Updated Jul. 13, 2017 at 2:32 a.m.

Tech wrap: FDA panel backs gene therapy; face scan wories; Google tax victory; $1B electric car plant KO'd

Published: 2017-07-12 14:26:00
Updated: 2017-07-13 02:32:42

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In WTW's latest wrapup of technology and life science news:

  • FDA panel endorses potential first US gene therapy
  • Face scans for US citizens flying abroad stir privacy issues
  • French court annuls $1.27 billion tax adjustment on Google
  • Electric car maker scraps plans for $1 billion Nevada plant

The details:

  • FDA panel endorses potential 1st US gene therapy

A panel of cancer experts has voted in favor of a leukemia treatment which could be the first gene therapy available in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 10-0 on Wednesday to recommend approval of the treatment developed by the University of Pennsylvania and Novartis Corp. The one-time treatment would be for children and young adults with advanced leukemia.

The therapy could be the first of a wave of treatments custom-made to target a patient's cancer. Called CAR-T, it involves removing immune cells from a patients' blood, reprogramming them to create an army of cells to recognize and destroy cancer and injecting them back into the patient.

The FDA is not required to follow the panel's recommendation but often does.

  • Face scans for US citizens flying abroad stir privacy issues

If the Trump administration gets its way, U.S. citizens boarding international flights will have to submit to a face scan, a plan privacy advocates call an ill-advised step toward a surveillance state.

The Department of Homeland Security says it's the only way to successfully expand a program that tracks nonimmigrant foreigners. They have been required by law since 2004 to submit biometric identity scans — but to date have only had their fingerprints and photos collected prior to entry.

Now, DHS says it's finally ready to implement face scans on departure — aimed mainly at better tracking visa overstays but also at tightening security. But, the agency says, U.S. citizens must also be scanned for the program to work.

Privacy advocates say that oversteps Congress' mandate.

"Congress authorized scans of foreign nationals. DHS heard that and decided to scan everyone. That's not how a democracy is supposed to work," said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University.

Pilots projects are underway at six U.S. airports — Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, New York City and Washington, D.C. DHS aims to have high-volume U.S. international airports engaged beginning next year.

  • French court annuls $1.27 billion tax adjustment on Google

A French court has annulled a 1.11 billion-euro ($1.27 billion) tax adjustment imposed on Google by France's tax authorities.

The French tax administration argued that Google had to pay taxes in France for the 2005-2010 period because the Californian firm and its Irish subsidiary have been selling a service for inserting online ads to clients in France for years through its Google search engine.

But the Paris administrative court noted Wednesday that the Irish company Google Ireland Limited doesn't have a "permanent establishment" in France via the French company Google France, also a subsidiary of the U.S. group Google Inc.

The court added that Google France doesn't have the human resources or the technical means to allow it to carry out the contentious advertising services on its own.

  • Electric car maker scraps plans for $1 billion Nevada plant

An electric car maker said Monday it is deserting its plan to construct a $1 billion manufacturing plant in southern Nevada eight months after suspending the project and sinking at least $120 million into it.

Faraday Future halted work on the project outside Las Vegas last November, calling the stoppage then a "temporary adjustment" that wouldn't affect plans to begin production in 2018.

Faraday Future Chief Financial Officer Stefan Krause said Monday's decision to scrap the plant was due to a shift in business strategy. The Gardena, California-based company said in a statement that it will now look for an existing facility to produce its electric vehicles in California or Nevada.

The announcement came days after reports that a Shanghai court froze more than $180 million in assets belonging to one of the company's biggest backers, tech billionaire Jia Yueting. The company said that Jia's financial problems were not related to the decision.

Thousands of jobs had been anticipated to come with the construction and launch of the proposed plant on a 900-acre site at the Apex Industrial Park in North Las Vegas.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, a critic of the project, blamed state officials for giving false hope that the plant "would magically create 4,500 jobs."

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