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News

Microsoft Is in Exclusive Talks to Acquire Discord


Microsoft Corp. is in advanced talks to acquire messaging platform Discord Inc. for $10 billion or more, according to people familiar with the matter, as the software giant seeks to deepen its consumer offerings.

Microsoft and Discord are in exclusive talks and could complete a deal next month, assuming the negotiations don’t fall apart, the people said.

Originally favored by gamers, San Francisco-based Discord offers voice, text and video chatting. The platform’s popularity has surged since the pandemic took hold as people stay home and connect online—as has that of other chat services, like Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Signal Messenger LLC. Discord has been considering an IPO.

Microsoft, which has a market value of more than $1.7 trillion, has been on the hunt for an acquisition that would help it reach more consumers. Last summer, it held talks to buy the popular video-sharing app TikTok amid a high-profile geopolitical standoff prompted by the Trump administration, before abandoning the effort.

VentureBeat reported this week that Discord was exploring a sale and had entered exclusive discussions with an unnamed suitor.



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Reviews

J&J Single-Dose Covid-19 Vaccine Gains Backing From FDA Advisory Panel


Johnson & Johnson’s


JNJ -2.64%

single-dose Covid-19 vaccine worked safely and should be authorized for use in the U.S., a panel of experts advised federal health regulators Friday.

The advisory committee’s vote in support of the vaccine’s authorization is the last step before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issues a decision, which is expected Saturday.

The panel, a group of 22 medical specialists in fields like internal medicine, pediatrics, vaccines and epidemiology, regularly advises the FDA about experimental vaccines. It voted to recommend shots from

Pfizer Inc.


PFE -0.98%

and partner

BioNTech


BNTX -2.94%

SE and

Moderna Inc.


MRNA 4.33%

before the agency authorized them in December.

During the all-day public meeting, representatives from the FDA and J&J discussed the safety and effectiveness of the company’s vaccine in a 44,000-plus subject study, as well as how effective the J&J vaccine is in preventing new cases caused by variants.

The give-and-take of questions and answers can be valuable in bolstering public confidence in the shot, according to FDA officials.

The vaccine was 66% effective at protecting people from moderate to severe Covid-19, an FDA review found, and even more effective at preventing severe disease alone.

“If authorized, Janssen’s vaccine candidate would play a pivotal role in the global effort to fight Covid-19,”

Johan Van Hoof,

global head of vaccines research at J&J’s Janssen pharmaceutical unit, said during the panel’s meeting. “A single-dose regimen offers the ability to vaccinate a population faster.”

As highly transmissible coronavirus variants sweep across the world, scientists are racing to understand why these new versions of the virus are spreading faster, and what this could mean for vaccine efforts. New research says the key may be the spike protein, which gives the coronavirus its unmistakable shape. Illustration: Nick Collingwood/WSJ

A rollout of the J&J vaccine could add enough shots in the U.S. by the end of March to boost the total number of people vaccinated by 20%. Health authorities are pushing to inoculate enough people as quickly as possible so that business, schools and other establishments can fully reopen.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

How would you grade the vaccine rollout? Join the conversation below.

J&J has said it would deliver about 20 million doses for U.S. use by the end of March.

The FDA often convenes public meetings of outside experts to scrutinize experimental drugs, devices and vaccines up for agency approval, in part to boost public acceptance of the products should they be cleared for wide use.

J&J’s vaccine appeared to be safe in its pivotal study, the FDA found, aside from being effective.

“The known and potential benefits of Ad26 outweigh the known and potential risks,” Macaya Douoguih, head of clinical development and medical affairs at J&J’s Janssen unit, said during Friday’s meeting, using a code name for J&J’s vaccine.

FDA medical officer Yosefa Hefter said there are still unknowns about the vaccine, including the duration of immune protection and the safety and effectiveness in children.

An FDA analysis for the committee meeting also said rare cases of deep vein clots and of blockages in lung arteries were slightly more common in vaccine recipients than in placebo patients, and that the FDA considers these as “of clinical interest.”

The vaccine was effective “across demographic subgroups,” the FDA said. The demographic subgroups in the large study of J&J’s vaccines included racial and ethnic groups such as Black, Latino and Asian people, and age groups such as those 60 years and older.

Researchers also assessed efficacy in people who had underlying medical conditions including obesity and high blood pressure before entering the clinical trial. Sometimes vaccines don’t work as well in older people because of weakened immune systems.

One exception was that the vaccine appeared to be less effective in people 60 and older who had certain underlying medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines also worked effectively across various demographic subgroups.

The vaccine was less effective in South Africa, where a more-transmissible Covid-19 variant has thrived, than in the U.S. J&J is among the companies working on new shots targeting the new strain, against which several current vaccines don’t appear to work as well.

J&J’s Covid-19 shot was, however, very effective against severe and critical cases in South Africa. The vaccine was 73.1% effective in preventing such cases occurring at least 14 days after vaccination, and 81.7% effective in preventing such cases at least 28 days after vaccination.

How Viral Vector Vaccines Work

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine relies on a different mechanism for conferring immunity than traditional vaccines.

Traditional Vaccines

1. In classic vaccines, such as those against measles and polio, the patient is inoculated with weakened or inactivated versions of the virus. This triggers the immune system to produce specialized antibodies that are adapted to recognize the virus.

2. After vaccination, the antibodies remain in the body. If the patient later becomes infected with the actual virus, the antibodies can identify and help neutralize it.

Johnson & Johnson’s Vaccine

Scientists have isolated the genes in coronavirus responsible for producing these spike proteins. The genes are spliced into weakened, harmless versions of other viruses.

Instead of using the whole virus to generate an immune response, these vaccines use only coronavirus’s outer spike proteins, which are what antibodies use to recognize the virus.

Weakened virus with

spike protein genes

When injected into a patient, the genetically engineered viruses enter healthy cells where they produce coronavirus spike proteins.

The spike proteins produced by the cells prompt the immune system to mount a defense, just as with traditional vaccines.

Vaccine-generated antibody response

1. In classic vaccines, such as those against measles and polio, the patient is inoculated with weakened or inactivated versions of the virus. This triggers the immune system to produce specialized antibodies that are adapted to recognize the virus.

2. After vaccination, the antibodies remain in the body. If the patient later becomes infected with the actual virus, the antibodies can identify and help neutralize it.

Johnson & Johnson’s Vaccine

Scientists have isolated the genes in coronavirus responsible for producing these spike proteins. The genes are spliced into weakened, harmless versions of other viruses.

Instead of using the whole virus to generate an immune response, these vaccines use only coronavirus’s outer spike proteins, which are what antibodies use to recognize the virus.

Weakened virus with

spike protein genes

When injected into a patient, the genetically engineered viruses enter healthy cells where they produce coronavirus spike proteins.

The spike proteins produced by the cells prompt the immune system to mount a defense, just as with traditional vaccines.

Vaccine-generated antibody response

1. In classic vaccines, such as those against measles and polio, the patient is inoculated with weakened or inactivated versions of the virus. This triggers the immune system to produce specialized antibodies that are adapted to recognize the virus.

2. After vaccination, the antibodies remain in the body. If the patient later becomes infected with the actual virus, the antibodies can identify and help neutralize it.

Johnson & Johnson’s Vaccine

Scientists have isolated the genes in coronavirus responsible for producing these spike proteins. The genes are spliced into weakened, harmless versions of other viruses.

Instead of using the whole virus to generate an immune response, these vaccines use only coronavirus’s outer spike proteins, which are what antibodies use to recognize the virus.

Weakened virus with

spike protein genes

When injected into a patient, the genetically engineered viruses enter healthy cells where they produce coronavirus spike proteins.

The spike proteins produced by the cells prompt the immune system to mount a defense, just as with traditional vaccines.

Vaccine-generated antibody response

1. In classic vaccines, such as those against measles and polio, the patient is inoculated with weakened or inactivated versions of the virus. This triggers the immune system to produce specialized antibodies that are adapted to recognize the virus.

2. After vaccination, the antibodies remain in the body. If the patient later becomes infected with the actual virus, the antibodies can identify and help neutralize it.

Johnson & Johnson’s Vaccine

Instead of using the whole virus to generate an immune response, these vaccines use only coronavirus’s outer spike proteins, which are what antibodies use to recognize the virus.

Scientists have isolated the genes in coronavirus responsible for producing these

spike proteins. The genes are spliced into weakened, harmless versions of other viruses.

Weakened virus with

spike protein genes

When injected into a patient, the genetically engineered viruses enter healthy cells where they produce coronavirus spike proteins.

The spike proteins produced by the cells prompt the immune system to mount a defense, just as with traditional vaccines.

Vaccine-generated antibody response

J&J, citing preliminary evidence in an analysis released by the FDA, said the vaccine was 65.5% effective in preventing asymptomatic infections in a subset of study subjects.

Health authorities have been watching whether Covid-19 shots can stop people without symptoms from transmitting the virus. The virus has largely been spread by people who were infected but didn’t realize it because they had no symptoms.

The vaccine was less effective in South Africa, where a more-transmissible Covid-19 variant has thrived, than in the U.S. J&J is among the companies working on new shots targeting the new strain, which several current vaccines don’t appear to work as well against.

Write to Thomas M. Burton at [email protected] and Peter Loftus at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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Future

Dow Futures Are Softer Amid a Fed and Treasury Clash


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News

As Apple releases its new line of Macs, the biggest beneficiary may be Microsoft


Apple is set to launch its next generation of MacBooks this week. For the first time since the surprise 2005 announcement by Steve Jobs that Apple was moving from PowerPC to Intel (x86), the company is set to take on chip-making responsibility for the Mac.

With Apple
AAPL,
-0.37%

coming off strong earnings that included better-than-expected growth for its Mac line, which grew 7.3%, more than double the PC market’s 3.6%, it would seem like the perfect moment for its new launch of improved MacBooks.

However, I believe the launch could test Apple, as it is essentially deriving the silicon for its new Macs from the iPhone. In time this may pan out well, but there is a good chance this show could get off to a rocky start.

Apple has made many claims about its new MacBooks, and while we will have to wait until Tuesday’s event to get the full picture, there have been plenty of leaks on what to expect from the company.

It’s the same old-new normal for Apple, which CEO Tim Cook alluded to at this year’s WWDC event, including promises of a whole new level of performance, with the lowest power consumption, maximizing battery life to be better than ever before. Also, a new level of graphic performance and even more market innovation.

In the WWDC transcript, Cook’s exact words were: “The Mac will take another huge leap forward.”

All of this will remain TBD until broad benchmarking and compatibility testing for software and peripherals is available.

Challenging transition

My biggest concern, though, isn’t the promises, but rather the potential vulnerabilities for Apple. The transition from Intel
INTC,
+1.87%

to its new Arm-based silicon is almost certain to be a challenging transition that will impact both consumers and developers.

The company’s entire software ecosystem will have to be rewritten to work on this new architecture, and this takes time. Microsoft
MSFT,
-1.02%
,
for instance, has been working for a decade on building its software ecosystem to run smoothly on Arm-based variants, both of its Surface Pro X but also other Arm-based notebooks from the likes of Samsung and Lenovo. The improvement has been material, but it has been markedly difficult to meet all the developer and consumer needs.

More specifically, the transition from Intel to Apple’s new silicon will likely break applications, and create compatibility issues with peripherals. While I expect Apple to have a set of “hero apps” that will work flawlessly, this certainly won’t be the case across all the apps, tools and games used by Mac consumers.

Reaction of consumers, developers

This will leave consumers frustrated with their new Macs, perhaps more so than Mac’s constant quality issues with its keyboards in recent generations. Furthermore, this creates more work for developers, who will now be required to support disparate apps for the Intel version and the Arm version — this is anything but straightforward.

Perhaps Apple’s biggest mistake is its claims that this transition will be seamless. Sure, that is good marketing, but the more realistic approach should be: “Bear with us while we make the Mac experience even better.”

Another big question mark for Apple will be around support of its current generation of Intel-based Macs. The company was heavily scrutinized for its short period of support for PowerPC after shifting to Mac. The support period lasted only three years, and that left some Apple customers dissatisfied. Many Mac users stay with a device for five to eight years, and certainly won’t want to be forced to buy another $2,000-plus device prematurely if Apple decides to stop supporting its Intel-based Macs after three years. This will be something to watch closely.  

If Apple does stumble for a period while it seeks to perfect its new silicon, the next question is where do consumers seeking an alternative to Mac turn?

Microsoft stands to gain

I believe Microsoft could be the big winner during this transition for the Mac. The Microsoft Surface has seen its growth rates up 37% in its most recent quarter, tracking over $6 billion in its trailing four quarters. This number is still much smaller than Mac, which saw its Mac revenue at $9 billion in its most recent quarter, reflecting its best quarter ever, growing 28% year over year. Still, I believe there may have been some padding with buyers seeking to upgrade before Apple moves away from the Intel-based silicon.

Maybe more than just Microsoft and Surface’s growth momentum is the brand strength and ultra-premium branding that comes with Surface. I have long believed Microsoft’s endeavor into Surface had much less to do with competing with its large software OEM’s like Dell
DELL,
+0.55%
,
HP
HPQ,
+3.40%

and Lenovo, and much more to do with building a true competitor to the Mac.

This has been visible in the entire approach to Surface, including acute attention to details such as the packaging, the branding on the notebooks, the construction materials and the premium pricing. Microsoft has also been wise in its development of the Surface to include Intel, AMD
AMD,
-1.64%
,
and Arm-based variants, giving customers a choice while taking advantage of its ability to support all three chipsets’ software compatibility nuances.

Tuesday’s launch has a lot at stake for Apple. Apple’s move away from Intel has long been touted as a big problem for Intel, but it could be equally, if not more problematic, for Apple. With Microsoft Surface continuing to gain momentum for its ultra-high-quality notebooks, Mac faces more competition and will be under pressure to get this right— sooner than later.

Daniel Newman is the principal analyst at Futurum Research, which
provides or has provided research, analysis, advising and/or consulting to
Qualcomm, Nvidia, Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, ARM, and dozens of companies in
the tech and digital industries. Neither he nor his firm holds any equity
positions in any companies cited. Follow him on Twitter 
@danielnewmanUV.





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