing pilots including two health ministries such as the Health Ministry of Canada, as well as the Health Ministry of Argentina. We’re in conversations with various governments for the possibility of direct purchasing of our kit, which would be kind of our commercialization strategy at the very beginning. And in terms of our timing to market and the milestones that we’ve achieved so far, we’ve done the validations with extracted RNA from patient samples as I showed you before. We already have contract manufacturing in place and have set up  the supply chain for the key components of our kits, including our CRISPR-Cas enzyme that we manufactured internally at scale. We’ve recently done the lyophilisation and the testing for the stability of our components of our kit with our lyophilisation partner.

Franco Goytia:

And we’re right now in the process of doing our clinical validations with our optimized and finalized kit with our partners. Now the only testing for the application in extracted RNA, but also rather in the direct from sample format with the latest buffer for which we already have some initial results. And we expect to do our FDA EUA by late May or beginning of June, and through our contract manufacturing partner and our supply chain that we’ve set in place, we would be able to quickly ramp up our production for an estimated output of two million monthly tests by August of this year. So very quickly. This is a little bit about the team we’ve grown very quickly from being six, seven members at the end of 2019 to now being a team of 24 people full time. And we’re in the process of raising  to accelerate our time to market. So thank you for everything.

Sean O’Sullivan:

Thank you Franco. That was awesome. 

I’m going to just try to contextualize everything you’ve just seen to make it more comprehensible to the general audience. I’m going to rephrase some of what we’ve covered. Craig’s company Renegade is already a testing service that by the end of next month, they will have roughly a quarter of New York State’s testing capacity while they’re simultaneously opening up testing facilities in California as well.

Sean O’Sullivan:

So Renegade Bio is a highly scalable lab testing service that is approaching millions in revenue per month. Franco also has a testing capability. And I think you left out some of the key price points on some of that. The PCR memo, the lab based testing, super, super accurate testing is … Each of the machines is tens of thousands of dollars. Franco’s machine is like 100 bucks and the tests are like a couple of dollars to $10. And so when you think about the cost to society of not testing people it’s immense. It’s the three to $4 trillion we’ve already spent to try to keep society functioning with all these bills that Congress has passed and is going to have to continue granting more and more of those. Which is really 10,000, $20,000 per person in the United States.

Sean O’Sullivan:

The cost of testing is nothing. Testing is 100 bucks a test. Or in Franco’s case, when those devices scale up, a couple of bucks a test.  So, testing, tracing, tracking, this is the way to open up the economy. I just want to set a little bit of the context behind these massive innovations and what this means for regular people. The other entrepreneur who we heard from the spectacular technology, unbelievable technology, growing human lymph nodes outside the body, infecting them, and then producing the antibodies from those things and then scaling that up as monoclonal antibodies. This is something that normally takes years to do. Melanie described this process that will be a way to keep our first responders immune from this disease. And police, fire, the public facing people, essential workers in various other industries besides the hospital workers, immune from the disease, while we’re fighting the second wave and the third wave and the fourth wave and for years to come.

Sean O’Sullivan:

So these are really massive breakthrough things that sometimes the science obscures how cool they are. No, I actually love the science. So I dig it all, but I wanted to make sure that everyone’s contextualized as to how important  this is. And another thing to contextualize how important these discoveries are, is what happens when you get it. And that’s what Brad Higgins is here to discuss. Brad is one of our partners, Brad came over to a party at my house on the 29th of February. I actually had a party, the 29th of February with 100 people with some infectious disease specialists as well.

Sean O’Sullivan:

At any rate, Brad did get the disease, not at our party, but a couple of weeks later. He lives in Connecticut, so very close to the action here in New York. And so Brad, can you tell me, we’re going to do a little bit of a back and forth, can you unmute yourself and tell me a little bit about your experience, what it was like, you got COVID, your wife got COVID, your mother-in-law got COVID. Tell me about what happened.

Brad Higgins:

Sure. Before I start let me just note that about a month before I got this, my hair was brown and I had a full head of hair, so I’m going to blame it on the COVID-19. About a month ago my wife and I were having …. a common cold or flu, at least I thought it was. And I didn’t really want to go. So finally she went to get tested and I said, “It’s not going to happen.” Well that was a Friday, we heard that she came back positive. I called my doctor, she said, “Look, you got it.” The one thing that’s the downside of “sheltering in place” is that if one person gets it, pretty much everyone else in the house, it is such a contagious virus.

Brad Higgins:

Our big concern, and we had started sheltering,  because my mother-in-law, who was very frail and 89 was there. So we knew if she got it, she was not going to survive. And sadly she didn’t survive. But within 24 hours and the downside of the testing, and it’s not the test itself, it’s what follows I said, “What do I do now?” And she said, “Rest, lots of liquids. If you start getting congested, call 911, nothing else. I swear there’s no medicine to take to really help you.” Okay, well, I’m hoping that this just comes and goes. Within 24 hours, I wake up in the afternoon I was taking a nap, I can’t breathe, that’s where the term falling off the COVID cliff comes from. I’ve heard a couple of doctors at the hospital describe that. It just comes out of the blue, very little warning.

Brad Higgins:

And I’m getting ready to call 911, and our caregiver for my mother-in-law comes in, and she can’t breathe either. So within a couple of minutes, thank God the EMS were there and they took both of us to the hospital in separate ambulances. Fast forward two days at hospital, she’s got pneumonia in both her lungs and I have pneumonia in one lung. This all happened in a matter of hours.

Brad Higgins:

So with me, they gave me the hydroxychloroquine and an HIV AIDS drug. And they came in and explained that it’s experimental, and I’m probably too far along to take it. And so I saw one of my choices, well do nothing or take heart and I’m sitting there drowning, not a hard decision. I took that 24 hours and there’s lots of discussions about hydroxychloroquine. I’d be happy to answer questions. 24 hours later, we had a … I was off oxygen. There’s been some complications since then, but the reality is it worked for me. Unfortunately, my mother-in-law is just too far gone. All the discussion about ventilators well, she’d quit. She would not survive a ventilator. And that’s just one of those things that’s the last resort. And the mortality rates depending on age, are enormous. So there’s a real challenge here. But what I wanted to do, if we can put up that slide, let’s see, how do we go about that?

Sean O’Sullivan:

Share a screen and then while you’re putting that slide, one of the things, I’ll just speak, one of the things that is super difficult, are you able to put it up?

Brad Higgins:

Yeah. I just did. Oh, I have to share it.

Sean O’Sullivan:

Yeah. You have to.

Brad Higgins:

[inaudible 00:44:46].

Sean O’Sullivan:

This is not just about the number of people that die. This is about the number of people that have longterm and lifelong disabilities. There are about a third of the people that make it out of the ICU. Well, I mean, these are all rough numbers and I’m sure it will all change. But that actually have permanent mental impact after having gotten out of the ICU. Brad, you can describe your own. Can you hit the present button there?

Brad Higgins:

It should be on. All right.

Sean O’Sullivan:

There you go. Brad, how has your own mobility? You’re working out of your bed most days. Is that right? And how is it going up and down the stairs and things like that?

Brad Higgins:

I’m good for about 100 feet and one flight of stairs. It’s going to take some time, right? I was at the hospital yesterday getting some more tests and I have … The pneumonia is gone, but it does damage and it’s going to take a couple of weeks. And again, the one message that … This last slide is my public service announcement. Shaving the COVID-19 cliff, that’s what I’m talking about. Most people don’t have the kind of reaction I did. And there are a couple of reasons why I fit into those high risk boxes. So people have to recognize where they fit it is … The numbers are staggering when you look at the … Most tests are given to people 25 to 45 [inaudible 00:46:21]. But the people who are positive, kids and 45-year olds and 30-year olds, they’re getting tested, they’re coming back positive.

Brad Higgins:

The people who are dying though are the people in the high risk boxes. So when you realize that almost 80% of the fatalities now, according to CDC, which I looked at today, we’re 65 and over. If you add in the high risk people that covers the whole spectrum of age, but it’s mostly the 40s and 50s. You’re now into probably North of 90%. And that’s about, that’s probably less than 20% of the population. And you hear almost nothing about that. It’s always how many testing, what’s going on, but you’re not looking at the high risk. And the high risk I’m a poster child for the high risk. Other than not being pregnant and not smoking, I checked every box and I should have realized that well before. And you got to look to yourself, what do I got to do to reduce the risk of my dying?

Brad Higgins:

And this goes, whether you’re infected or not. Testing positive was helpful to realize that. But the reality is that, and every doctor, even the CEO of the hospital said, came in to tell me, he says, “Early intervention, getting there before it’s too late.” And most of the people who are dying in New York City, for example, they’re coming in and they’re almost immediately going to a ventilator because they waited too long. I’m a classic case, I thought I had a flu and I didn’t want to call 911, I’m a guy, I’ll drive over there or something. Well, I got over that. The challenge though is what can you do? And there are a couple of things I just want to make sure people are aware of.

Brad Higgins:

A pulse oximeter, most of you have heard of it. It’s a thing you put on your finger. It’s very inexpensive. But it gives you an early warning, and it goes to your oxygen levels. And if your oxygen, most people are 95 to 9,800 what if it starts going down? And the trick is to get it before you have a problem and establish a norm. What is your normal oxygen rate? And if it starts falling and it goes below 90, you really should be calling 911 and doing something about it. Because it’s the first sign and there’s a great article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago that describes this from an ER doctor. And the sadness for most of these people is, the people coming in can be cured and treated if it’s early enough. So when I look at the oximeter, it is … If I had waited another half hour calling 911, I’m pretty convinced I wouldn’t be on this call.

Brad Higgins:

And if it happened, if I had called two or three hours earlier, I probably would have had a much lesser impact or much less severe. So that’s a takeaway for all of us, especially if you fit in one of those boxes. And then finally, the last thing is you can do something about your immune system. The one thing that 90% of the fatalities from COVID have in common is they have a weakening immune system and there are things you can do about it. And I was a little surprised that CDC doesn’t talk about it. CDC, for example, talks about they have, what to do if you’re older. And the only thing that’s different other than wash your hands, do this is that don’t take cruise liners. Well, I’m not planning to anytime soon.

Brad Higgins:

So that’s not all that helpful. But in terms of … The nurses after I left, I left nurses I know, they described breathing exercises and I encourage all of you to go to Google, look at a couple of videos and there’s a lot you can do to strengthen your lungs. They say COVID doesn’t kill people, COVID allows pneumonia to kill people. And it’s a respiratory problem. And as long as you can keep that … Do something before it happens, you’re in good shape. Build your immunity by taking vitamins. C, D, E and zinc all had lots of tests proving their antiviral aspects. And they help strengthen your immunity system. My wife takes vitamins all the time, she walks every day, she breezed right through this. Now maybe the vitamins and exercise had something to do with it. So I would really like to see CDC and other groups talk about what you can do beforehand, whether you’re positive or not. And that’s really taking care, just getting into better health.

Brad Higgins:

Finally as I mentioned, shaving the peak, this is all about new COVID-19 cases. No one’s talking about shaving the fatalities. And I got to tell you, if people saw it took a couple of these recommendations and they’re more out there. You could see a dramatic recovery, a dramatic drop in the fatalities of the people who are in the high risk. And frankly, I want to write a letter to some folks because that should be front and center with CDC. What can you do personally to prepare yourself, for getting us, the better shape you are the less likely you’re going to be in the ER or ICU.

Sean O’Sullivan:

Well, Brad, thank you very much for that. And we are all going to … I mean, this thing, this genie is out of the box. We are all going to get this, is going to affect some of us more than others hopefully there will be better therapeutics. Hopefully there will be other types of vaccines eventually. But it’s going to a hard run of it until then. So I think Brian questions from the audience, do you have anything you’d like to add? Oh, if anyone wants to have to get directly in contact with any of these startups, these startups are all scaling. SOSV is investing in these companies, we’ll contribute, we’ll be a strong participant in the rounds. But as they’re not necessarily raising money now, but as they scale up in the next couple of months, they may need … Maybe interested in funding.

Sean O’Sullivan:

If you’re interested in any of the details about any of these companies, you can put your email address in or contact me, it’s sean@sosv.com. And I can put you in touch with the entrepreneurs. If the entrepreneurs you want to … If you feel comfortable putting your name or your email address so people can directly contact you directly in the chat window or something. If anyone wants to do that you can do that to all attendees. Yeah, great. So Preston Ford, asked the question, what are the high risk boxes just spoken about? Brian, do you want to ask? I’m sure you’re probably looking at the questions you want to …

Brian Smiga:

Yeah. Absolutely. So folks on the line, and thank you for hanging in with us. There’s been a group here for the whole hour. We really appreciate it, appreciate your time. Brad, a question for you from Benjamin Joffey. Hydrochloric chloroquine seems to work once you’ve been diagnosed, but when you go to the ICU, can they talk to you about the viral load you have experienced?

Brad Higgins:

I’m sorry. Could you repeat the question? [inaudible 00:53:56].

Brian Smiga:

Sure. Do you have any info on your viral load once you’re in the ICU?

Brad Higgins:

You really don’t. That’s the thing I find actually about the testing. It just tells you you’re positive. It doesn’t tell you where you are. And they try to ask you, “When did you start coughing.” And things like that. But there’s really no … How bad is it going to be? And then what they’re finding with the hydroxychloroquine, the earlier you take it and that was a frustration they have there. They’re now only giving the drug to people who are coming in … There’s early symptoms. It’s a lot like Tamiflu with flu, two days after symptoms it’s too late, but it’s pretty effective, it does help. A lot of these anti-inflammatories, they help-

Sean O’Sullivan:

I beg to actually just interject here for a second to say this is not medical advice. There are studies that have come out that had said that hydroxychloroquine actually, if it’s taken will increase your rate of fatality. So it’s like 20%, 25% fatality if you take hydroxychloroquine, 13% if you don’t. But it depends upon what other existings your conditions have. Definitely do not take this medical advice-

Brad Higgins:

I’m not giving medical advice I’m just … What they ask now, Sean, is that, “Do you have any heart …” They look at your heart and consider it’s heart-related. And if you have any heart-related they won’t give it to you, but they’re still giving it if you’re outside of that because there’s not a lot of other things to help. So yeah.

Sean O’Sullivan:

[inaudible 00:55:32] the studies will come out soon hopefully.

Brian Smiga:

Brad you’re sharing is really, really helpful. And for everyone on the phone I think taking your temperature daily along with getting a pulse ox is a good prevention, particularly if you’re over 50. Yeah. Just taking your temperature, have a factor here. Did you have much of a fever, Brad?

Brad Higgins:

No, I never had a fever.

Brian Smiga:

So really it’s your oxygen level as measured by a pulse ox is probably the best indication that you need to seek testing or help if you’re having trouble breathing or starting to feel under the weather, this season.

Brad Higgins:

Yeah. There’s no guarantees. We all know there’s no silver bullet. But there’s one thing, everyone’s got different symptoms, but the reality is this can help.

Brian Smiga:

So I’m really proud of the team because we had answered eight questions from the audience successfully in the Q&A. If we miss any, we promise we’ll get back to you. The entrepreneurs, if you want to put your emails in the chat or in the follow on email, we’re going to send to folks, we can do that. I think we should wrap because it’s 7:00 and people may have dinners and things to get to.

Brian Smiga:

Sean, I want to give you a chance to say a few words, but before you do, I’ll just say a few things and then you can be the last to speak. And thank you so much for gathering your partner Brad and these three founders who are in the trenches doing this great work. And I think are going to get rewarded for the work they’re doing. We’re going to do more of these events looking at startup’s response to the COVID crisis, there’ll be in other sectors like ad tech and a central enterprise applications and so on. So if you’re interested, we’ll invite you. You’re on our mailing list, if you’re not interested, you can let us know. We really appreciate your turnout tonight. We really appreciate the great work particularly the three of you are doing who are in the frontline and we the investors get to help out, and get to coach and get to provide some capital. But you guys really are our heroes. So thank you so much, and thank you all for attending. Sean, do you want to say a few words about SOSV on the way out?

Sean O’Sullivan:

Yeah, just one thing is Brad’s email. Is it just brad.higgins@sosv.com. Is that right?

Brad Higgins:

Yep.

Sean O’Sullivan:

So I’ll type that in. Or can someone type that in for me? Thank you. Yeah, so SOSV, we’re running in these accelerators. We run IndieBio, we run Hacks that’s where we first invest. We are deep tech, we’re focused on deep tech, we’re the world’s most active investor in life sciences, we’re the world’s most active investor in hardware and robotics, internet of things, all that, all of those areas. That’s what we do. And we have over 30 companies that have actually pivoted to focus on COVID-19 across both life sciences and hardware. And what I have to say it is just such a pleasure to be able to support such incredible entrepreneurs and we are grateful to be able to help.

Sean O’Sullivan:

And so we’re just trying to connect the capital and experience and customers. Actually, Craig didn’t talk about it, but some of the first customers that he got, he had some unbelievable customers in New York City. The reference customers are just the best names that you could imagine. I don’t think we can say their names, but like Mount Sinai, I think we could probably say Mount Sinai is one of the hospitals. But there’s a very, very, very reputable, very large institutions that are also being supported by Craig’s worth work. And that happened … SOSV was able to help in that case, make those connections and also get some funding. But we are definitely interested if any of you in the audience have any interest in trying to make connections for these companies to health agencies or large corporations that would like to explore these things, we’ll be happy to make those connections to the companies directly or you can contact the companies directly. Our role is to help the company succeed. To help the startups go further, faster. And that’s all we do.

Sean O’Sullivan:

So thanks very much. If you wanted to reach me, you can reach me at sean@sosv.com. And thanks very much. Stay safe everyone. Do not go back to work, do not try to restart your economies too soon. We need to test track and trace and we need some good therapeutics like Melanie’s therapeutics, like small molecule therapeutics before it gets … It can very ugly here very quickly. The second wave could be much, much, much bigger than the first wave if we’re not careful here. So thanks very much, stay safe, and God bless.

Brad Higgins:

Thanks everyone. Thanks for coming. We’ll see you again soon.

Brian Smiga:

All right, thank you.

Brad Higgins:

Good night. Be safe everybody.

 

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