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The strange and sudden collision of tech and drug research

July 6, 2020, 1:35 PM UTC

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Information technology and health sciences have historically occupied two different worlds in Silicon Valley. The former was about chips and software and then later the Internet, gadgets, and apps. It moved in fast-twitch cycles and created fortunes quickly. The latter typically was related to what is now called biotech, and regulated drug trials could take years. This made capital the ultimate long-term bet, and health-science household names were few and far between.

Now more than ever the two distinct industries are colliding, and with any luck, just in time. In a pandemic, the world needs the brains and computing power of IT and the medical know-how of cutting-edge drug research. The wishful thinking of one particularly unserious politician notwithstanding, serious scientists believe some combination of vaccines and therapeutic treatments could come quicker than ever before, thanks to this massive combination of capital and science.

That’s what I know so far from watching for a couple decades—and the last few months. I plan to learn far more on Tuesday and Wednesday when Fortune convenes its annual Brainstorm Health conference, this time online. Clifton Leaf, the editor of Fortune and grand poobah of this event, has put together an agenda that is something of an embarrassment of riches for someone trying to understand what’s going on right now.

The agenda is jam-packed with an extraordinary lineup of business executives, government officials, and other smartypants, including the CEOs of Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb, Amgen, Centene, Baxter, GE Healthcare and Cisco. Leaders from Apple Health, Alphabet’s Verily subsidiary, and Google Health will speak too, as will the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed. I’m interviewing Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, who has lately had to become something of a health expert himself.

Register here to attend this unique, of-the-moment event and use this code, BSH20HALF, to get a 50% discount.


Related to all this, I also encourage you to check out Fortune’s new list of 100 top hospitals in the U.S. Other hospital rankings tend to be popularity contests. This one, Leaf tells me, is “based on 11 clear, objectively measured stats that really speak to clinical outcomes and patient experience and costs.”


I hope you had a great holiday weekend. I found myself thinking about freedom and honor. I watched the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama’s book tour and was reminded, again, of how admirable she is. I also watched Spike Lee’s prescient new movie, Da 5 Bloods. With my family I watched the filming of a 2016 performance of Hamilton. (Disney Plus: You got me, and I feel good about that!)

One more note about the moment we’re living in. I try my best to avoid the cesspool that is Twitter, so I’m often behind on who’s fighting with whom. I have, however, picked up on the battles between tech-industry bigwigs and journalists they’re accusing of less-than-honorable favor. I’m not wading in—there absolutely are more important topics to discuss—but I have found over a long period of time that the very same worthies who complain bitterly about their coverage in the news media are ecstatic when coverage is positive, so much so that they go to great lengths to solicit it. My advice to them: Grow some thicker skin or stop trying to have it both ways.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Step up to the buffet. As rumored, Uber is buying Postmates for almost $2.7 billion, after losing out on GrubHub to Europe’s Just Eat last month. The decade-old Postmates service ranks fourth in the U.S. in food delivery.

You don't like me, you really don't like me. Americans still like their tech CEOs, for the most part. Only one has a net unfavorable rating, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, with only 42% favoring him and 56% holding an unfavorable opinion, according to a poll by Fortune and SurveyMonkey. The highest Big Tech net favorability scores went to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who are both viewed favorably by a 41% margin. Meanwhile, Zuck is preparing to meet this week with a group of advertisers who are boycotting Facebook and calling for better policing of hateful and racist content.

You have my full support. I'm not sure if Elon Musk was in the poll–if not, what an electrifying oversight–but he's not lost his sense of fun. In the Tesla CEO's latest move to tweak investors betting against his success, he's started selling red satin "Short Shorts" on Tesla's web site. No word yet on whether he's sent a pair to hedge fund manager David Einhorn, one of the biggest shorters of Tesla stock, as he did two years ago. Order a pair for yourself for $69.420. Yes, he went there again.

Unscrupulous underwriters unmasked. Florida last week became the first state to adopt legislation limiting the use of DNA tests by life, disability, and long-term care insurers. "Your genetic code should only be shared with your explicit consent and it should not be used to determine the cost and kinds of insurance coverage available to you," state CFO Jimmy Patronis said.

Can you see me now? After conquering India's wireless market and raising over $15 billion from some of the world's leading investors, Reliance Jio is expanding–no surprise. The company launched a Zoom video conferencing rival called JioMeet last week. Calls can last for up to 24 hours (quite the gabfest), and are encrypted and password-protected. I'll wait for the security folks to weigh in on that claim, though.


Apple is possibly the most influential company on digital design in the world, so when they reveal a big change in philosophy, it's worth taking note. Game developer Michael Flarup takes a deep dive into the new design of MacOS Big Sur in an essay he calls "The Comeback of Fun in Visual Design."

Given the chance of a redesign on the mac, Apple did not choose minimalism as the single guiding design pillar. In fact, they doubled down on expressiveness, added depth, gaussian blur shadows, angled lighting and real lifelike objects. Sure, it’s not consistent and we lost some expressiveness elsewhere (🥃 pour one out for detailed toolbar icons), but generally this is like a green light turning on for more expressiveness and ultimately more fun in visual design. They didn't just keep this for nostalgia's sake, they developed it further. They advanced it and are pushing it out to millions of Mac users later this year.

With this approach Apple is legalising a visual design expressiveness that we haven’t seen from them in almost a decade. It’s like a ban has been lifted on fun. This will severely loosen the grip of minimalistic visual design and raise the bar for pixel pushers everywhere. Your glyph on a colored background is about to get some serious visual competition.


How realtors are giving virtual home tours in the absence of open houses during the pandemic By David Z. Morris

Netflix and the importance of Black-owned banks By Ellen McGirt

Why Google’s Fitbit acquisition will be tough to stop By Aaron Pressman

Silicon Valley companies are rethinking in-office perks for a post-pandemic era By Michal Lev-Ram

The case for going all-in on remote work By Brian Kardon

The must-have gear, gadgets, and accessories for safer summer travel By Rachel King

101 Great Things About America (2020 Edition) By Andrew Nusca and Fortune Staff

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Italian composer and Hollywood legend Ennio Morricone died on Monday at the age of 91, leaving a legacy of hundreds of movie scores that may never be equaled. YouTube has a great highlights reel for Morricone. The man who wrote the music for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America, and The Untouchables had a touch of modesty, too. "Compared to classical composers like Bach, Frescobaldi, Palestrina or Mozart, I would define myself as unemployed,” he once told the New York Times.

Aaron Pressman