We made it through January. This week, in the best of tech news, we have some interesting information regarding the ban of all private cryptocurrency, Ericsson exceeding the expectations in their Q4 results by far, and AstraZeneca being recommended for emergency approval by EMA. And apart from that, we look at whether the current vaccination will be effective against the new strain of the virus and the British and South Africa variant. Finally, we will look at the neobanking in South America as their largest neobank, Nubank, scores a large series G funding. Stay with us for the best tech news of January 25-31
Important news for all interested in Crypto was announced in India on Saturday. The country proposed a law to ban all private cryptocurrencies in order to introduce an official digital currency that will be issued by the central bank. The legal bill, called “Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill” aims to “create a facilitative framework for the creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)”. In effect, currencies like bitcoin, ethereum, or litecoin would be banned in India.
Will The Bill Be Passed?
The legislation will be under debate in the current parliamentary session and will it be successfully passed, it will “ prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India, however, [will allow] for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency and its uses”, Reuters reports.
Does the bill have a chance to pass? Due to the fact that the right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party has control of both houses of parliament, there is a strong possibility the controversial legislation will pass. This is not the first time that controversies around cryptocurrencies in India arise. In 2018, it was recommended by a government panel to ban all private cryptocurrencies and give the offenders strict punishments including jail time. However, after severe turmoil, the legislation did not pass at that time. Now, it may be different.
How Rare Is Developing An Official Digital Currency?
Developing an official digital currency is not as controversial and many countries have explored these options. We have been reporting about the digital yuan, but Japan, Canada, Sweden, Estonia, and United States have also played with the idea of developing their own digital currency. You must remember that the official national cryptocurrency would not look like bitcoin as it would be centralized, as opposed to the decentralized private digital currencies.
Ericsson’s results from the Q4 of 2020 show that the ban on Huawei, combined with the demand for 5G has caused a strong growth for the Swedish company. They are selling more than it was forecasted and their gross margins have increased from 36.8% in Q4 of 2019 to 40.6% in Q4 of 2020. These numbers mean that Ericsson has recovered from the margin percentages that were in the low 20s in 2017 and are now as strong as they were 10 years ago, as reported by Reuters.
Results Exceeding The Forecasts
“The competition in our industry is always cut-throat and the trick is to be ahead of the cost curve,” Chief Financial Officer, Carl Mellander, says. “A lot of the money we invest in R&D not only goes into making better functionality and features but also to reduce the cost structure.”
The forecasted quarterly adjusted operating earnings stood at 8.58 billion Swedish crowns and Ericsson has beat that number by far, rising to 11 billion Swedish crowns, almost doubling its figure from last year. The total revenue has also increased by 5% and beating the forecast by more than 1 billion Swedish crowns.
“This reflects continued high activity levels in North America and North-East Asia, and also in Europe where we further increased the market share,” Chief Executive Börje Ekholm said.
AstraZeneca Vaccine Recommended For Emergency Authorization In The European Union
On Friday, the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine was recommended for emergency authorization in the European Union. The Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use of the European Medicines Agency has based its decision on the rolling review of trial data led by the University of Oxford. However, more data from ongoing trials are expected to be published in the upcoming weeks.
The vaccine is suitable for people over 18 and it is to be given in two doses, just like the two vaccines already approved in the EU, Moderna, and Pfizer.
“Today’s recommendation underscores the value of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine which is not only effective and well-tolerated, but also easy to administer and, importantly, protects fully against severe disease and hospitalizations.” The CEO of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, said in their official press release. “We are deeply grateful to Oxford University, participants in the clinical trials, and AstraZeneca colleagues for their unwavering commitment to providing this lifesaving vaccine to millions of Europeans,” he added.
The Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Professor Andrew Pollard, who also served as the Chief Investigator of the vaccine trials has also commented on the news saying, “The recommendation by the European Medicines Agency is an important milestone in extending access to the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine in our region and providing further endorsement that, after the rigorous scrutiny of regulators, the vaccine can be used to help protect populations from the coronavirus pandemic.”
Apart from continuing to work with regulators in many parts of the world, AstraZeneca is also in the process of applying for an Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization, in order to facilitate the AstraZeneca vaccine’s distribution to the low-income countries.
How Is The AstraZeneca Vaccine Different Than The Other Two?
The main difference between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the previous two vaccines that were approved is the temperature at which it has to be stored. A great benefit of the AstraZeneca vaccine is that it can be handled at normal refrigerated conditions.
The data published so far comes from four clinical trials that were conducted in South Africa, Brazil, and the UK with more than 20 000 participants of diverse geographical or ethnic groups. The vaccine has already been approved in 20 countries including the majority of Latina America, the UK, India, or Marocco.
“With this third positive opinion, we have further expanded the arsenal of vaccines available to EU and EEA member states to combat the pandemic and protect their citizens,” said Emer Cooke, Executive Director of EMA in the official statement released by EMA. “As in previous cases, the CHMP has rigorously evaluated this vaccine, and the scientific basis of our work underpins our firm commitment to safeguarding the health of EU citizens.”
Moderna Vaccine Preliminary Effective Against The New Virus Strains
With the new, more contagious mutations of the initial Covid-19 virus detected in South Africa and the UK, many started raising concerns about the effectiveness of the approved vaccines. The initial study done by Moderna showed that their vaccine is effective against the UK virus and slightly less effective against the South Africa variant.
Stephen Hoge, the president of Modernas said, “The virus is changing its stripes, and we will change to make sure we can beat the virus where it’s going,”. The study has not been peer-reviewed yet.
The company announced they will start two new studies exploring two different options. The first one is supplementing the existing vaccine with an extra jab. Another one is a new vaccine that is specific to the South African variant of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Pfizer-BioNTech said their vaccine also shows to be effective against the new variants, and similarly to Moderna, they confirmed it does not produce enough antibodies in the case of the South Africa variant.
While the announcement is very exciting, now comes the time for talking with the regulators and figuring out what clinical trials will have to be conducted in order to approve the updated version of the vaccine that will focus on the South Africa variant. South
America’s Biggest NeoBank Secures Series G Funding
In the Fintech world, we have seen quite some investment spurt in the last months. At the end of last week, Nubank, the biggest South American neobank, secured a $400 million funding in their Series G round. The latest investment bumped Nubank’s valuation up to $24 billion and the company is now in the top five most valuable financial institutions in Latin America.
The investment will be allocated to expand the list of services in Brazil and furtherly expand the startup’s operations in Mexico and Colombia. Nubank and neobanking in general came as the very needed solution to the problem of bureaucratic hell process that an average Brazilian has to go through just to open an account.
The startup managed to secure a customer base of 34 million users, an increase of 26 million since June of 2019.