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Cryptocurrency market to hit $1 trillion valuation in 2018: Kraken CEO



The entire cryptocurrency market will reach a total value of $1 trillion this year, according to the chief executive of a top digital currency exchange.

Jesse Powell, founder and CEO of Kraken, said Tuesday that the cryptocurrency market would continue to see an “acceleration” of growth — despite a sharp pullback in recent weeks.

He told CNBC: “You’ve got a lot more kids graduating from crypto programs at universities now. I think we’re just going to see it continue exponentially from here.”

Asked whether he thought the market capitalization of all cryptocurrencies would hit the $1 trillion mark in 2018, Powell agreed.

The current market cap of all cryptocurrencies stands at around $417 billion, according to data from industry website CoinMarketCap. It hit an all-time high of more than $800 billion in early January, before falling dramatically as a result of a huge cryptocurrency sell-off.

Traders have been weary of regulatory signals recently as government ministers in South Korea and India have both upped their rhetoric against virtual currencies. On Monday, three top European Union regulators issued a warning to consumers about the risks associated with buying cryptocurrencies.

However, cryptocurrency enthusiasts seemed to be mostly positive about a hearing on cryptocurrencies held by the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee last week.

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What we learned since the first U.S. case was confirmed



Nurse Dawn Duran administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Jeremy Coran during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pasadena, California, U.S., January 12, 2021.

Mario Anzuoni | Reuters

Exactly one year ago today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case on U.S. soil of a new coronavirus scientists were then calling 2019-nCoV.

Since then, the country has recorded more than 24 million cases and more than 400,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and a new president takes office amid warnings that the pandemic will get worse before it improves.

But public health experts, doctors, scientists and leaders from industry and government say the past year has taught us a lot about the virus — and how those lessons can be applied to try to slow the pandemic now.

Their takeaways ranged from findings about the virus itself, and how it spreads — remember when we were all Clorox-wiping our groceries? — to reflections on our own behavior, and how it’s condemned us to ever-increasing infection rates.

Some, from former National Security Council member Dr. Luciana Borio and Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui, emphasize the importance of partnering early with industry. Others say the past year proves the promise of our biomedical technologies can be realized quickly – if only they’re well-enough funded.

Here are their thoughts.

On the virus

“It is not the winter respiratory virus it was billed to be,” said Dr. Paul Offit, of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It’s far more far-reaching and damaging than that.”

Predictions in the spring about the virus’s course warned it could resemble the patterns of the 1918 influenza pandemic: a milder first wave, followed by a much deadlier second one in the fall.

The autumn of 2020 did ultimately bring with it a feared larger wave of coronavirus cases, but it wasn’t after a uniform trough through the summer as originally expected. Mid-July saw a peak at about 76,000 cases as the virus swept across Florida, Texas and Arizona.

By that time scientists already had a handle on what makes this virus so damaging, experts said, as learnings developed rapidly in the first few months.

“In early January of last year, we were told there wasn’t human-to-human transmission,” said Brown University’s Dr. Megan Ranney. “Once we realized it did spread [person-to-person], we thought it spread like flu… we thought we had to be worried about droplets and fomites.”

That all changed, Ranney said, “by the time we got through that first horrible Northeastern wave.”

The fact that transmission is “more airborne than we originally thought, less surface than we originally thought” has important “implications for prevention recommendations,” said Emory University’s Dr. Carlos del Rio. Hence: masks and avoiding large gatherings indoors.

But scientists also learned this virus is trickier than others; the fact that it strikes some fatally while silently infecting others is, in fact, what makes it so dangerous, said Dr. Jeremy Faust of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“Asymptomatic transmission, on one hand, has good news in it: not everyone gets as sick as we thought,” Faust said. “On the other hand, it’s so much more difficult to control because people think, ‘If I feel okay, I’m fine. I must not be a danger to myself or anyone else.'”

Dr. Leana Wen, former health commissioner of Baltimore, said that mindset is what’s driving much of the spread now, when we’re recording an average of almost 200,000 cases per day.

“There is still a degree of magical thinking when it comes to people we know and love who are not in our household,” she said. “We think, ‘Well, this person looks fine; I know them, I trust them that they wouldn’t engage in high-risk behaviors, so I’m going to see them.'”

Because so much spread can happen from people without symptoms — more than half, according to the CDC — the best course is to “regard everyone as if they could have coronavirus,” Wen said.

On human behavior

“We have developed a sense of a shifting baseline,” said the University of Minnesota’s Dr. Michael Osterholm. In April, he said, it felt like the “house was on fire” with 32,000 cases reported each day. By May, they were down to about 20,000. “People felt like we’d flattened the curve, we were done,” he said.

By mid-July, that surge through the Sunbelt saw a previously unfathomable new high of more than 70,000 daily cases. Early September saw cases fall back down to 26,000, a figure that was “almost as high as the high in April, but people felt like, ‘Look, see, this is good, it’s under control,'” Osterholm said.

By October, the upper Midwest started to light up with infection, and “by Thanksgiving we had almost 200,000 cases a day,” he said. The country’s most recent peak, Jan. 8, saw more than 300,000 cases reported on a single day.

“Think of 300,000 versus 32,000,” Osterholm said. “In a period of April to January, we became numb to that. Each one of these is a shifting baseline, and suddenly what was happening doesn’t seem so bad.”

It’s part of the human condition to react this way, he said, to “develop a sense of survival.” But it’s a key challenge to turning the tide in the pandemic.

So too, said both Osterholm and Ranney, is addressing the structural issues that put the brunt of the pandemic on the poor, the vulnerable and people of color.

“When designing or implementing public health strategies to combat an epidemic, whether that be structural racism, economic inequality, divisions between high income and low income countries, when we don’t pay attention to the drivers of people’s behavior, we will fail,” Ranney said. “Even with good science.”

Borio, who along with Osterholm served as a Covid-19 adviser to the Biden transition, named the importance of leadership as the chief learning from the past year.

“It must start at the top,” she said. “A nation divided can’t tackle a pandemic. Our government, vast and complex, has tremendous capabilities, but doesn’t organize itself.”

But keep politics, as much as possible, out of it, added Slaoui, who resigned last week as chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the Trump Administration’s effort to develop vaccines and drugs for Covid-19.

“We must never again politicize public health issues,” Slaoui said. “I am sure this has cost tens of thousands of lives.”

On government and industry

Both Slaoui and Borio, as well as former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who’s also a CNBC contributor and board member of Pfizer and Illumina, said the first year of the pandemic demonstrated the importance of public-private partnerships, and of acting on them quickly.

“The refusal of CDC to pivot early to engage commercial labs and commercial test kits left us blind to the early spread,” Gottlieb said.

The U.S.’s ability to detect the virus was hampered in the early weeks by a test from the CDC that turned out to be faulty.

“The virus was able to get deeply rooted in our communities,” he added. “It was a historic failure.”

Borio pointed to the importance of data systems created by Palantir, gene sequencing partnerships with companies like Illumina, diagnostic testing through Quest and LabCorp and vaccine distribution through CVS and Walgreens.

“A truly modern public health care system requires a public-private partnership,” she said.

But Borio emphasized the importance of rigor in the regulatory process as well, and the dangers of “premature issuance” of Emergency Use Authorization, “before data from adequate and well-controlled trials are available, as have occurred for many of the therapeutics.”

Hydroxychloroquine, in particular, was a black eye for the Food and Drug Administration, which revoked its Emergency Use Authorization for Covid-19 in June after finding it was unlikely to be effective.

That, Borio said, “doesn’t help patients.”

Slaoui, who oversaw scientific development at one of the largest public-private partnerships in medical history through Operation Warp Speed, also emphasized the need to be able to run better clinical trials. He said at points during the last year, there were more than 400 trials running in the U.S., most without placebo control, which is considered the gold standard for testing new therapies. Many were also enrolling just a handful of patients.

“That is hugely inefficient and carries a big opportunity cost,” Slaoui said.

On technology

What well-controlled trials did prove, though, was that “mRNA vaccines work,” Ranney said. “The fact that we have not one but two mRNA vaccines that have been effectively deployed in humans that are both safe and effective in preventing the disease is just huge.”

They wouldn’t have been possible though, according to Borio, “without early investments by the U.S. government many years ago; these technologies take years to develop.”

She called them the “most exciting innovation in vaccine technology in decades.”

The outbreak also proved the speed and utility of a second technology, vaccines that use harmless viruses to ferry genetic material from the coronavirus to the body’s cells to induce an immune response, Slaoui said. “There are at least two very fast vaccine platforms that can be used to develop vaccines in months” instead of years, he added.

“What we missed,” he said, “is manufacturing capacity and capabilities.”

Slaoui said the answer is something he’s proposed called a biopreparedness organization that would develop new vaccines against emerging threats and be able to provide help immediately if those threats materialized. He first raised the idea in 2016 when he was chairman of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline, and said it didn’t take off, “but we must revive it now.”

Borio cited the appointment of Eric Lander as Biden’s top science adviser, in a newly elevated cabinet-level position, as a signal of a new era where science “will be integral to the policy-making process.”

Offit, an expert in vaccine science, put it most bluntly: “We have it in us to make and test a vaccine very quickly,” he said, “if we’re willing to spend the money.”

Looking ahead

Despite the lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic’s first year, public health experts warned of a difficult path forward.

“What strikes me most is how much we still don’t know,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Questions like: How does this virus behave differently from other respiratory viruses? How does it evolve? Why does it cause such severe disease in some but infect asymptomatically in others?

“In science, the first major step toward solving one of nature’s puzzles is understanding how large the puzzle is and what questions to ask,” Modjarrad said. “We’re only now reaching that point.”

One of the most pressing challenges is that a variant known as B.1.1.7, thought to be more transmissible than earlier forms of the coronavirus, is likely to “take off in the next couple weeks to months,” said Osterholm. That means “we could see the worst days of the pandemic ahead of us, even with the vaccine.”

Among the Biden administration’s most urgent tasks is managing distribution of coronavirus vaccines, for which it’s set a goal of 100 million doses administered in his first 100 days.

Osterholm noted, though, at that pace — even with an additional vaccine cleared for use that requires just one dose, as Johnson & Johnson‘s is expected to be within the next few months — only about 14% of the U.S. population would be fully vaccinated by the end of April.

Combined with an estimated 30% of the population that’s already been infected and may have immunity, that’s less than half the country protected heading into May, “far from any kind of herd immunity,” Osterholm said.

“Vaccines don’t matter, only vaccinations do,” added Modjarrad, director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. “We cannot congratulate ourselves too much or declare victory too soon.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease scientist, said this week he expected the country could reach 75 to 80% of its population vaccinated by the fall. 

“If we do that efficiently from April, May, June, July, August,” he told the hosts of a Harvard Business Review livestream, “by the time we get to the beginning of the fall, we should have that degree of protection that I think can get us back to some form of normality.”

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Facebook is referring Trump ban to its Oversight Board



President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Facebook on Thursday announced that it will refer its decision to indefinitely suspend the account of former President Donald Trump to its newly instituted Oversight Board.

The independent body, which has been described as Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” will review the decision to suspend Trump and make a binding decision on whether the account will be reinstated. Until a decision is made, Trump’s account will remain suspended, the company said in a blog post.

The board will begin accepting public comments on the case next week, it said in a tweet. It will have up to 90 days to make its decision, but its members have committed to move as quickly as possible, a spokesman for the body told CNBC. A decision can’t be overruled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg or other executives.

After Trump’s comments on social media led to an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that resulted in the death of five people, Facebook said it hopes that the board will uphold its Jan. 7 decision to indefinitely suspend Trump.

“We believe our decision was necessary and right,” Facebook said in a blog post. “Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld.”

The company’s Oversight Board was launched in October with the premise of reviewing difficult content moderation decisions. The Facebook Oversight Board is made up of scholars, journalists and former lawmakers from around the world. This will be the board’s first major case.

Nominations are open for the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50, a list of private start-ups using breakthrough technology to become the next generation of great public companies. Submit by Friday, Feb. 12, at 3 p.m. EST.

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England’s third lockdown sees ‘no evidence of decline’ in cases



Medics take a patient from an ambulance into the Royal London hospital in London on January 19, 2021.

TOLGA AKMEN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — A third national lockdown in England appears to have had little impact on the rising rate of coronavirus infections, according to the findings of a major study, with “no evidence of decline” in the prevalence of the virus during the first 10 days of tougher restrictions.

The closely watched REACT-1 study, led by Imperial College London, warned that health services would remain under “extreme pressure” and the cumulative number of deaths would increase rapidly unless the prevalence of the virus in the community was reduced substantially.

The findings of the preprint report, published Thursday by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI, come shortly after the U.K. recorded another all-time high of coronavirus deaths.

Government figures released on Wednesday showed an additional 1,820 people had died within 28 days of a positive Covid test. To date, the U.K. has recorded 3.5 million coronavirus cases, with 93,290 deaths.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) at Downing Street on January 15, 2021 in London, England.

Dominic Lipinski | Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the latest figures were “appalling” and warned, “There are still tough weeks to come.”

Johnson imposed lockdown measures in England on Jan. 5, instructing people to “stay at home” as most schools, bars and restaurants were ordered to close. It is expected the strict public health measures will remain in place until at least mid-February.

What were the main findings?

The REACT-1 study tests nose and throat swabs from between 120,000 and 180,000 people in the community in England at approximately monthly intervals. The latest results mostly covered a period from Jan. 6 to Jan. 15.

The study compared the results with swabs collected between Nov. 13 and Nov. 24 and those taken between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3.

Researchers found 1,962 positives from 142,909 swabs taken over the January period. It means 1.58% of people tested had Covid on a weighted average.

This represents a more than 50% increase in prevalence rates since the study’s mid-December results and is the highest recorded by REACT-1 since it started in May 2020.

Prevalence from Jan. 6 to Jan. 15 was highest in London, the study said, with 1 in 36 people infected, more than double the rate of the previous REACT-1 results.

A man wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19 walks in London.

May James | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

Infections had also more than doubled in the southeast of England, east of England and West Midlands when compared with the findings published in early December.

“Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely,” professor Paul Elliott, director of the program at Imperial, said in a statement.

“We all have a part to play in preventing this situation from worsening and must do our best to stay at home wherever possible,” he added.

The U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care said the full impact of lockdown measures would not yet be reflected in the prevalence figures reported in the REACT-1 study.

“These findings show why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

“It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part to bring down infections. This means staying at home and only going out where absolutely necessary, reducing contact with others and maintaining social distancing,” Hancock said.

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