Weekly Dose of Optimism #8
Universal Vaccines, Cancer in the Cold, High-Skilled Immigration, The Immigration Flywheel, and the Europeans Come Back to Nuclear
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Hi friends 👋,
Happy Friday! Welcome to our 8th Weekly Dose of Optimism. I hope you’re on a beach somewhere soaking up the last few weeks of summer, not working but still curious about all of the incredible things your fellow humans pulled off this week. We got you covered.
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Roni Caryn Rabin for The New York Times
“We have seen clear immunological effects of B.C.G., and it’s tempting to ask if we could use it — or other vaccines that induce training effects on immunity — against a new pathogen that emerges in the future, that is unknown and that we don’t have a vaccine for.”
Much has been made of the marvels of mNRA vaccines — we can quickly spin up highly specialized, effective vaccines in a matter of days. But promising results from a recent study of the century old Bacillus-Calmette-Guerin (B.C.G.) vaccine has reignited interest in vaccines that provide a general boost to the immune system. The study, originally designed to track the impact of the vaccine on Type I Diabetes, found the vaccine also caused a dramatic drop in Covid cases vs. a control population. The trial was subscale, but the results were pretty clear: ~1% of B.C.G vaccinated participants developed Covid vs. 12.5% of dummy shot participants. The promise of a universal vaccine, like B.C.G., is that it is less susceptible to the virus mutations which cause vaccines, such as the Moderna or Pfizer Covid vaccines, to lose efficacy over time.
Derek Lowe for Science
These findings provide a previously undescribed concept and paradigm for cancer therapy that uses a simple and effective approach. We anticipate that cold exposure and activation of BAT through any other approach, such as drugs and devices either alone or in combination with other anticancer therapeutics, will provide a general approach for the effective treatment of various cancers.
A recent study in Nature describes the effectiveness of a surprising anticancer therapeutic: sitting in the cold. The study demonstrated a “substantial inhibition of tumor growth in mice living at 4C versus more normal temperatures.” Human studies will need to be conducted, but everything points in the right direction. This therapeutic approach, essentially sitting in the cold, is “simple, cost-effective and feasible in almost all hospitals and even at home, and is most likely omnipresent for all cancer types.”
How do we maximize the benefits from the level of immigration that citizens of a democracy are willing to tolerate? And how do we build public trust over time to increase the rate of immigration in a way that is politically sustainable?
The best answer to both questions is via high-skilled immigration.
Stapp and Neufeld lay out a compelling argument for why the U.S. needs to prioritize high-skilled immigration and a politically realistic roadmap for how to do so.
Why: “For a given level of immigration, scientists, engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs deliver the largest benefits.” High-skilled immigrants are not only responsible for over three quarters of all U.S. innovation in the last half century, but high-skilled talent is more productive in the U.S. than any other country on earth. Attracting the best and brightest to the U.S. is both a critically important national security issue and also generally beneficial for the rest of the world.
How: Not all immigration is treated equally. Stapp and Neufeld point out that the benefits of immigration can be neutralized if the short-term political backlash to it leads to anti-immigration policy. However, a study from Anna Maria Mayda shows that high-skilled immigration does have the same political cost as low-skilled immigration.
Listening to the recent Acquired episode on Amazon, I was reminded that both Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs were (adopted or biological) sons of high-skilled immigrants. Then, of course — as Bryne Hobart points out — there are the first-generation immigrant founders of Tesla, Alphabet, Stripe, Nvidia, Cognizant, Moderna, Robinhood, and many other industry shaping private companies.
Olivia Young for MIT News
A degree in economics from Oxford University, an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a 20-year professional career were not the end of his learning journey. His longtime passion for space, particularly the prospect of making a sustainable society on Mars a reality, drew him back to school yet again, this time to study aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.
Speaking of a high-skilled immigrant — MIT News profiled a Cyprus-born, life-long learner who is developing technologies to make life on Mars sustainable. After a long, successful career at Bain, George Loros was so inspired watching SpaceX’s reusable rockets that he re-enrolled at MIT to research and develop tech that could be used on the Red Planet.
As someone who gets mad at myself for not caring more about science when I was younger every time I read Carlo Rovelli, it’s a great reminder that it’s never too late to learn new, hard things.
More than anything, this story is another example of the positive flywheel effect that high-skilled immigration has on our country (and beyond). How many rocket scientists have (and will be) inspired by Musk to push out the frontier?
From BBC News
Call it Baader-Meinhof, but it seems like there has been a string of positive developments in the world of nuclear energy recently. Shaken from a decades long stupor by the Russo-Ukrainian War, European countries have started to aggressively embrace nuclear energy. The latest is the UK, which is considering plans to double its nuclear reactor footprint in order to meet the goal of producing 95% of its electricity from low-carbon sources by 2030.
While Noah Smith argues that “Solar is happening. Nuclear is (mostly) not.”, largely because solar costs keep coming down and nuclear costs keep going up, it’s promising to see European countries embrace nuclear and, hopefully, start to shake some of the stigma around it.
This is our kind of optimism: “Optimism isn’t a belief that everything will go well all the time. It’s a belief that despite the inevitable challenges, we will make progress.” The war is obviously a terrible thing, but even in the face of atrocities, and often because of them, humans respond by learning, iterating, and growing.
Bonus: The Space Economy
In case you missed it, the writing rocket scientists at Payload Space dropped a 12k word deep, deep dive into everything happening in the Space Economy on Monday. Payload covers the goings-on in space every day, so it can seem like any other business, but take a second to think about how crazy it is that there’s a thriving and growing economy in space. And it’s only going to get crazier in the coming years…
Not Boring Talent Collective — check it out here.
Thanks to Dan for taking charge of the Weekly Dose while I’m on pat leave!
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Have a great weekend, and see you on Monday for a look into the world of founder-led biotechs.