Reproductive startup launches test to identify an embryo’s genetic defects before an IVF pregnancy begins
Noor Siddiqui, founder and CEO of Orchid, during the web summit for careers during Day 2 of the 2014 Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland, Nov. 5, 2014.
Stephen McCarthy | Getty Images
Reproductive technology startup Orchid on Tuesday announced a comprehensive new genetic test that may help many prospective parents across the U.S. breathe a little easier.
The company is launching the first commercially available whole genome sequencing report for embryos, designed for couples undergoing in vitro fertilization, which is a type of treatment for people experiencing infertility or who are at risk of passing on genetic problems.
With IVF, after a woman has had around two weeks of daily hormone injections, her mature eggs are extracted and fertilized in a lab, and the viable embryos are later transferred into the uterus.
Orchid said its new test will help couples identify whether their embryos present genetic risks such as birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, or pediatric and adult-onset cancers that were previously only detectable after birth.
“This is a major advance in the amount of information parents can have,” Noor Siddiqui, Orchid’s founder and CEO, told CNBC in an interview. “The way that you can use that information is really up to you, but it gives a lot more control and confidence into a process that, for all of history, has just been totally left to chance.”
Orchid’s technology sequences more than 99% of an embryo’s genome, while existing tests typically read around .25%, the company said in a release.
IVF is a taxing process that can cost an average of more than $12,000 in the U.S., according to the Institute for Reproductive Health. Success is not guaranteed, and some people go through multiple rounds of IVF before a pregnancy develops.
Orchid’s genetic test will cost couples an additional $2,500 per embryo sequenced, but it does not add any new steps or risks to the IVF process, Siddiqui said. She added that the cost of the report should come down as the company is able to scale up its operations and introduce more automation.
“We want to make this something that’s accessible to everyone,” Siddiqui said.
Beginning Tuesday, Orchid’s technology will be available at IVF clinics in major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Austin, and Siddiqui said Orchid can be made available at additional clinics at the request of patients.
Couples will receive their report back from Orchid after about three weeks, the company said, and a board-certified genetic counselor will help them understand the results.
Orchid’s whole genome embryo report
Orchid has secured $12 million in funding from investors such as Prometheus Fund and Refactor Capital. Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe; Dylan Field, the co-founder and CEO of Figma; Fidji Simo, the CEO of Instacart; Brian Armstrong, the co-founder CEO of Coinbase, and others are also backers.
For many hopeful parents, the peace of mind is worth Orchid’s steep price.
Roshan George, a 35-year-old engineer in San Francisco, began the IVF process with his wife, Julie, in the fall.
George said they were feeling some anxiety about having a baby at an older age, and their nerves were amplified after their IVF clinic discovered they are both carriers for nonsyndromic hearing loss, which can result in a partial or total loss of hearing.
George had heard of Orchid through some friends, he said, and the couple decided to sequence all three of their viable embryos with the company. He said getting the embryos tested was very straightforward, and when the results came back, they discovered that two out of the three embryos were healthy.
“We were super relieved right off the bat,” George told CNBC in an interview. “That was very gratifying to hear.”
“Just having some degree of certainty — you’re going to make sure they’re not sick when they’re born and all that sort of stuff — it’s a huge amount of anxiety that’s been lifted off,” George said.
George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, is an investor and an adviser at Orchid. Church developed the first direct genome sequencing method, he said, and Orchid’s technology will give parents the ability to access a hundred times more information about their baby than they could attain previously.
Church said it is “perfectly logical” for parents to care about helping their children, whether it pertains to their genetic health, the quality of their food or whether they get enough sleep and exercise.
He added that people often think that genetic risks don’t apply to them, or that there’s nothing they can do if something is wrong. But with Orchid, Church said parents have the detailed information they need to make informed decisions.
“If you went to Las Vegas with a 97% chance of winning, you would definitely go to Las Vegas,” Church told CNBC in an interview. “But it’s different when you’re talking about quarters as opposed to children.”
Orchid’s primary focus after the launch Tuesday will be on scaling up its technology and making it more accessible, Siddiqui said.
She said Orchid has spent an “enormous amount of effort” identifying the mutations that will cause severe disease during pregnancy or early childhood or result in serious chronic conditions. She wanted to ensure the company is able to provide parents with information that is “super meaningful.”
“I think this has the potential to totally redefine reproduction,” Siddiqui said. “I just think that’s really exciting to be able to make people more confident about one of the most important decisions of their life, and to give them a little bit more control.”
Nvidia briefly surpasses $2 trillion in market cap during intraday trading
Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City on Nov. 29, 2023.
Slaven Vlasic | Getty Images
After rising earlier in the day, shares of Nvidia were down about 1% at 11 a.m. ET. Nvidia stock closed up 16% Thursday.
Nvidia posted $22.10 billion in revenue for its fiscal fourth quarter, a 265% increase from a year ago and above the $20.62 billion expected by analysts polled by LSEG, formerly known as Refinitiv. Nvidia reported $12.29 billion in net income during the quarter, up a staggering 769% from $1.41 billion last year.
The company has benefited from the tech sector’s insatiable demand for artificial intelligence capabilities over the past year. Nvidia makes the pricey graphics processors for the servers that power large AI models.
Nvidia said it expects $24.0 billion in sales in the current quarter, surpassing the $22.17 billion expected by analysts.
“Fundamentally, the conditions are excellent for continued growth,” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said during the company’s quarterly call with investors Wednesday.
— CNBC’s Kif Leswing contributed to this report.
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AI can ‘disproportionately’ help defend against cybersecurity threats, Google CEO Sundar Pichai says
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks in conversation with Emily Chang during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on November 16, 2023 in San Francisco, California. The APEC summit is being held in San Francisco and runs through November 17.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Munich, GERMANY — Rapid developments in artificial intelligence could help strengthen defenses against security threats in cyber space, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Amid growing concerns about the potentially nefarious uses of AI, Pichai said that the intelligence tools could help governments and companies speed up the detection of — and response to — threats from hostile actors.
“We are right to be worried about the impact on cybersecurity. But AI, I think actually, counterintuitively, strengthens our defense on cybersecurity,” Pichai told delegates at Munich Security Conference at the end of last week.
Cybersecurity attacks have been growing in volume and sophistication as malicious actors increasingly use them as a way to exert power and extort money.
Cyberattacks cost the global economy an estimated $8 trillion in 2023 — a sum that is set to rise to $10.5 trillion by 2025, according to cyber research firm Cybersecurity Ventures.
A January report from Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre — part of GCHQ, the country’s intelligence agency — said that AI would only increase those threats, lowering the barriers to entry for cyber hackers and enabling more malicious cyber activity, including ransomware attacks.
“AI disproportionately helps the people defending because you’re getting a tool which can impact it at scale.
CEO at Google
However, Pichai said that AI was also lowering the time needed for defenders to detect attacks and react against them. He said this would reduce what’s known as a the defenders’ dilemma, whereby cyberhackers have to be successful just once to a system whereas a defender has to be successful every time in order to protect it.
“AI disproportionately helps the people defending because you’re getting a tool which can impact it at scale versus the people who are trying to exploit,” he said.
“So, in some ways, we are winning the race,” he added.
Google last week announced a new initiative offering AI tools and infrastructure investments designed to boost online security. A free, open-source tool dubbed Magika aims to help users detect malware — malicious software — the company said in a statement, while a white paper proposes measures and research and creates guardrails around AI.
Pichai said the tools were already being put to use in the company’s products, such as Google Chrome and Gmail, as well as its internal systems.
“AI is at a definitive crossroads — one where policymakers, security professionals and civil society have the chance to finally tilt the cybersecurity balance from attackers to cyber defenders.
The release coincided with the signing of a pact by major companies at MSC to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent AI tools from being used to disrupt democratic votes in 2024’s bumper election year and beyond.
Adobe, Amazon, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, TikTok and X, formerly Twitter, were among the signatories to the new agreement, which includes a framework for how companies must respond to AI-generated “deepfakes” designed to deceive voters.
It comes as the internet becomes an increasingly important sphere of influence for both individuals and state-backed malicious actors.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday described cyberspace as “a new battlefield.”
“The technology arms race has just gone up another notch with generative AI,” she said in Munich.
“If you can run a little bit faster than your adversary, you’re going to do better. That’s what AI is really giving us defensively.
president of security at DXC
A report published last week by Microsoft found that state-backed hackers from Russia, China, and Iran have been using its OpenAI large language model (LLM) to enhance their efforts to trick targets.
Russian military intelligence, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the Chinese and North Korean governments were all said to have relied on the tools.
Mark Hughes, president of security at IT services and consulting firm DXC, told CNBC that bad actors were increasingly relying on a ChatGPT-inspired hacking tool called WormGPT to conduct tasks like reverse engineering code.
However, he said that he was also seeing “significant gains” from similar tools which help engineers to detect and reserve engineer attacks at speed.
“It gives us the ability to speed up,” Hughes said last week. “Most of the time in cyber, what you have is the time that the attackers have in advantage against you. That’s often the case in any conflict situation.
“If you can run a little bit faster than your adversary, you’re going to do better. That’s what AI is really giving us defensively at the moment,” he added.
Ride-hailing giant Grab posts first profitable quarter, announces $500 million share buyback
A attendee walks past a banner with a Grab logo before a bell-ringing ceremony as Grab begins trading on the Nasdaq, in Singapore, on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.
Ore Huiying | Bloomberg | Getty Images
This compares with a $391 million loss recorded in the same period a year ago. The boost was “primarily due to the improvement in Group adjusted EBITDA, fair value changes in investments, and lowered share-based compensation expenses,” the company said.
Revenue for the quarter hit $653 million, exceeding LSEG analysts’ estimates of $634.86 million.
Losses for full year 2023 came to $485 million, down 72% from $1.74 billion a year ago.
In addition to ride-hailing, the company also provides financial services like payments and insurance, as well as deliveries for food, groceries and packages.
“We exited [2023 with] mobility exceeding pre-Covid levels. We are seeing a very strong demand in the mobility space,” Grab CFO Peter Oey told CNBC in an exclusive interview on Friday, adding that tourism is “growing very much.”
“If you look at the deliveries business, we have another record 13% year-over-year growth. We have now more users on our platform also at the same time. So we have really strong momentum,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”
Grab announced Thursday it would be repurchasing up to $500 million worth of class A ordinary shares for the first time.
Grab was largely unprofitable during its years of operation, having amassed billions of dollars in losses since its inception in 2012.
In the initial years of business, tech startups tend to prioritize growth over profitability, which usually means burning a lot of cash. But with global macro uncertainties slowing growth, they have been forced to renew their focus on profitability and be more prudent with costs.
During the fourth quarter, total incentives — which include partner and consumer incentives — were further reduced to 7.3% of total value of goods sold, Grab said in its report. That’s compared to 8.2% in the same period a year ago “as we continued to improve the health of our marketplace.”
Grab had been doling out incentives to attract drivers and passengers to its platform but that’s tapering now as the company moves to drive up profitability.
On whether Grab would reach a time where it wouldn’t need to incentivize people to stay on the platform, Oey said incentives will “always be a lever” for the business.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a world where there’s no incentive whatsoever,” he told CNBC, adding that incentives help “to make sure we have enough supply” of drivers and attract price-sensitive customers.
For 2024, Grab expects revenue to come in between $2.70 billion and $2.75 billion, lower than LSEG analysts’ consensus of $2.8 billion.
Grab’s shares closed 8.41% lower on Thursday. Its share price has plummeted 75.8% from its $13.06 opening price in December 2021, when the firm first listed on the Nasdaq.
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