This week, we open the tech weekly update with a story of crypto that gained instant popularity and turned out to be a scam just as quickly. We will also discuss a new biotech partnership that aims at drug discovery, Alphabet’s new medtech venture, the lack of coherent strategy for fintech in the UK, Argentinian fintech acquiring a Mexican bank, a new study that shows a large portion of young investors is very interested in NFTs, an increasing number of US mayors taking their paychecks in bitcoin, Brazil rescheduling its 5G auction, and a new crypto scam method using Google Ads.
After the new Netflix show Squid Game took the internet by storm, a new cryptocurrency SQUID quickly gained popularity. Having said that, last Monday, the crypto hit a high of $2,860 and quickly after the unknown creators behind the coin pulled the so-called rug pull. It refers to the token creators abandoning the project and exchanging all virtual coins for physical money which, in turn, drives the coin’s value to zero. In the SQUID case, that means cleaning out more than $3.3 million in funds.
“This cryptocurrency joins a long and growing list of digital coins and tokens that piggyback on random memes or cultural phenomena,” Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad told the BBC. “Remarkably, many such coins rapidly catch investors’ fancy, leading to wildly inflated valuations. Naïve retail investors who get caught up in such speculative frenzies face the risk of substantial losses.”
In this particular situation, the investors have lost millions of dollars when adding up all funds that SQUID has collected in its short-lived run. However, as experts point out, there were several red flags that would have shown investors it is not the token to invest in. A website full of spelling errors and social media not supporting any comments are just among many other warning signs.
Crypto expert, Louis Schoeman, Managing Director of Forex Suggest, says:
“While new coins appear every day, people should always be wary of buying a token with no history and never invest money you can’t afford to lose. While new coins can have all the bells and whistles and promise huge returns, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Scammers know how to appeal to people. They take trusted, recognizable names, like Squid Game, to piggyback off its global success and lure people into investing. They dupe people into believing there’s some kind of affiliation with real credentials when really it is all a scam,” he says.
“To avoid being the victim of a crypto scam, look at the finer details and take your time to assess the token. Thoroughly read over the whitepaper to check for spelling and grammatical errors – does it look professional or quickly thrown together? If you copy and paste a chunk of the text and run it through a search engine you can easily see if it has been taken from another coin’s page which is a quick giveaway that something isn’t right. If you do some general research you should be able to assess how reputable a company is,” he adds.
The Chinese biotech HitGen and the U.K Cambridge Molecular announced they will partner on drug development, aiming at creating DeepDELve 2 – Cambridge Molecular’s extremely optimized DNA encoded library (DEL), a deep learning system that will eventually be embedded into the DEL discovery platform created by HitGen.
According to the information released by the two biotechs, DeepDELve 2 is a “robust and highly specialized deep learning pipeline.”
“By combining the scale and success of HitGen’s DEL technology with Cambridge Molecular’s powerful machine learning capabilities, we are witnessing the emergence of a highly effective approach to accessing expanded chemical space for drug discovery via available chemical providers or even virtual enumerated chemical designs,” said Jin Li, Ph.D., chairman, and CEO of HitGen. “We look forward to further accelerating and empowering our partners in discovering and developing innovative medicines.”
This is not the first collaboration of this type for HitGen, the company has already entered into similar deals with Evotec in 2020 and Ligand Pharmaceuticals in 2021. Moreover, HitGen is also partnering with big pharma such as Pfizer, Biogen, or Sun Pharma.
Alphabet is trying to become a serious competition in the drug discovery sector. Now, the parent company of Google is launching Isomorphic Laboratories that will utilize AI for biopharma research. With the new company, Alphabet’s goal is to become a commercial partner to drugmakers, following the success achieved at DeepMind.
Last year, DeepMind AI scientists discovered how proteins are folding themselves into the proper shape repetitively.
“At its most fundamental level, I think biology can be thought of as an information processing system, albeit an extraordinarily complex and dynamic one,” Demis Hassabis, Isomorphic’s founder and CEO, wrote in a company blog post. “Taking this perspective implies there may be a common underlying structure between biology and information science—an isomorphic mapping between the two—hence the name of the company.”
Now, Isomorphic is searching for computational and medicinal chemists and ML experts to fill the key roles for the new company. According to Hassabis, a choice of the CEO will be confirmed after these and other scientific, engineering and operational roles are filled.
“Biology is likely far too complex and messy to ever be encapsulated as a simple set of neat mathematical equations,” he added. “But just as mathematics turned out to be the right description language for physics, biology may turn out to be the perfect type of regime for the application of AI.”
Last week, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK came with the long-awaited announcement. The antiviral Lagevrio (molnupiravir) is considered safe and effective for treating patients with mild to moderate Covid-19. Lagevrio was developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and its functioning is based on interfering with the virus’ replication and preventing it from multiplying. As the clinical trials have shown the drug is most effective in the early stages of the Covid-19 infection, MHRA has recommended using it as soon as possible after a positive test confirming Covid-19.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for COVID-19. This will be a gamechanger for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment.”
“This antiviral will be an excellent addition to our armory against COVID-19, and it remains vital everyone comes forward for their life-saving COVID-19 vaccine – particularly those eligible for a booster – to ensure as many people as possible are protected over the coming months,” he added.
Dr. June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive has also commented on the approval, assuring that,
“With no compromises on quality, safety, and effectiveness, the public can trust that the MHRA has conducted a robust and thorough assessment of the data.”
Innovate Finance has called out the British government and its lack of a unified national strategy for managing fintech in the UK. Back in February, Ron Kalifa published an independent UK fintech review, initially commissioned by the UK Treasury. The report included several actions for the government, regulators, and the industry implementors themselves. All proposed actions were spread across five areas: policy and regulation, skills, international, national, and investment. However, now, months after the report has been published, many of the areas are still to be addressed, according to the director of policy at Innovate Finance, Adam Jackson. “We are still waiting for a government regulatory roadmap for crypto, whilst the FCA has taken some regulatory action against individual firms and extended the deadline for initial temporary crypto Anti-Money Laundering authorizations,” he says. “Across Government, there has been very limited progress on introducing Open Finance – extending open banking to other areas of financial services.”
The main recommendation regarding the regulations that has not been addressed is coordinating the fintech strategy.
“UK FinTech firms face a barrage of different officials and organizations,” says Jackson. “My colleagues and I mapped the areas of live regulatory work that has a significant impact on the competitiveness of UK fintechs and it is an alphabet soup of Government departments and regulators: Treasury, DCMS, BEIS, DIT, DfE, Innovate UK, British Business Bank, Home Office, CMA, ICO, FCA, PRA and multiple teams within these.”
One of the most popular fintechs in Argentina, Ualá, is about to expand its influence largely. It is acquiring one of the local banks in Mexico, ABC Capital. If the deal is approved by the authorities, it will allow Ualá to take its offerings to a whole new level.
Pierpaolo Barbieri, CEO, Ualá, said in a statement to Reuters: “Our commitment to financial inclusion in Mexico is absolute. We come to revolutionize the market with more technology, access, and transparency.”
The fintech was created back in 2017 and offers a Mastercard prepaid card and mobile app to its customers. It also provides a range of services such as bill payment, BNPL, investment products, or insurance. The company has already started its operations in Mexico last year and it plans to invest up to $150 million in Mexico operations until the end of 2022.
A new report prepared by Deloitte, the so-called Art & Finance report illustrates the growing interest in blockchain, big data, and AI among the young investors operating in the art world. Some of the key findings from the study show that 85% of younger collectors believe blockchain could transform the ways of business, with another 85% stating big data, analytics, and AI will impact the future of art and wealth management.
Moreover, 64% of the younger collectors have stated they are very interested in NFTs, this shows a huge generational gap. Only 18% of the older investors have expressed interest in NFTs.
“We have observed a lot of movement in the art and finance ecosystem, especially regarding alternative ways of dealing with art thanks to new technology,” comments Adriano Picinati di Torcello, director of Deloitte Luxembourg, and co-ordinator of Global Deloitte Art & Finance.
“We also see diverging interests across generations. Younger collectors are more interested in financial returns, social impact investments, and digital solutions than older collectors. Market players must listen to the new generation as they will shape the future of the art and wealth management industry.”
There is a growing number of mayors of US cities that ask to be paid… in bitcoin. The mayor of Miami recently announced that he will take his full salary in cryptocurrency, with the mayor-elect of New York City claiming his first three paychecks will be in crypto, and several other mayors also starting they want to be paid in that way.
Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami was the first of the US mayors announcing he wants to take his full paycheck in Bitcoin. The mayor of Miami noted that the city’s CIO “was the first employee to actually take a percentage of his salary in bitcoin,” adding “I am going to be employee number two … I will be taking 100% of my salary in bitcoin.”
“We certainly are not going to impose it on anyone,” the mayor reassured. “It will be completely optional … We want our employees to have that option, but it certainly is not going to be something we are going to force on them, understanding that a decision like that is a personal decision they have to make if they want to make it.”
There is a massive increase of cybercrime going on, and crypto is no exception. Recently in India, scammers started using a new method to steal the crypto wallet credentials and access people’s accounts. As it turns out, the criminals were creating fake copies of famous crypto platforms and advertising them through Google ads. Once a person clicked on the ad, they were redirected to a website looking seemingly fine but as they proceeded, their wallet login information was recorded and stolen. Just over the weekend, this technique led to
over $500,000 stolen in cryptocurrency over the weekend.
“In a matter of days, we witnessed the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crypto,” said Oded Vanunu, Head of Products Vulnerabilities Research at CPR. “We estimate that over $500k worth of crypto was stolen this past weekend alone. I believe we’re at the advent of a new cybercrime trend, where scammers will use Google Search as a primary attack vector to reach crypto wallets, instead of traditionally phishing through email,”
“Unfortunately, I expect this to become a fast-growing trend in cybercrime. I strongly urge the crypto community to double-check the URLs they click on and avoid clicking on Google Ads related to crypto wallets at this time,” Vanunu added.
Fabio Faria, Brazilian Communications Minister, announced on Friday there may be an additional 5G spectrum auction as several spectrum batches did not gain any interest from the investors. The main frequency that did not receive much interest was the 26GHZ.
The initial auction that was concluded last Friday raised a total of 46.79 billion reais ($8.44 billion). The three operators that won the most spectrum rights were Telecom Italia, Telefonica, and America Movil. Algar Telecom also secured some spectrum.