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This Company Boasted to Trump About Its Covid-19 Vaccine. Experts Are Skeptical.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Inovio, a Pennsylvania biotech company, has spent years claiming to be on the cusp of important vaccines. It has never brought one to market.


As the deadly new virus spread globally, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, a small biotech company in Pennsylvania, rushed to develop a vaccine. After announcing promising early results, Inovio’s stock soared more than 1,000 percent. Riding the momentum, the company sold more shares to the public.
That was 2009, when H1N1, better known as swine flu, was stoking fears of a devastating pandemic. In the years since, Inovio has announced encouraging news about its work on vaccines for malaria, the Zika virus and even a “cancer vaccine.” The upbeat declarations have caused the company’s stock price to leap, enriching investors and senior executives.
There’s only one catch: Inovio has never actually brought a vaccine to market.
Now, with a new pandemic raging, Inovio is working on a new vaccine: for the novel coronavirus. A flurry of positive news releases about its funding and preliminary results have sent Inovio’s shares up by as much as 963 percent — and helped the company attract money from the government and investors. At the same time, Inovio insiders have sold stock.
But some scientists and financial analysts question the viability of Inovio’s technology. While there are some early signs of promise with the company’s vaccine, Inovio has only released bare-bones data from the first phase of clinical trials. It is locked in a legal battle with a key manufacturing partner that claims Inovio stole its technology.

Shareholders have sued Inovio, claiming it has exaggerated its progress on a coronavirus vaccine to inflate its stock price. Adding to the challenges, Inovio’s potential vaccine will have to be administered by a gadget — it resembles an electric nose-hair trimmer and is called the Cellectra — that would direct genetic material into millions of patients.
And while the company has said that it is part of Operation Warp Speed — the flagship federal effort to quickly produce treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus — Inovio is not on the list of companies selected to receive financial support to mass-produce vaccines.

Goya CEO Robert Unanue saved by his sisters from getting canned


Goya Foods’ President Trump-loving CEO nearly lost his job last month as members of the family-owned business sought to inject new blood into the company through a partial sale to a private equity firm.
As The Post reported on July 19, Robert Unanue beat back efforts to sell a 25 percent stake in Goya to BDT Capital Partners in a deal that would have forced him to give up the CEO role after 18 months.
The Post has since learned, however, that Bob, 66, got his way only after his three sisters — Carol Freeborn, Mary Ellen Yorio and Lisa Unanue — threatened to never again speak to certain family members if they voted for the sale.
“Bob’s sisters threatened to cut off relations if they said yes to the sale,” said one source close to the family.
“They view him as a protector,” a second family source said of the sisters’ feelings for Bob.
The alleged drama started on July 8 — the day before Bob’s controversial White House appearance — when 53 percent of the Spanish-food empire’s shares were voted in favor of the sale to BDT during a preliminary nonbinding vote, sources said.
On board with the sale were Bob’s two younger brothers: Peter Unanue, a Goya executive vice president, and Tom Unanue, who no longer works there, sources said.
The brothers voted for the sale against Bob’s wishes because they felt their big bro had broken his promise to add three nonfamily directors to Goya’s nine-member board, sources said.
The board OK’d the board expansion plan — a pet project of Peter’s —in 2018 as a way to check Bob’s power and ensure he moved the canned-beans maker toward an initial public offering or other big payday for shareholders. But Bob rejected each and every director candidate presented to him, sources said.
That led to speculation that Bob may be trying to railroad an IPO so he can turn over the reins to his son Robert Jr. — and sent his brothers into the arms of Andy Unanue, a cousin who has been on the outs with Bob for years, sources said.
In 2004, Bob and another cousin, Francisco Unanue Jr., ousted Andy from his role as chief operating officer and heir apparent in a coup that also saw Bob replace Andy’s dad, Joseph A. Unanue, as Goya’s CEO after 28 years. Andy spearheaded the BDT deal in hopes that it would help Goya expand to Mexico and in the US beyond the East Coast, sources said.
Peter, in an e-mailed statement, said he was “troubled by the false statements that have been anonymously attributed to me and to others, as well as by the improper spreading of inaccurate and misleading claims that were purportedly made during confidential conversations among board members.”

Business is blooming at NYC Flower District staple thanks to outdoor dining

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


Instead, the boxwoods and hydrangeas that once lined the sidewalks along Sixth Avenue were in storage, the latest victims of the coronavirus.
Like the restaurants, barber shops and tailors forced by New York’s health officials to shut their doors for several months, Ashok Kumar’s Tropical Plants & Orchids Inc. also had to close because of the pandemic.
When the shop was allowed to reopen its landscaping business in June, the first order Kumar received was from the United Nations, whose greenery he is in charge of refreshing every month. The UN’s campus had been without fresh flowers and plants for months and was looking to add splashes of color in this dark time.
Then came the lobbies of hotels and apartment buildings across town, all ready to brighten up again. Kumar was able to open for retail on June 10, but many of his regular clients have yet to return after fleeing New York.
“We have a lot of great customers, but they’re out of the city right now,” Kumar, who took over the shop from his father and uncle in 2003, told The Post. “They don’t want to come back, but they’re still in touch with us and they know we’re waiting for them.”
The span of the lockdown was particularly painful for flower shop owners because it coincided with the all-important graduation season, when clients would normally be ordering bouquets of table orchids for parties and renting giant palms for outdoor celebrations.
“I’d say around 30 to 40 percent of business in May and June is graduation parties,” Kumar said. “We didn’t get any this year.”
And while he’d normally supply flowers to fill party halls for at least 15 weddings each summer, Kumar said that this year he hasn’t done a single one.
The slowdown in business has left Kumar with a huge backlog of inventory. Orders for spring flowers and summer plants were placed in January — well before the pandemic was a concern for most Americans — when the shop was still expecting strong warm-weather business.
“Now our suppliers are calling us and saying, ‘Hey, you still have that order sitting here,’” Kumar said. “We might have ordered 200 plants in one nursery, but we’re telling them we only need 125 or 150.”
The plants that have already been shipped to the 28th Street store are being sold at a discount, with boxes of orchids that might normally cost $65 selling for $50.
“Hotels don’t have guests, so they’re not putting orchids in their rooms,” Kumar explained. “In a month that might be changing, but right now we’re not getting a lot of business.”
Rather than lay off employees, Kumar has shortened shifts to three or four days apiece so that everyone can get some work, and he has come to an agreement with his landlords where he pays 60 percent of rent each month.
But the coronavirus has also presented new opportunities. As New York has embraced outdoor dining as a way to allow restaurants to operate during the pandemic, restaurants have turned to shops like Kumar’s to make their outdoor spaces more appealing.Tropical Plants & Orchids has decorated the outdoor seating areas of more than 40 restaurants already, including popular Upper East Side bistro Le Bilboquet and a number of spots in Little Italy.
“As long as the restaurants are open that is good news for us,” he said. “I want to see as many restaurants open as possible.”
Indeed, although he describes the past few months as the most difficult the shop has experienced since 9/11, Kumar said that there are signs of life.
“A lot of offices are opening back up,” he added. “A lot of good clients at law offices and doctors’ offices are calling me because they’re reopening and need flowers.”
The coronavirus and its airborne transmission has also seen Kumar get new business from customers with unusual requests.
“People come here asking for snake plants, they want something that can clean the air.”
 

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