How Three Technologies Will Shape COVID-19 in 2022

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

How Three Technologies Will Shape COVID-19 in 2022
Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

The years-long COVID-19 pandemic did one thing: technologies that were at their infancy pre-pandemic finally had a chance to fully mature, thanks to waves of public and private funding that spurred the pandemic.

One of the most startling shifts came in the use of mRNA vaccines that helped curb the pandemic. The technology was the key to reopening the economy in California, allowing millions of people to go back to work, and, because the vaccine was created using a spike protein found on the virus, booster shots have been able to keep people relatively safe despite the morphing variants.


As the world faces a new threat with the COVID variant, Omicron, public health experts are looking to the science that helped create the first vaccine – the mRNA vaccine along with genomic sequencing – as they anticipate the virus’ path.

While scientists are still trying to understand the variant, which appears to be less dangerous to individuals than the Delta variant, one thing is agreed upon: having a booster helps protect people from COVID. Testing helps from spread. And genomic sequencing enables scientists to quickly identify new threats.

Why are these three developments so important to the future?

mRNA Vaccines and Boosters

The quick work done to develop the booster using mRNA, a vaccine that uses a molecule to create an immune response in the body, was tested during the pandemic and is likely to continue to be a go-to tool for scientists for future vaccines.

“What pandemic is doing is really pushing the application and maturation of these technologies that were already being developed,” said Dr. Shaun Yang, an assistant medical director at the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at UCLA.

The wealth of data accumulated from millions of people around the world may also help us develop cancer therapeutics or an HIV vaccine sooner than previously thought.

At-Home and At-School Testing

Diagnosing COVID-19 will be key in sustaining a reopened economy post-pandemic.

Rapid tests will be key to bolstering safety efforts in the U.S. as people continue to travel during the holidays, spend time at concerts and movie theaters, and return to in-person schooling.

Since cities have loosened pandemic restrictions, the Biden Administration began banking on rapid COVID-19 tests. The federal government invested a billion dollars into at-home rapid tests, increasing inventory in the U.S. so more people can buy them.

But, according to Dr. Eleazar Eskin, the UCLA chair of the Department of Computational Medicine, accessible testing will also make it easier to stop the virus from spreading in schools. His lab at UCLA developed SwabSeq, a $10 test that can test for multiple respiratory illnesses, not just the coronavirus. Instead of sending students home for a few days while teachers and classmates get tested for the coronavirus, schools can quickly figure out what ailment students have.

Eskin said, pre-pandemic, “what was missing was really a large-scale testing capacity for the virus. So we want to basically put in the system that would both detect new viruses and be able to get results within a couple of weeks.”

Genomic Sequencing and Surveillance

Sophisticated genomic sequencing technology is what allowed scientists across the world to create a vaccine without ever seeing or handling the virus. Chinese scientists sequenced the entire virus, basically writing out the genetic material and construction of COVID-19, and published it online.

Genomic surveillance is also what allowed scientists in South Africa to discover the Omicrom variant so quickly. The faster public health officials can find a variant, the better it can track its mutations, how fast it spreads, and how deadly the virus is. This can inform necessary public health decisions like reinstating social distancing rules.

It will also be key to stopping the next pandemic.

“New pathogens always emerge and never stop...surveillance needs to stay there constantly and that requires funding and legislative support. Knowing that if something happens in the world, you can immediately get information and study it.,” Yang said. “And that really tells you how unsuccessful we were for this pandemic. Because if we had a very good surveillance system, we would have had the opportunity to really put that virus under control.”

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🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

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Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

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Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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