It was one of the best-received panels of the week at Herb Allen’s Sun Valley retreat: Immunology and therapy and the advances that could potentially be made to save lives and reverse damage in the human body. Immunotherapy already been used to an extent to fight cancer and was a noted scientific breakthrough back in 2013, but scientists told the attendees gathered in Idaho yesterday that immunotherapy/immunology will eventually be applied to other diseases as well.
How does it work? It’s somewhat different than stem cells, but is the same concept. Doctors essentially remove certain ‘young’ cells from the body, genetically engineer them and then “re-infuse” them back into the body. Once complete, the human body’s own immune system starts fighting the disease. “It was only a 50-minute presentation but it made you want to read up on this after you left. They said they think it can find success with other kinds of diseases. You know, if it works on worms maybe eventually it will work on humans. It was fascinating,” said one conference attendee.
Also on the agenda was a talk between the former CIA director George Tenet and the current CIA director Mike Pompeo. “He did a pretty good job,” said one exec. “I was actually pretty impressed with him. He answered everything mostly politically because Trump put him in there, but the way he talked about things you could tell he knew what he was doing.” One of the few things that Pompeo revealed was that President Trump, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Secretary of Defense James Mattis apparently ask very detailed questions. For instance, where President Obama used to be briefed over a 45 minute period, President Trump will spend over an hour a day being briefed and asking questions.
Also presented on Saturday was the New Breed, companies who are on the edge of breakthrough technology. “They brought together a great group,” said one attendee. Those in the group included EATSA, Convoy and Bolt Threads.
Eatsa is an automated, fast-food restaurant started in San Francisco by tech guys Scott Drummond and Tim Young with ex-Google exec David Friedberg. It is cost efficient using fewer employees per restaurant. Often nicknamed ‘robot restaurants,’ they employ computers rather than cashiers and servers. You order through a kiosk and, although, there are real cooks behind the walls preparing food and shoving them out in bowls, the rest is all automated.
Eatsa can produce your order quickly and because there are few employees so it is cost-effective and the meals are cheaper, they explained to the attendees at Sun Valley. The restaurant chain has expanded from one eatery in San Fran to a total of five in CA and has entered New York and now D.C.
Another company was Convoy, which is basically Uber for the trucking industry. The app matches truckers with shipments. I can’t remember who originated the quote, it was some economist, but he said, “America is really an experiment in transportation.” Convoy, a start-up out of Seattle quickly made a deal with consumer food giant Unilever and then it was off to the races, so to speak. The company works with smaller companies, too. Their software basically lines up those needing trucking services for on-time pick-up and delivery.
Then there was Bolt Threads — it’s all about spider webs. Well, sort of. Founded in 2009, the California-based biotechnology company was interested in engineering certain kinds of sustainable fabrics from protein materials. They looked to the web of a spider which produces “high tensile strength, elasticity, durability and softness.” The started with making ties and are branching out to other garments. Surprisingly, spider silk is stronger than steel on a basis of per-weight (certainly the brown widow spider’s silk is). It is also breathable and stretchable.
The company basically engineers fabric out of protein inspired by spiders and other organisms: protein-based microfibers so it’s an alternative to petro-based (oil) products. In other words, it’s looking at a new form of chemical — a renewable one — garnered from proteins so as not to rely on toxic and unsustainable petrochemicals.
The week wrapped up last night with a final networking dinner.