Tradewind Bioscience attacks the physiology of tumors to treat cancer

Cancer remains the one counterpoint to the march of medical progress that has scored human history over the last 200 years.

Last year 600,920 people in the U.S. died from cancer, and another 1.7 million received an initial diagnosis of the disease. Globally, one in six people die from cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

In the past decade, research in the field has expanded the possible treatments of the disease from surgery (which was the only option until the 20th century), radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Among the most promising of these new treatments are those which attack the functions of the tumor itself. New epigenetic therapies, therapeutic viruses, novel nanoparticles, and immune therapies look at external responses to cancerous growths — sequencing out mutations that can lead to cancerous growths; creating new pathogens that only attack cancer cells; building new particles that attack cancer cells; or boosting the ability of the body’s natural immune system to attack cancer cells. By contrast these treatments look to stop the growth of tumors by focusing on inhibiting the biological processes that encourage that growth.

Tradewind Bioscience, which is launching today at Y Combinator’s winter demo day, is taking this approach.

While research on these new potential therapies is only now making its way into scientific journals (with most studies published within the past three months), Tradewind co-founders Dr. Thaddeus Allen and Dr. Ron Buckanovich have mostly kept their research under wraps after having studied different cancers for more than a decade.

Non-small cell lung cancer in a 54 year-old woman. Photo courtesy of Flickr/

Allen began his research roughly 14 years ago at the University of California, San Francisco under the tutelage of the Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher Dr. J. Michael Bishop, where he was studying the way a certain protein, EGFL6, affected the growth of lung cancer cells.

Bishop’s lab was one home for novel cancer research, but UCSF wasn’t alone in breaking new ground on cancer research. Half a continent away, Buckanovich was doing his own studies on the role that the same protein played in the growth of ovarian cancer cells in his lab at the University of Michigan .

“He had filed a patent through the University of Michigan,” Allen says of how he first came across Buckanovich’s research. “I found him on Google patents and I found the patent first. I contacted the tech transfer office and they put me in touch with [him]. Probably the best thing I’ve done in the course of this adventure was to form that relationship with Ron and the University of Michigan.”

Buckanovich published his research on the link between ovarian cancer and the EGFL6 protein in 2016, and it was the jolt that Allen needed to reach out and begin work on Tradewind in earnest.

“I thought long and hard about how we proceed,” Allen says. “This protein is incredibly important in how cancers survive and spread around the body. I had that idea four years ago… and it took me that time to get the courage to say okay let’s get this together.”

In the interim, Allen had been quietly amassing a body of research of his own on how the protein may affect lung cancer cells. “I wanted to keep things secret until things had progressed to a certain point. A point of inevitability,” he says. “I really want to be the one to make this work.”

Serous carcinoma. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ed Uthman

That Tradewind’s therapy is potentially able to treat two very different kinds of cancer is remarkable because cancer is considered to be a very unique disease. It’s a parasite that’s specific to the genetic makeup of its host. In fact, the specificity of cancer to an individual is what makes the disease so difficult for the body to fight.

“We’re taking on the possibility that they’ve really hit on something that — as opposed to going after some downstream things — are in the physiology of these cancers,” says Diego Rey, Y Combinator’s visiting partner focused on healthcare and biotech startups. “When you go downstream in these [treatment] processes it’s a little bit like whack a mole,” says Rey. 

Rather than attack the cancer, Tradewind’s therapy tries to attack the root of the disease. How it grows and spreads through the body.

“We’ve been able to tease out [some] main things that [the protein] does,” says Allen. “It regulates cancer stem cels… the ones that allows the cancer to grow… And it plays a really prominent role in the survival of cells.”

In primary tumors — the initial cancerous mutations — Allen and Buckanovich discovered that the protein they identified plays a major role in controlling stem cells which allow the tumor to grow. That same protein is important in keeping cancers alive as they spread through the body.

“The secreted protein feeds back on the cells and allows them to live as they exit the tumor and find new homes in different tissues,” says Allen. “What the antibody can do… it can bind to the secreted protein and now the protein can not feed back on the cancer cell and bind to the receptors that it’s supposed to bind to. So now it can’t provide that survival signal to the cancer cell.”

The expression of this protein in a patient can also be a useful indicator of the potential to develop cancer. “If you have lots of this protein it’s very likely that you will succumb to a cancer,” says Allen. “[And] it’s really the highly metastatic cancers. These are the deadliest. These are the ones that will spread around the body to different tissues.”

For Allen and Buckanovich, the development of their therapy means that patients could one day get an intravenous infusion of antibodies that would inhibit the production of the protein they identified, rather than getting a bolus of incredibly toxic chemotherapy or undergoing radiotherapies.

“That is actually what Y Combinator has urged us to refocus on,” Allen said. “We’ve been so busy trying to convince people that the target is fantastic.”

Once out of Y Combinator Allen predicts that his new company will need between $7 million and $10 million to get to a first stage of clinical trials within the next three years.

Both he and Buckanovich think that the treatment could be effective beyond their fields of expertise in lung cancer and ovarian cancer.

“Tumors use EGFL6 to tell the cancer cells to migrate and then divide. You’re telling the cancer cells to metastasize,” says Buckanovich. “[But] we have also shown that it helps cancer cells to initiate.”

Buckanovich says that’s the key to what he and Allen are trying to do. “The protein is made not only by the tumor cells but it is made by the host,” he says. “Think of it like soil. If cancer is the seed… if we can prevent there from being a fertile soil for any of these seeds to grow. It may be more applicable than just the subset of cancers that make this protein… In an ideal world this drug would be preventative. We might be able to treat [cancer] with a benign course of antibodies.”

This tortoise shows kids that robot abuse is bad

When humanity’s back is against the wall and the robots have us cornered I’d say I’m all for whanging a few with a baseball bat. However, until then, we must be kind to our mechanical brethren and this robotic tortoise will help our kids learn that robot abuse is a bad idea.

Researchers at Naver Labs, KAIST, and Seoul National University created this robot to show kids the consequences of their actions when it comes to robots. Called Shelly, the robot reacts to touches and smacks. When it gets scared it changes color and retracts into its shell. Children learn that if they hit Shelly she will be upset and the only thing missing is a set of bitey jaws.

“When Shelly stops its interaction due to a child’s abusive behavior, the others in the group who wanted to keep playing with Shelly often complained about it, eventually restraining each other’s abusive behavior,” Naver Labs’ Jason J. Choi told IEEE. The study found that Shelly’s reactions reduced the amount of abuse the robot took from angry toddlers.

The researchers showed off Shelly at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction last week.

Japan’s government is providing nearly $1B to boost homegrown space startups

Japan wants to formally encourage domestic startups to pursue the growing opportunities in commercial space. The Japanese government has earmarked around $1 billion in public funds to startups working on space solutions. At the same time, the government revealed that it’s working on a legal path towards establishing commercial development on the moon.

This is a big injection in the private space race, and the funds will be allocated both as investments and as loans, spanning five years and beginning during this fiscal year. The goal is to boost the Japanese space business, hoping to help amplify its growth and propel it to a 2.4 trillion yen ($22.5 billion) market by the beginning of the 2030s, per the Nikkei.

Startups that qualify will be able to receive aid of up to 10 million yen per company, or around $100,000 U.S., for things like research costs and the price of applying for patents.

Japanese space startup ispace applauded the move in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

“Not only will this move improve the competitiveness of the Japanese private space sector, but it will have positive implications for the sector globally. We believe this will be remembered as a turning point for our burgeoning industry,” wrote ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada. “Further, investments in the space industry ultimately benefit society on Earth through the vast number of innovations that develop as a result.”

Bumble responds to Match’s patent lawsuit

Yesterday we reported that Match, the parent company of Tinder, was suing Bumble for patent infringement and misuse of intellectual property.

Specifically, Match alleged that Bumble “copied Tinder’s world-changing, card-swipe-based, mutual opt-in premise” for which a patent was filed in 2013 (before Bumble was founded) but just granted a few months ago.

Today Bumble has responded to Match’s lawsuit with a letter published on their own blog and other news outlets. The full letter is linked here and we’ll also include it in full at the bottom of this post.

Interestingly, Bumble’s letter focuses less on the actual litigation and instead attempts to fill in readers about the context in which Match has decided to sue over this patent claim.

Specifically, the letter notes that this lawsuit comes after Match has made repeated attempts to buy Bumble as well as launch a copy cat “lady’s first” feature. While Bumble or Match have never publicly acknowledged negotiations between the two companies, sources close to the situation have confirmed in the past to TechCrunch that there were multiple back and forth offers from Match which fell short of Bumble’s desired valuation.

With sources close to the two companies telling TechCrunch that this is the first time Match has ever mentioned possible patent infringements by Bumble, it’s very possible that Match feels that discussions have stalled and this is their way of either forcing the deal forward or making Bumble an unattractive target for other bidders that may be scared off by this potential legal liability.

The letter shows that Bumble essentially agrees with this analysis, as they openly call out the lawsuit as an intimidation tactic by saying “we swipe left on your attempted scare tactics, and on these endless games. We swipe left on your assumption that a baseless lawsuit would intimidate us.”

While anything is possible (especially in the world of M&A), the letter also strongly suggests that as of now any chance of a deal between the two companies are seriously off the table, as Bumble says “we’ll never be yours, no matter the price tag”.

When asked if any company besides Match has made a competing offer, Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd told TechCrunch that “Bumble is very excited about other potential opportunities that are still very much in discussion, and none of the recent news has affected these conversations.”

In regards to the lawsuit itself, Bumble does say (in a footnote) that they “vigorously dispute this lawsuit’s baseless claims and look forward to telling their story in court”.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next. If Bumble has truly swiped left on Match for good, than the dating conglomerate may feel like they have nothing to lose by pursuing their lawsuit against Bumble for as long as possible. Or, maybe it is all one big negotiating technique and they’ll end up dropping it before coming back to Bumble with a larger offer.

Either way, we’ll keep you updated as soon as we find out more. Here’s the full letter from Bumble to Match below:

Dear Match Group,

We swipe left on you. We swipe left on your multiple attempts to buy us, copy us, and, now, to intimidate us.

We’ll never be yours. No matter the price tag, we’ll never compromise our values.

We swipe left on your attempted scare tactics, and on these endless games. We swipe left on your assumption that a baseless lawsuit would intimidate us. Given your enduring interest in our company, we expected you to know us a bit better by now.

We — a woman-founded, women-led company — aren’t scared of aggressive corporate culture. That’s what we call bullying, and we swipe left on bullies. Ask the thousands of users we’ve blocked from our platform for bad behavior.

In fact, that behavior? It only fuels us. It motivates us to push our mission further — to work harder each day to build a platform, community, and brand that promotes kindness, respect, and equality. That’s the thing about us. We’re more than a feature where women make the first move. Empowerment is in our DNA. You can’t copy that.

So when you announced recently, in another attempt to intimidate us, that you were going to try to replicate our core, women-first offering and plug it in to Tinder, we applauded you for the attempt to make that subsidiary safer.

We strive every day to protect our nearly 30 million users, and to engineer a more accountable environment. Instead of swinging back and forth between trying to buy us, copy us, and sue us, why don’t you spend that time taking care of bad behavior on your platforms?

We remain focused on improving our users’ experience, and taking our mission worldwide, until every woman knows she has the power to make the first move, to go after what she wants, and to say “no” without fear.

We as a company will always swipe right for empowered moves, and left on attempts to disempower us. We encourage every user to do the same. As one of our mottos goes, “bee kind or leave.”

We wish you the best, but consider yourselves blocked.


YC alum Dahmakan, a Kuala Lumpur-based food delivery startup, acquires Polpa to expand into Thailand

Dahmakan, a vertically-integrated Malaysian meal delivery startup, announced today that it has acquired Polpa to enter Bangkok. Dahmakan was the first Malaysian startup to participate in Y Combinator and recently received a $2.6 million round of funding earmarked for its expansion into new markets.

The company, which was launched in 2015 by former Rocket Internet executives, says it now delivers tens of thousands of meals each month in Kuala Lumpur, where it is based, and Bangkok. Co-founder and chief executive officer Jonathan Weins told TechCrunch that Dahmakan plans to venture into other Southeast Asian markets first, including Jakarta, Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila, before tackling East Asian countries like Japan and Korea.

Polpa was founded in 2014 by Julian Timings and Prongfa Uennatornaranggoon, who will join Dahmakan’s team. Polpa will continue to operate under its own brand in Bangkok.

“Polpa has incredible founders and we have been in touch with them for over a year. We shared the same excitement and wanted to do something much bigger together, so when it came to an acquisition, it made sense because they are complementary to us,” says Weins.

Polpa shares a similar business model to Dahmakan that helps them differentiate from “traditional” food delivery startups like Foodpanda (which was formerly owned by Rocket Internet) and Uber Eats. Self-described “full-stack food delivery” companies, they handle almost all parts of their business operation, including food preparation and logistics, in-house.

In order to make that possible, Dahmakan pre-plans menus a week in advance, offering a choice of several meals each day that customers can order a la carte or with discounted package deals. To make large-scale meal production and delivery efficient and affordable, the startup relies on its proprietary machine-learning routing technology. The system allows it to produce and began delivery of more than 1,200 fresh meals in an hour, or a “four times higher efficiency than the industry benchmark set by Chipotle,” Dahmakan claims. The company also says its delivery cost is five times lower than traditional food delivery companies.

As it expands, Dahmakan will need to compete with other vertically-integrated food delivery services, the most notable of which is probably Grain in Singapore. Weins says Dahmakan’s AI-based technology will be its key differentiator, because it keeps costs down while ensuring quick deliveries. Dahmakan will also be up against Foodpanda, Uber Eats and other services that offer food from a wide range of restaurants, but Weins says the benefit of choosing from Dahmakan’s pre-planned menus is quality control. Many of its chefs formerly worked in luxury hotels, including Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur, and create meals that the company says would be 30% to 50% more expensive when ordered from restaurants that aren’t able to utilize its economies of scale.

IBM launches deep learning as a service inside its Watson Studio

IBM’s Watson Studio is the company’s service for building machine learning workflows and training models, is getting a new addition today with the launch of Deep Learning as a Service (DLaaS). The general idea here, which is similar to that of competing services, is to enabled a wider range of businesses to make user of recent advances in machine learning by lowering the barrier of entry.

With these new tools, developers can develop their models with the same open source frameworks they are likely already using (think TensorFlow, Caffe, PyTorch, Keras etc.). Indeed, IBM’s new service essentially offers these tools as cloud-native services and developers can use a standard Rest API to train their models with the resources they want — or within the budget they have. For this service, which offers both a command-line interface, Python library or interactive user interface, that means developers get the option to choose between different Nvidia GPUs, for example.

The idea of a managed environment for deep learning isn’t necessarily new, With the Azure ML Studio, Microsoft offers a highly graphical experience for building ML models, too, after all. IBM argues that its service offers a number of distinct advantages, though. Among other things, the service offers a drag-and-drop neural network builder that allows even non-programmers to configure and design their neural networks.

In addition, IBM’s tools will also automatically tune hyperparameters for its users. That’s traditionally a rather time-consuming processes when done by hand and something that sits somewhere between art and science.

Marijuana soda startup California Dreamin’ wants to replace booze

“Enjoy a light, social high” says the funky bottle of California Dreamin’ cannabis -infused sparkling pomegranate juice. Launching today at Y Combinator Demo Day, California Dreamin’ is serving up an alcohol alternative that still gets you lit, but without the same hangover or health issues.

Each bottle contains 10 milligrams of THC — an industry standard dose of the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. The company only uses sativa, the more energizing, euphoric type of pot, compared to the more body relaxing Indica variety. That’s compared to some competing marijuana beverages with as much as 100mg — enough that a single sip will get you high and bottle will lay out all but the hardiest stoners. “We want it to be a light, head high feel” says Seven Cities Beverage Company aka California Dreamin’ co-founder Amy Ludlum. “We don’t want to give anyone couch lock. We want it to be social.”

Meanwhile, the taste marries fruity sweetness with a hint of earthy plant life complexity that will titillate long-time cannabis fans. Bottles come in other flavors like tangerine, grapefruit, and cranberry apple, and will retail for about $8 to $10 each. Cases are rolling out to recreational dispensaries in San Francisco like The Barbary Coast over the next week.

California Dreamin’ has succeeded in creating a beverage with the light-hearted brand, logical dosage, and agreeable taste to be something you can drink casually and socially, not just when you want to get ridiculously high. That makes it a better alternative or complement to drinking alcohol. It’s certainly not for everyone. Paranoia, anxiety, and post-high grogginess are all common side-effects of sativa, and you shouldn’t drive while blazed. But there are plenty of people who want an option to unwind that doesn’t involve a literal poison, or smoking a burning plant that can hurt your lungs.

The only problem is that California and other states with legal recreational marijuana ban the sale of anything cannabis related anywhere that serves alcohol. That means you aren’t likely to see California Dreamin’ in a bar any time soon, but you could throw a pretty fun backyard barbecue. But with 1 million medical marijuana users out of 28 million California adults, and with over half of the voting population supporting cannabis legalization, there’s plenty of room to build a brand in this space.

Inebriation is America’s true national pastime. You could see it as people just seeking an escape from daily troubles, but it’s also a way to shift our thinking to get a new perspective on the world. Considering how much we pay for entertainment that’s merely stimulus we filter through our perception, $10 to pleasantly alter that perception is not a half-baked idea.

Instagram Stories gets “quote tweet”-style feed post resharing

Instagram’s next big Stories feature could let you compliment or trash talk other people’s feed posts, or embed a “see post” button to promote your own. A TechCrunch reader sent us these screenshots of the new feature, which Instagram confirmed to us is appearing to a small subset of users. “We’re always testing ways to make it easier to share any moment with friends on Instagram” a spokesperson wrote. Now those moments can include dunking on people. 

Instagram has never had a true “regram” feature with the feed, just slews of unofficial and sometimes scammy apps, but this is perhaps the closest thing. Users often screenshot feed posts and share them in Stories with overlaid commentary, but this limited the cropping and commentary options. Making an official “reshare could unlock all sorts of new user behaviors, from meme curation to burn book shade throwing to social stars teasing their feed posts in their Stories. Brands might love it for using their Stories to cross-promote a big ad campaign. Employing Stories to drive extra Likes and comments to permanent posts could help them gain more visibility in Instagram’s feed ranking algorithm.

Here’s how the feed post to Instagram Stories sharing feature works. You pick any public, permanent Instagram post and tap a button to embed it in your Story. You can tap to change the design to highlight or downplay the post’s author, move and resize it within your Story post, and add commentary or imagery using Instagram’s creative tools. When people view the story, they can tap on the post embed to bring up a “see post” button which opens the permanent feed post.

Users who don’t want their posts to be “quote-Storied” can turn off the option in their settings, and only public posts can be reshared. Facebook says it doesn’t have details about a wider potential rollout beyond the small percentage of users currently with access. But given the popularity of apps like Repost For Instagram, I expect the feature to be popular and eventually open to everyone.

Quote-Storying could help keep the feed relevant as more users spend their time sharing to the little bubbles that sit above it. And it offers a powerful viral discover mechanism for creators who can now ask fans to quickly reshare their post rather than having to awkwardly screenshot and upload them.

While both Instagram and Snapchat have let people privately send other people’s posts to friends as private messages, Snapchat lacks a way to embed other Stories or Discover content in your Story. Snapchat may have pioneered the Stories format, but Instagram has been rapidly iterating with features like Super Zoom and Highlights to extend its user count lead over the app it cloned.

The move by Instagram further ties together the three parts of its app: the permanent feed, ephemeral Stories, and private Direct messaging. You can imagine someone finding a post in the feed, resharing it their story, then joking about it with friends over Direct. It’s this multi-modal social media usage that turns casual users into loyal, ad revenue-generating ‘Grammers.