tv Press Here NBC October 10, 2021 9:00am-9:30am PDT
. this week documenting the life of one of silicon valley's most mysterious people, peter teal. plus dr. christina is revolutionizing pharma. and an emergency exit in the age of covid. that's this week on "press: here." good morning everyone. i'm scott mcgrew. lots of new industries have popped up to help solve the problems that covid has created. masks and gloves and zoom and hand sanitizers. but one of the most unique and expensive i've seen lately is
something called covax global, covac as in covac evacuation. for a fee, covac promises to get you home if you get sick. ken mcilroy had to take advantage of that, on vacation to belize only to fall ill during the trip. you've got to get back into the united states. tell me about that adventure. >> you know, you think about i didn't really know whether i was going to get it or not get it. and we were going to belize and we were in the hotel. and you know, there could be a chance. and the last thing i wanted was to be in another country and be sick. obviously i had never had it before, and how sick are you going to be? well, i bought the insurance.
and trying to get back to the u.s. and i became positive the day before. >> so, how does that process begin? obviously you call the insurance company and say, i need to go home. i've seen the pictures. you're surrounded by people in big suits, big chemical suits. >> i was on the mainland in belize, i was on an island. me and my fiance. then we got to belize city and they -- we landed on the tarmac basically and they come in with a medical transport. we literally walk across -- we were on the tarmac for maybe five minutes and kind of timed it. and then we went to the desk. and we flew back. we had to land in customs and go
through that and eventually get back to where i live. >> the most amazing thing to me is not necessarily the jets or the helicopters, it's the paperwork. getting two people back into the united states who are positive for covid. >> right. and of course you don't think about those things. you know, i have nothing to do with health care. i have a company and i run it. and it's like -- it's completely over here as far as what they needed to do. i was graceful. they figured it out. i actually don't even know the level of detail and all the things they needed to do. and to your point, part of what belize was doing was, you know, making sure that we weren't spreading anything. and they were just being superdiligent, as they should be, in handling what was there. i think they were happy for us
to go. we were happy to be home. we quarantined, you know, and i did all the right things when i got there and made sure that we weren't around anybody. and it was seamless. i think my biggest -- my biggest, biggest -- concern was i was going to be somewhere in another country, in a hospital with a respirator -- you don't know how sick you're going to get. >> yeah, no. that makes sense. we're glad you're home safe. we wish you better travels in the future. ken, thank you. >> thank you. >> you bet. i want to switch now to covac ceo ross thompson. ross, how much is this going to cost me up front? >> belize is a place there's very little infrastructure. not only is it a nation where a lot of people go to the islands, so it's a complex challenge logistically to bring anybody out medically, not even if they have covid-19. so, we would use a helicopter.
we would take a helicopter to an airplane. we would take the airplane to your home where there's private transportation. that would probably cost you upwards of $50,000 or so. not to mention you would have to personally deal with local belizean health officials, the cdc, department of homeland security, state department, all that red tape as well. >> all of which i know nothing about but you do. so, it's my understanding this is an insurance policy, right? so, for every traveller that does get whisked out of belize, there are travellers who spend the money own the insurance but then never have to use it. >> correct. so, it's a fully indem any identified membership program. it's a membership program we went out and indim any identified through the markets. so, we're not self-funded. we don't run around captive. we have the full strength and support of the london specialty risk market.
>> i guess i'm still looking for cost. does it cost me less if i go to france or somewhere else that's easier to get me home from than belize? >> no. it's a black box. so, we have a couple different membership tiers. the first one is a 15-day trip. that starts at 675. we have a 30-day trip. so, you can be away for 30 days. that's 995. and we have an annual membership that's $2,500. you can take unlimited trips throughout the year as much as you like. >> and you will get me home if i'm ill. >> correct, correct, up to a million dollars. >> do you have all the people and equipment and helicopters and air ambulances set aside ahead of time or are you putting that plan together pretty much on the fly? let's say i call you from mexico city and say, i've got covid. i need to come home. have you got something established there or are you putting that together as you go? >> yeah, so we run a 24/7 operation center in london. that op center is fully staffed
24/7 around the clock with doctors, medical directors. our medical director is a former colonel. medics, paramedic, former fbi agents, former cia officers. we have the full knowledge and reach to pluck you from anywhere in the world. >> so -- >> go ahead. >> you're coming out of london or you would contact somebody in mexico city in your center. >> we have vendors all around the world so a pretty fast response. >> you just did one recently? >> yes. we just did an evac from uganda all the way back to san francisco. so, an incredibly logistical dance, if you will. so, everything from local ugandan government agencies working with overflight permits, landing permits in egypt to refuel. we did what we call a
wing-to-wing transfer at one of our bases in shannon, ireland, which means we had an identical aircraft with a fully rested flight crew and medical crew. the member basically walked off the plane on the tarmac at shannon, walked a couple feet to the waiting aircraft. that aircraft already had all its takeoff clearances to come into the united states. so, they got on that plane, turned around, took off, and kept going to san francisco. >> what happens after covid? i assume that most of the situations where people who do not want to be caught in third world countries with a case of covid. they want to come back to the united states. what happens if and when we're done with this? >> so, covid i think is here to stay in one form or the other. delta, mu, the rest of the greek alphabet coming down the pike. our membership services have been a lifeline not only to the leisure travel market but the business travel market as we're the only ones that do not require hospitalization. so, we'll take you from your hotel room all the way back to your home.
we also have traditional medical evacuations, so heart attacks and car accidents, we have security evacuations. so, natural disasters like the wildfires in greece or the mexico city earthquake, terrorism, criminal activity, things like that. so, we really are full-rounded group that can really help companies abide by their duty of care obligations. >> it'll be interesting. you know, we all now understand how important it is to have a plan b to get home if we are traveling during covid that there may come a day after covid -- hopefully there's a day after covid -- in which that mindset is still with your passengers but the risks are much lower and you have fewer people actually cashing in and more people paying in. >> well, i want to tell you one thing though. to be honest with you, we did three evacuations the past week or so. all of those people were fully vaccinated. we did a recent one out of belize where the person -- another one out of belize where
the person had the booster. we're seeing fully vaccinated people come up positive and not only come up positive, come up sick, albeit mildly, but they're sick. we're focused on covid. that's the big elk in the room now. but our medical teams and security teams can bring you home for whatever it may be. >> how big is the market? i imagine you've got people traveling who then have the kind of money to go to uganda or whatnot, can afford these sorts of things. but how limited is that market? how big is that market? >> so, the market is expanded from the traditional kind of travel insurance market, if you will, right? that was mainly populated with people that were 55 and older, you know, wanted to make sure if they have a heart attack or cardiac event they could get home. now we're seeing that market for people that don't want to get stuck somewhere, don't want to have to quarantine at a hotel or go to a quarantine facility or end up in a hospital. that market is becoming now
mid-30s. you're seeing executives where time is money. even if you're quarantining at a four seasons with a little bit of a cough, that's 14 days and you really can't afford to do that. so, we're seeing the market of people that normally wouldn't take out a membership program like this with benefits like this buying it in droves. >> ross thompson is the founder of covac global. i appreciate you being with me and the rest of the folks this morning. a reminder if you're going to travel, travel safe and "press: here" we'll be right back.
♪♪ welcome back to "press: here." my next guest has written a new biography of peter teal, the venture capitalist who has been described as contrarian and ultraconservative. the book called the contrarian, traces theel through the creation of paypal here in silicon valley to his current effort running a mysterious effort called palantir. author of contrarian, max, thanks for being with us. let's start with the big one. what is palantir. >> palantir is a data mining company essentially. they make software that helps large organizations make sense of data. that's a very abstract way of
describing what it really is the idea, which is basically intelligence. they help primarily the u.s. government but also increasingly, you know, big companies, hospital systems, sort of dig deep into their information. it was created just after 9/11 by peter thiel and has grown tremendously, worth more than $50 billion with more than a billion dollars of contracts from the u.s. government. >> so, it's run by thiel, who is a rather mysterious fellow. i was reading your "new york times" -- not your review but the review of your book by a woman named virginia heffernan writing in the "new york times." she calling your account, chilling, literally chilling. here's a guy that runs a company that sounds mysterious, data mining, knowing all about us, and in virginia's opinion, a chilling fellow. >> i should clarify that thiel
is the single largest shareholder and the founder and i would say a very important behind the scenes figure. he's not the ceo of the company. but i think thiel has made it his business to some extent to play this mysterious figure, to be, you know, a sort of villain to the left, this sort of shadow by figure who's involved with all these big silicon valley tech companies including palantir with a relationship with the u.s. government. and on the right supported donald trump who peter thiel supported. but in silicon valley he's seen as a hero, an intellectual builder. >> now, you have not specifically interviewed thiel for this book, i should point out. but to be fair, ron wrote a pretty good biography of hamilton.
did he review "hamilton"? >> i spoke to thiel off the record, but he did not participate in the book. it's based on hundreds of interviews with more than 150 sources, people who are really inside his network, friends, long-time employees, former employees and so on. you know, peter thiel has written a lot of really interesting stuff, given a lot of great speeches. those are out there. i wanted to dig deeper and understand what he believes, which is kind of a mystery still, and maybe more importantly how he does it, how this power structure, one of the most powerful figures i would argue in the world, how his power works. >> you're right on the surface level, thiel tells himself a libertarian. but his actions don't seem that way. he seems to adapt his politics to whatever suits his needs. >> absolutely. there are lots of inconsistencies. what kind of libertarian supports a data mining company
with close relationship to the cia. i think the most important part of thiel's ideology, are these ideas he's laid out in facebook and in the writing of thebook "zero to one," and the idea is that tech companies should try to get as big as possible and they should disrupt. they should be willing -- not only willing but eager to break the rules and that rule breaking and changing the system through entrepreneurship isn't just something that happens by accident but that it's the social good. and you can see why that would be a really valuable insight for entrepreneurs and technologists and even somebody like mark zuckerberg during the early years of facebook. now these companies are incredibly enormous, the biggest companies in the world, worth trillions of dollars. i think it may be time to re-evaluate that playbook. >> i want to end with something
you said a short time ago, thiel is powerful not just in tech but the world. there are people in silicon valley familiar with thiel, but most of america has never heard of the guy. and you say he's one of the most powerful people in america. >> my inspiration is he has had a profound influence on silicon valley and has been one of the key figures that has transformed silicon valley from being an afterthought economically and culturally -- even during the '90s when there was a crazy tech boom -- i don't think there was the ton of level of impact we're seeing today. today this industry has the biggest companies in the world. it is setting the cultural agenda and i would argue increasingly and with people like peter, it is setting the political agenda. peter thiel helped get donald trump elected. and i think he'll play a big
here." we owe a huge debt of gratitude to one of the tiniest things on earth. yeast, it brought us beer. it brought us bread. and more importantly, it brought us more beer. and now life saving drugs. how to convince yeast to grow the same sort of molecules found in the plants we depend on for some of the most important of pharmaceuticals. plants are, after all, responsible for a great number of drugs. think morphine or aspirin or ephedrine. but plants' crops are suspect to flooding and freezing and drought and supply chain issue. dr. christina smolke, i will depend on her patience as i ask the most basic of questions here. thanks for being with us this morning. we've been synthesizing drugs for quite some time, right? we don't make aspirin out of willow bark anymore, i don't think. >> no.
that's right. so, when you look at how drugs are currently made, many of them are being made through chemical synthesis, as you just indicated. so, even though compounds and medicine like aspirin originally was discovered and produced by extracting from the bark of the willow tree, we have shifted over to producing it in a more resilient and robust means of chemical synthesis. however, many of our medicines still today cannot be produced that way because of their complexity. and so the way that we produce them is by extracting them from the medicinal plants in which they were originally discovered. >> and those plants, as i indicated, subject to drought or subject in these days to supply chain issues. can you give me an example of a plant or a medicine in which we're most worried about will we have enough of whatever? >> absolutely. i mean, taking a step back,
essentially any medicine that comes from plants right now is at risk. and that is a very substantial fraction of all our pharmaceuticals out there. one example is vin cristine, a critical chemotherapy treatment. it is derived from the per winkle plant, and shortages are forcing doctors to make alternative decisions about alternative treatment protocols. >> this is the key question. if you're not using a plant and you are using yeast, how do you convince the yeast to create the molecule for the synthesis that you need? >> well, we can go back to the example that you started with, which is how we brew beer n. a brewery, we will seize the yeast sugar. there's cellular machinery in the yeast that will convert that sugar to alcohol. we're simply changing the instructions within that yeast cell so when we see our yeast
sugar, they will instead produce a medicinal compound. to get a little more technical, we call our approach whole sail engineering. and it's a technique that reconstructs biosynthetic pathways within our engineered yeast. these cells are essentially engineered to perform as miniature factories. and they are able to efficiently assemble some of the most complex and valuable molecules known to human kind. now, unlike other synthetic biology methods, what's unique about our approach is that it enables the orchestration of long and complex pathways, bringing together, in many cases, over 20 different enzymes and transporters and orchestrating them to allow them to essentially be able to assemble these complex compounds efficiently. what the method does allow because it is a broader platform for approaching these types of
challenges is that it does open up unprecedented complexity and chemical space. >> that's what i was going to ask you next is what else could this yeast do. not that pharmaceuticals isn't enough. but is it designed or can it be designed to do other things? >> absolutely. our focus is to apply this core technology in the pharmaceutical space, and it can be applied to a wide range of medicines. basically active ingredients that go into medicines like analgesics, sedatives, antitus sieves, and neurotransmitters and inhibitors. that means the compounds reproduced can be used for medicines that span your everyday treatment of cost to neurological diseases and cancer. beyond pharma, this technology can be applied more broadly. we're seeing it be applied in the industries such as the food industry to produce foods with this type of technology, new
materials. and also new types of ingredients that would go into industries like fragrances and also cosmetics. >> when it comes to the drugs, are the things that the yeast are making completely interchangeable with the raw materials that they have now? and i'll give you an example of that. and that is, you know, a lab-grown diamond. carbon is carbon. and while one might be lab grown and one might be naturally mined, they're just diamonds. is it the same way when it comes to material that's made in your lab? >> yes, absolutely. that same logic that you just laid out applies here. the molecules that we're producing in yeast are the same as the molecules that we are traditionally extracting from these medicinal plants. >> so, this would not be an fda issue in which it's like hold on, we only approve this medicine if it was made this particular way. the ingredients are the ingredients that were previously approved. >> that's right.
the ingredients are the ingredients that were previously approved, and you can demonstrate through various strategies that they are equivalent. the exact same molecule, the exact same structure. and, you know, to your point from the regulatory perspective, that's absolutely right. from that perspective then, you know, the compounds that we produce are not considered new medicines, right? they are essentially the same molecules and ingredients that have already been improved for many of our critical medicines. and i think the other thing i wanted to highlight here that's very important is that this manufacturing approach, the technology that i described basically making compounds via fermentation does already exist in the pharmaceutical industry. there are a number of approved drugs made using that manufacturing method, in particular many of our antibiotics. we are applying our technology to produce a broader and more
damian trujillo: hello and welcome to "comunidad del valle." i am damian trujillo, and today, another exciting and informative show on your "comunidad del valle." ♪♪♪ damian: and we begin today with an exciting program called a comcast rise. with me on "comunidad del valle" are adriana arvizo, a senior manager of internal communications at comcast, and also with us is rosa carretero fung. she's the proprietor of level 5 salon and a comcast rise recipient. ladies, welcome to the show. adriana arvizo: thank you. rosa carretero fung: thank you. damian: yeah, well, we'll start with you, adriana. tell us about comcast rise, what it is, and it's helping people