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Facebook buys 9.99 per cent stake in Reliance Jio for $5.7 billion, largest FDI in Indian tech sector

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The social media giant Facebook on Wednesday, announced an investment of USD 5.7 billion (Rs 43,574 crore) to buy a 10 per cent stake in the Reliance Industries’ telecom arm Jio, as the company looks to expand presence in India, the largest market in terms of subscriber base and  the second largest internet market after China. Company said that the investment “underscores our commitment to India, and our excitement for the dramatic transformation that Jio has spurred in the country”.

This is largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Indian technology sector and also the largest investment by a tech company to buy minority stake globally. Today’s early trading showed a surge in the price of shares of RIL  by 8 per cent after Facebook announced its investment plans.

Facebook already has 400-plus million highly popular Whatsapp chat users in India and the social media firm looks to leverage it to offer digital payment services. Having a local partner could help it in navigating various regulatory issues, including those related to privacy and local storage.

Facebook in an official statement said, “Today we are announcing a USD 5.7 billion, or Rs 43,574 crore, investment in Jio Platforms Ltd, part of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), making Facebook its largest minority shareholder.”

“This investment by Facebook values Jio Platforms at Rs 4.62 lakh crore ($65.95 billion) pre-money enterprise value, agreed at a conversion rate of Rs 70 to a US Dollar. Facebook’s investment will translate into a 9.99% equity stake in Jio Platforms on a fully diluted basis,” RIL said.

“Facebook’s investment will translate into a 9.99 per cent equity stake in Jio Platforms on a fully diluted basis,” it added.

Facebook said the investment “underscores our commitment to India, and our excitement for the dramatic transformation that Jio has spurred in the country”.

“In less than four years, Jio has brought more than 388 million people online, fueling the creation of innovative new enterprises and connecting people in new ways. We are committed to connecting more people in India together with Jio,” it added.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), Jio Platforms  houses digital services of the group led by billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, with 388 million subscribers, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Jio Platforms.

The Facebook deal is part of value unlocking by RIL to cut debt. RIL has been seeking strategic partnerships across its businesses while targeting to deleverage its balance sheet.

The group has also been in talks with Saudi Aramco for sale of a 20 per cent stake in its oil-to-chemical business for an asking of USD 15 billion. RIL has already tied up with BP Plc for fuel business as it targets to have a debt-free status by next year.

Jio had also been reportedly talking separately to Google but the fate of those discussions is not known.

Also, having a good telecom partner could help Facebook improve its reach to masses.

RIL could leverage on Facebook’s technology expertise and talent pool as well as help in its ambitions to make Jio a digital company. This apart, the deal would aid the company achieving zero debt status by March 2021.

Since launching Jio in 2016, RIL has emerged as the only Indian company capable of competing with US tech groups in the fast-growing Indian market, expanding from mobile telecom into everything from home broadband to e-commerce.

Jio has emerged as the number one telecom operator in India, both in terms of traffic as well as revenue in a virtual two-player market since the third player, Vodafone-Idea is struggling under regulatory burden. Jio’s main competitor is Bharti Airtel.

Facebook in its official statement added,”In less than four years, Jio has brought more than 388 million people online, fueling the creation of innovative new enterprises and connecting people in new ways. We are committed to connecting more people in India together with Jio,”

Together with WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook overall is estimated to have more users in India than any other single country.

The number of internet users in India is projected to rise to about 850 million in 2022, according to consultancy PwC, up from 450 million in 2017.

“The partnership between Facebook and Jio is unprecedented in many ways. This is the largest investment for a minority stake by a technology company anywhere in the world and the largest FDI in the technology sector in India,” RIL said.

“The investment values Jio Platforms amongst the top 5 listed companies in India by market capitalisation, within just three-and-a-half years of launch of commercial services, validating RIL’s capability in incubating and building disruptive next-generation businesses, while delivering market defining shareholder value,” the statement said.

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Zepto, 10-minute grocery delivery app, raises $100 million

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Only five months subsequent to dispatching, 10-minute basic food item conveyance application Zepto on Tuesday reported it has raised $100 million driven by Y Combinator, taking its valuation to $570 million.

Other than the raise money, Zepto has been developing staggeringly rapidly and is significantly increasing its client base consistently.

In the course of recent months, Zepto has extended past Mumbai by dispatching in Bengaluru, Delhi, Gurgaon, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Pune (Kolkata to follow), the organization said in an assertion.

“Financial backers are reliably deciding to back Zepto due to our top tier execution. This is giving us extraordinary energy – we’re developing at an amazing rate, clients are adoring the item experience, our center unit financial matters are solid, and we have one of the most outstanding startup groups in India today,” said Aadit Palicha, Co-Founder and CEO.

The Series C raising money round saw support from new and existing financial backers, including Glade Brook, Nexus, Breyer Capital, Lachy Groom, Global Founders Capital, Contrary Capital, and that’s just the beginning.

The round came 45 days later the organization reported its $60 million raise money in November.

Conveying food in a short time is a game-changing encounter for clients in the nation, and a few players are presently joining the race.

“We are eager to twofold down and lead this round in Zepto. They initially dispatched with an alternate model, quickly turned to speedy trade in August 2021, and are presently adding 100,000 new clients consistently, 60% of the ladies,” said Anu Hariharan from Y Combinator.

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One stuck box of fertilizer shows the global supply chain crisis

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Somewhere in the world’s busiest port of Shanghai, a container of fertilizer sits among tens of thousands of boxes, waiting for a ride to the U.S. It’s been on the dock for months, trapped by typhoons and Covid outbreaks that have worsened major congestion in the global supply-chain network.

While the fertilizer has been stranded there since May, the port is just one stop on the long journey from central China to the U.S. Midwest. Delays have stretched a delivery that ordinarily would take weeks to more than half a year. And that time frame will keep expanding, as the goods have barely started the roughly 15,000 kilometer (9,300 mile) trek.

This is the tale of one humble shipment and its arduous journey across the world. While some of the barriers keeping it from its final destination may be specific to this particular case, the journey is emblematic of the inertia that has gripped global trade during the pandemic.

From the U.S. to Sudan to China, container boxes have been lying at ports, railyards and in warehouses as the pandemic rages on. In an industry with 25 million containers and some 6,000 ships hauling them, it’s easy to see disruptions as one big headache confined to the shipping world. But each container that’s delayed is economic activity that’s restrained, heaping costs one box at a time on consumers and making it more challenging to put corn on consumers’ tables or deliver presents for the holidays.

It’s also a lesson in the ripple effects across global supply chains, showing the limits of diversification as all networks are still closely connected with China.

“All roads lead back to China, and that has a major effect across the entire supply chain,” said Dawn Tiura, head of U.S.-based Sourcing Industry Group. “Congestion at one port or factory has far-reaching implications for neighboring facilities, which trickles out across the world.”

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Bharat Biotech’s BBV154 leads global race for intranasal COVID-19 vaccine

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Bharat Biotech’s nasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate BBV154 has become the front runner globally to likely commercialise an intranasal vaccine, following green signal from the government to conduct a combined Phase II and III final clinical trials in India. At present out of the 110 vaccines under clinical development globally, only eight are intranasal vaccines and three are oral vaccines. So far none of these vaccines have entered the final phase of trials and most are still in the first phase.

BBV154 is an intranasal replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus SARS-CoV-2 vectored vaccine, in-licensed from the Washington University in St Louis, USA. Nasal and oral vaccines are expected to be a game-changer second-generation COVID-19 vaccine, as they stimulate a broad immune response and prevent both infection and transmission. The non-invasive, needle-free vaccines do not require trained health care workers to administer the vaccine, have no risks of injuries and infections and is suited for children and adults. Unlike Covaxin, which is difficult to make, manufacturing can be scaled up fast and easily.  Compared to injectable vaccines, nasal and oral vaccines are expected to provide long-lasting protection.

Bharat Biotech is yet to announce its plans and timeline for the nasal vaccine’s future development.

Serum Institute of India and Codagenix have done a 48-subject Phase I clinical trial in the UK for an intranasal COVID-19 vaccine, COVI-VAC. This live attenuated candidate vaccine is expected to have potential to provide a broader immune response, in comparison to most COVID-19 vaccines that target only a portion of the virus. Codagenix has recently completed dosing for its Phase I trials and data is expected to come out in the third quarter of the year.

Nasdaq listed US biopharmaceutical company Altimmune, which was developing a three-dose intranasal vaccine candidate  AdCOVID, discontinued the project on July 29, as its first phase trials did not stimulate an adequate immune response in healthy volunteers. “The top-line Phase 1 clinical data are disappointing given the encouraging preclinical data and our substantial efforts in advancing a differentiated, intranasal vaccine candidate in the fight against COVID-19,” said Vipin K Garg, Altimmune’s India born President and Chief Executive Officer.

The University of Hong Kong, Xiamen University and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy in China are trying a Phase II clinical trial of a two-dose influenza virus vector COVID-19 vaccine as an intranasal spray (DelNS1-2019-nCoV-RBD-OPT1). Its one year long second phase trial among 240 volunteers is going on and will conclude only by mid-December 2021.

The University of Oxford is conducting a single dose Phase I study of AstraZeneca’s ChAdOx1 nCOV-19 (Covishield in India and manufactured by the Serum Institute) to be administered intranasal among 54 volunteers in three groups. According to the trial design, the study started in April is estimated to complete the first phase only by February 2022.

Cuban government’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, which developed Latin America’s first COVID-19 vaccine Abdala, is undertaking a Phase I/II study of an intra-nasal three dose protein subunit vaccine candidate Mambisa (CIGB-669). According to the research agency, Mambisa is based on the formulation of the RBD (Receptor Binding Domain) protein and an immuno enhancer, Hepatitis B nucleocapsid antigen.

Canadian biotech Symvivo Corporation has ‘bacTRL-Spike’, as an oral capsule DNA vaccine candidate for the prevention of COVID-19, is undergoing Phase I trials in Australia. The trial was started only in November, last year. The global drug major Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, has taken exclusive license of Symvivo’s bacTRL platform of oral vaccines.  Symvivo has funding of about $4.57 million from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) to develop this vaccine.

US biotech Meissa Vaccines’s MV-014-212, a single dose intranasal recombinant live attenuated COVID-19 vaccine, is undergoing Phase I trials and its interim trial data will come out by the end of this year. Another small US biotech, Vaxform and the US Specialty Formulations LLC (USSF) are developing an oral COVID-19 vaccine, which is also in its first phase. Similarly, another US small biotech CyanVac LLC is also attempting an intranasal parainfluenza virus based COVID-19 vaccine (CVXGA1), now in the first phase and its results are also expected only by the end of the year.

Mexican veterinary pharmaceutical company Laboratorio Avi-Mex is testing a live influenza virus based vaccine, both as an intranasal spray as well as an injection. It is starting Phase I trials and is funded by Mexico’s foreign ministry and the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt). The Mexican authorities hope to commercialise this vaccine by the end of the year.

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