'It's a Long Time Coming': Protomer's Self-Adjusting Insulin Could Be a Game Changer for Diabetics
Francesca Billington is a dot.LA editorial intern. She's previously reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. Before joining dot.LA, she was a communications fellow at an environmental science research center in Sri Lanka. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.
Protomer Technologies Inc., a Pasadena-based biopharmaceutical startup, closed a second round of funding to expand the tech platform it's using to develop insulin that adjusts according to a diabetes patient's blood sugar levels.
The undisclosed raise came from the JDRF T1D Fund, a Boston-based venture philanthropy fund that focuses on type one diabetes research.
The pre-clinical stage startup was launched in 2015 by a team of Caltech faculty and alumni to build a "heavy chemistry-based platform," said CEO and founder Alborz Mahdavi, who received his PhD in bioengineering from the university. They're now using the technology platform to create drugs that can activate once they've been injected into patients, including a new type of insulin.
The treatment still needs FDA approval.
Typically, diabetes patients carry with them glucose meters and insulin to track and maintain the sugar levels in their blood. Protomer's product is designed to activate itself automatically depending on a person's blood sugar levels.
"With this insulin, you don't need to worry about that," Mahdavi said. "There's enormous interest in this. This insulin will be completely transformative for people with diabetes."
Mahdavi said the platform could also be applied to other therapeutic settings like neuroscience and oncology. For example, a drug injected in patients with cancer could switch off if the treatment isn't working. It could also activate in a specific region of the body, which means that side effects of chemotherapy would diminish if the drug were "only active locally."
"Imagine you have pancreatic cancer and you're taking an oncology drug," he said. "The problem is that the drug will be active all over the body, which is why you get all these side effects."
Dave Whelan, CEO of BioscienceLA, said several companies in the field are engineering cells designed to fight cancer cells this way. It's a challenge researchers have been trying to crack for a while.
"It's a long time coming," he said. "It's very reassuring to see investments in this space because the last several months there's been so much focus on COVID, and part of that has been at the expense of other disease areas."
As the pandemic ushers in a new way of telemedicine, he sees an urgency in introducing therapeutics that don't require in-person physician attention. Meanwhile, cancer patients and certain diabetes patients may be more at risk if they contract the virus.
"When you see something like this, it just makes me feel good that there's still attention being paid to these diseases and conditions that will be with us long after COVID," he said.
Protomer's first equity investment, also an undisclosed amount, was led by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. Whelan said that move might signify a future acquisition, as big pharma often looks for innovation outside their own companies.
"It's not only an advance for life sciences and care, but because they're making progress and getting additional funding, that helps them grow the whole industry here," Whelan said. "We absolutely need more of that going on in L.A."
Clarification: An earlier version of this post stated that the T1D Fund has spent over $2 billion on type one diabetes research. While its nonprofit parent company JDRF may have spent that much, the T1D Fund has not.
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LA Tech Updates: Apple Podcast Vet Joins QCODE, Amazon Reportedly in Talks to Buy Wondery, Pharrell's New Black Ambition Incubator
Apple Podcast Veteran Joins Startup QCODE<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUzNTQzMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDUzMzYyNH0.pOGV2lL0qOJQDiWw1T5i4SqsGfaL54hLWED6_5Mf1Ww/img.png?width=980" id="8d68d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f2a47797239f360473fead53338231d4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="qcode" />www.sonos.com <p>QCODE, a Los Angeles podcast startup run by a former Creative Artists Agency talent agent, snagged longtime Apple podcast executive Steve Wilson. The 15-year veteran will become QCODE's chief strategy officer.</p> <p>QCODE, which <a href="https://dot.la/sonos-podcast-qcode-2648395035.html" target="_self">last month raised $6.4 million</a> in a Series A round led by Sono, is positioning itself as a funnel for Hollywood. </p> <p>Founded by Rob Herting, a former agent who had represented largely writers and filmmakers, the company has produced eight shows since 2019. Several have been auctioned for film and television, including "Dirty Diana." Amazon picked up the 6-part erotic drama for a TV series.</p>Wilson, who most recently ran marketing for Apple Podcasts, brings insights from the behemoth platform as the industry sees revenues soar. Advertising brought in near $1 billion this year, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau's podcast report prepared by PwC.
Amazon Reportedly in Exclusive Talks to Buy Wondery<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5NDU5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjgyMDY3NX0.BHKSXjwra-gGsFEa7lXCCCMJXWV5cYxrZqhddj3-uds/img.jpg?width=980" id="d401d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c9c9eee1f9adc4c1d5edeca1af986a84" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Hernan Lopez" />Hernan Lopez started Wondery with the belief that in-depth, narrative audio stories were poised to bloom.<p>Amazon is in "exclusive talks" to buy podcast company Wondery and subsume its 30 hit shows and over 8 million monthly listeners into its empire, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.</p> <p>The talks reportedly value Wondery above $300 million, in line with previous estimates from analysts, when Apple and Sony were said to have expressed interest.</p> <p>Wondery has produced dozens of original series including "Dr. Death" and "Business Wars," and has 19 shows currently in development to become television series. </p> <p>The company does not publicly disclose its financials, but chief executive Hernan Lopez has previously said the company is profitable. About three-quarters of Wondery's revenue comes from advertising, but Lopez has said the company's revenue share from content licensing is growing (Wondery owns the intellectual property for all of its originals). It also launched a subscription service, Wondery Plus, in June and is currently looking to expand its international footprint. </p> <p>Wondery, the West Hollywood-based company with the largest audience of any independent podcast producer, has been the subject of swirling rumors that several suitors are interested in acquiring it.</p> <p>After a pandemic-induced decline that struck much of the podcasting industry, Wondery's audience has surpassed its pre-COVID levels. Its Q3 revenue was about double year-on-year and its Q4 performance has been strong, Lopez previously told dot.LA. </p> <p>Podcasting overall now attracts over 100 million monthly listeners, according to Edison Research. The Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcasting revenues to exceed $1 billion by 2021.</p> <p>That growth has spurred somewhat of an arms race, most evident in Spotify's spending spree, which also has helped that company diversify from its reliance on streaming. Amazon Music is one of Spotify's biggest competitors along with Apple Music, and <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-music-joins-podcasting-fray-11600261201?mod=article_inline" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently expanded into podcasts as well</a>. </p> <p>Acquiring Wondery would give Amazon more content to slide into Amazon Music, a scaled-down version of which is free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Combining that content with its Alexa smart speaker also could empower the company to capture more eyes and ears in the increasingly competitive attention economy. </p> <p>The talks are reportedly ongoing and no deal has been confirmed. </p>
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LA Tech Updates: Fidelity Reportedly Seeks to Unload Bird Shares at a Loss; Warner Bros Streaming 2021 Releases; Plug-In South LA's Accelerator for 2021
Fidelity Reportedly Seeks To Unload Bird Shares at a Loss<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTI2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTc0NTgyM30.2gHsdIxx6hnX0sV0Evq4Xdc-UsOWfaDn5sxhMhUWVoQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="e3f93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7034229cee2777d3a9f7e45313d88a5b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Escooter Unicorn Bird Seeks to Unload Santa Monica HQupload.wikimedia.org<p>Fidelity Investments is attempting to unload some of its shares in Bird Rides Inc. at a loss, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/bird-investor-fidelity-selling-stake-scooter-2020-12?r=US&IR=T" target="_blank">according to a report</a> published Wednesday night by Business Insider.</p><p>The move comes <a href="https://dot.la/bird-scooter-2648232688.html" target="_self">after dot.LA reported in October</a> that the mutual fund giant has marked down the value of its Bird investment by 17% since the beginning of the year.</p><hr><p>As a private company, Bird does not have to share its financials. Nor do the venture funds that hold most of its shares. However, Fidelity is required to account for shares at their fair market value so it provides a rare glimpse into the company's health.</p><p>But a source close to the matter said the sale should not be seen as any indication of Bird's financial performance. The shares represent less than ten percent of Fidelity's position and the intended sale is the result of a new portfolio manager taking over who does not want to invest in pre-IPO companies, the source said. </p><p>Neither Bird nor Fidelity would respond to dot.LA's request for comment.</p><p>Bird <a href="https://www.inc.com/magazine/201902/will-yakowicz/bird-electric-scooter-travis-vanderzanden-2018-company-of-the-year.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">became the fastest company in history</a> to reach unicorn status in 2018 and achieved a $2 billion valuation less than a year later. But as the pandemic hit, it abruptly laid off 406 employees <a href="https://dot.la/bird-layoffs-meeting-story-2645612465.html" target="_self">via a Zoom call</a> and was forced to remove its fleet from city streets just as it was gearing up for its normally lucrative summer season. </p><p>dot.LA reported in October the company <a href="https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EjstMVqVoAAWd7f.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">put its Santa Monica offices up for sublease</a> less than a year after completing a costly renovation.</p><p>Bird has maintained <a href="https://www.bird.co/blog/empty-streets-effect-pandemic-unexpected-lesson-life-after-cars/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the pandemic has been a positive</a> as riders prefer scooters over crowded buses and subways. <a href="https://www.bird.co/blog/scooter-riders-making-comeback-riding-longer-than-ever/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">It says it is seeing riders take longer trips</a> than they did before the pandemic. </p><p>Last month, <a href="https://dot.la/bird-ipo-2648944903.html" target="_self">Bloomberg reported</a> Bird is looking to go public via a blank-check company. Bird said it had no plans to go public "this year," which did not exactly rule out a SPAC sometime in the near future. </p>
Plug-In South LA Opens New Accelerator Cohort for 2021<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg2MzAxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTg0MTM1Mn0.QPKaMFTusp_uKe5Td0K77QKhp7KXUY6_An5edQ588VM/image.jpg?width=980" id="460a2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c53839f0b8ac6658fd10bb2da6ea53f8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Plug In South LA's Accelerator Program is returning in 2021. The outfit is looking for 10 Black and Latinx founders who have proof of product-market fit and traction. The organization, founded in 2015 by Derek Smith, aims to build a network for Black and Latinx founders in South Los Angeles.<br></p><p>Last year was the inaugural accelerator program funded by Verizon, Silicon Valley Bank and Nike. The 2019 cohort hosted five startups including Spooler, a tech-based clothing design startup that credits the program with helping to increase revenue two fold since March. During the program, the company received a contract to launch a Sesame Street active wear product line. </p><p>The last day to <a href="http://pluginsouthla.com/accelerator" target="_blank">apply for the program</a> is Dec. 9 </p>
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