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ARK Disrupt Issue 90: Gene Therapy, Deep Learning, Payments, and Robots

Please enjoy ARK Disrupt Issue 90. This blog series is based on ARK Brainstorming, a weekly discussion between our CEO, Director of Research, thematic analysts, ARK’s theme developers, thought leaders, and investors. It is designed to present you with the most recent innovation takeaways and to keep you engaged in an ongoing discussion on investing in disruptive innovation. 

1. FDA Approves CAR-T Therapy For The First Time

In a significant milestone for biotech, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved gene therapy for the first time this week.  It approved CAR-T therapy for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) just a month after NovartisNVS presented its results to the Oncological Drugs Advisory Committee and won a unanimous 10-0 vote.

CAR-T therapy triggers the immune system of metastatic cancer patients, targeting and killing their cancerous cells. Typically, these patients have exhausted treatment options, with CAR-T trials their last hope.

Priced at $475,000 per patient, Novartis’s Kymriah has raised some eyebrows. Put into context, however, the price seems much more reasonable. Current cancer treatments cost $120,000 on average per year, or more than a million dollars during a typical patient’s course of therapy. CAR-T therapy promises to cure cancer after one administration.

While the research community initially viewed CAR-T therapy with skepticism, few now are questioning its efficacy.  Indeed, a day before the Kymriah’s approval, GileadGILD announced that it had struck an agreement to acquire Kite PharmaceuticalKITE for $11.9 billion: Kite is another major CAR-T based biotech contender awaiting approval for aggressive non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

2. Deep Learning Chip Startups Are Proliferating

Semiconductors are hot again, as shown below.  Thanks to the insatiable demand for deep learning, nearly a dozen startups are building deep learning processors. The latest is Cerebras, a company formed by AMD engineers with the backing of Benchmark Capital. If the latest funding round closes, Cerebras will be valued at $860 million, reaching near-unicorn status. Recently, China’s Cambricon hit the $1 billion mark after a round of funding led by China’s State Development and Investment Corporation.

ark disrupt issue 90

In ARK’s whitepaper Deep Learning—An Artificial Intelligence Revolution, we estimated that the deep learning chip market in the datacenter alone could be worth $6 billion and that deep learning companies have the potential to add $17 trillion in new market capitalization over the next two decades. This new wave of startups is planting the seeds for that growth.  We suspect that the next IntelINTL, QualcommQCOM, or ARMARMH is in this batch!

3. Smile Is The New Way To Pay In China

On Friday Ant Financial Services, the company behind Alipay, announced a new way to pay on the Alipay platform: “Smile to Pay.” The payment process was rolled out at a KFC concept restaurant, KPRO, using a combination of facial recognition technology and a phone number.

According to Alibaba Group, the “multistep process of one to two seconds of facial scanning uses a 3D camera and a ‘live-ness detection algorithm’ to guarantee a user’s identity.” This hands-free payment method features the facial-recognition technology that was first unveiled by Jack Ma in 2015. In an AlibabaBABA video, a girl walks up to a kiosk, orders her food, looks at the camera, enters her phone number, and then receives her food.  When she changes her look with wigs and makeup, or tries to disappear into a crowd, the technology still recognizes and verifies her face.

While the process takes ~10 seconds and seems slow compared to mobile or contactless payments, it is a foray into technology that one day could help stores identify and monitor customers. Combined with voice authentication, it will give stores the ability to charge customer accounts automatically as they exit. Ant Financial certainly seems to be at the leading edge of the movement toward ambient and low touch payment experiences.

4. Kik Plans To Launch Digital Coin “Kin”

Founded in 2009 Kik, a Canadian messaging app company, experimented early with a native digital currency called Kik Points. Users earned Kik Points to buy games, videos, and other content on the Kik app, resulting in 300,000 transactions on average per day from 2014 through 2016.

Leveraging upon the success of Kik Points and hoping to reinvigorate its growth, Kik is restructuring by decentralizing its platform around a native currency called “Kin”.  These tokens will serve multiple purposes: facilitating the purchases of services on the app, enabling payments among users (PTP), and incentivizing developers to build apps for Kik’s platform.

Kik plans to issue “Kin” in a $125 million ICO (initial cryptoasset offering) this week.  Leveraging upon Ethereum’s blockchain, Kik hopes to integrate Kin into its chat ecosystem.

Kin will be one of the few ICO’s supporting a live product with a defined user base.  Kik’s shift to a decentralized model could accelerate its customer acquisition and re-energize its platform.

5. Robots Are Getting Smarter With Artificial Intelligence

Last week, MIT’s Computer Science and AI Lab demonstrated a collaborative robot that responds to voice commands. Impressively, the Rethink Robotics robot seemed capable of both semantic and episodic memory. In the embedded video you can see researchers labeling items as “a snack” and then asking the robot to hand them their snacks.  Reportedly, the robot responded correctly 90% of the time.

This demo illustrates the continued convergence between deep learning and robotics. ARK looks forward to the publication of MIT’s research, specifically to learn how the researchers trained the algorithm.


ARK's statements are not an endorsement of any company or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security. For a list of all purchases and sales made by ARK for client accounts during the past year that could be considered by the SEC as recommendations, click here. It should not be assumed that recommendations made in the future will be profitable or will equal the performance of the securities in this list. For full disclosures, click here.

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