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Femtech startup Inne takes the wraps off a hormone tracker and $8.8M in funding – TechCrunch

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Berlin-based femtech startup Inne is coming out of stealth to announce an €8 million (~$8.8M) Series A and give the first glimpse of a hormone-tracking subscription product for fertility-tracking and natural contraception that’s slated for launch in Q1 next year.

The Series A is led by led by Blossom Capital, with early Inne backer Monkfish Equity also participating, along with a number of angel investors — including Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of TransferWise; Tom Stafford, managing partner at DST; and Trivago co-founder Rolf Schromgens.

Women’s health apps have been having a tech-fuelled moment in recent years, with the rise of a femtech category. There are now all sorts of apps for tracking periods and the menstrual cycle, such as Clue and Flo.

Some also try to predict which days a women is fertile and which they’re not — offering digital tools to help women track bodily signals if they’re following a natural family planning method of contraception, or indeed trying to conceive a baby.

Others — such as Natural Cycles — have gone further down that path, branding their approach “digital contraception” and claiming greater sophistication vs traditional natural family planning by applying learning algorithms to cycle data augmented with additional information (typically a daily body temperature measurement). Although there has also been some controversy around aggressive and even misleading marketing tactics targeting young women.

A multi-month investigation by the medical device regulator in Natural Cycles’ home market, instigated after a number of women fell pregnant while using its method, found rates of failure were in line with its small-print promises but concluded with the company agreeing to clarify the risk of the product failing.

At issue is that the notion of “digital contraception” may present as simple and effortless — arriving in handy app form, often boosted by a flotilla of seductive social media lifestyle ads. Yet the reality for the user is the opposite of effortless. Because in fact they are personally taking on all of the risk.

For these products to work the user needs a high level of dedication to stick at it, be consistent and pay close attention to key details in order to achieve the promised rate of protection.

Natural contraception is also what Inne is touting, dangling another enticing promise of hormone-free contraception — its website calls the product “a tool of radical self-knowledge” and claims it “protect[s]… from invasive contraceptive methods”. It’s twist is it’s not using temperature to track fertility; its focus is on hormone-tracking as a fertility measure.

Inne says it’s developed a saliva-based test to measure hormone levels, along with an in vitro diagnostic device (pictured above) that allows data to be extracted from the disposable tests at home and wirelessly logged in the companion app.

Founder Eirini Rapti describes the product as a “mini lab” — saying it’s small and portable enough to fit in a pocket. Her team has been doing the R&D on it since 2017, preferring, she says, to focus on getting the biochemistry right rather than shouting about launching the startup. (It took in seed funding prior to this round but isn’t disclosing how much.)

At this stage Inne has applied for and gained European certification as a medical device. Though it’s not yet been formally announced.

The first product, a natural contraception for adult women — billed as best suited for women aged 28-40, i.e. at a steady relationship time-of-life — will be launching in select European markets (starting in Scandinavia) next year, though initially as a closed beta style launch as they work on iterating the product based on user feedback.

“It basically has three parts,” Rapti says of the proposition. “It has a small reader… It has what we call a little mouth opening in the front. It always gives you a smile. That’s the hardware part of it, so it recognizes the intensity of your hormones. And then there’s a disposable saliva test. You basically collect your saliva by putting it in your mouth for 30 seconds. And then you insert it in the reader and then you go about your day.

“The reader is connected to your phone, either via BlueTooth or wifi, depending on where you are taking the test daily… It takes the reading and it sends it over to your phone. In your phone you can do a couple of things. First of all you look at your hormonal data and you look at how those change throughout the menstrual cycle. So you can see how they grow, how they fall. What that means about your ovulation or your overall female health — like we measure progesterone; that tells you a lot about your lining etc. And then you can also track your fluids… We teach you how to track them, how to understand what they mean.”

As well as a contraception use-case, the fertility tracking element naturally means it could also be used by women wanting to get pregnant.

“This product is not a tracker. We’re not looking to gather your data and then tell you next month what you should be feeling — at all,” she adds. “It’s more designed to track your hormones and tell you look this is the most basic change that happens in your body and because of those changes you will feel certain things. So do you feel them or not — and if you don’t, what does it mean? Or if you do what does it mean?

“It builds your own hormonal baseline — so you start measuring your hormones and we go okay so this is your baseline and now let’s look at things that go out of your baseline. And what do they mean?”

Of course the key question is how accurate is a saliva-based test for hormones as a method for predicting fertility? On this Rapti says Inne isn’t ready to share data about the product’s efficacy — but claims it will be publishing details of the various studies it conducted as part of the CE marking process in the next few weeks.

“A couple more weeks and all the hardcore numbers will be out there,” she says.

In terms of how it works in general the hormone measurement is “a combination of a biochemical reaction and the read out of it”, as she puts it — with the test itself being pure chemistry but algorithms then being applied to interpret the hormonal reading, looping in other signals such as the user’s cycle length, age and the time of day of the test.

She claims the biochemical hormone test the product relies on as its baseline for predicting fertility is based on similar principles to standard pregnancy tests — such as those that involve peeing on a stick to get a binary ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’ result. “We are focused on specifically fertility hormones,” she says.

“Our device is a medical device. It’s CE-certified in Europe and to do that you have to do all kinds of verification and performance evaluation studies. They will be published pretty soon. I cannot tell you too much in detail but to develop something like that we had to do verification studies, performance evaluation studies, so all of that is done.”

While it developed and “validated” the approach in-house, Rapti notes that it also worked with a number of external diagnostic companies to “optimize” the test.

“The science behind it is pretty straightforward,” she adds. “Your hormones behave in a specific way — they go from a low to a high to a low again, and what you’re looking for is building that trend… What we are building is an individual curve per user. The starting and the ending point in terms of values can be different but it is the same across the cycle for one user.”

“When you enter a field like biochemistry as an outsider a lot of the academics will tell you about the incredible things you could do in the future. And there are plenty,” she adds. “But I think what has made a difference to us is we always had this manufacturability in mind. So if you ask me there’s plenty of ways you can detect hormones that are spectacular but need about ten years of development let alone being able to manufacture it at scale. So it was important to me to find a technology that would allow us to do it effectively, repeatedly but also manufacture it at a low cost — so not reinventing the whole wheel.”

Rapti says Inne is controlling for variability in the testing process by controlling when users take the measurement (although that’s clearly not directly within its control, even if it can send an in-app reminder); controlling how much saliva is extracted per test; and controlling how much of the sample is tested — saying “that’s all done mechanically; you don’t do that”.

“The beauty about hormones is they do not get influenced by lack of sleep, they do not get influenced by getting out of your bed — and this is the reason why I wanted to opt to actually measure them,” she adds, saying she came up with the idea for the product as a user of natural contraception searching for a better experience. (Rapti is not herself trained in medical or life sciences.)

“When I started the company I was using the temperature method [of natural contraception] and I thought it cannot be that I have to take this measurement from my bed otherwise my measurement’s invalid,” she adds.

However there are other types of usage restrictions Inne users will need to observe in order to avoid negatively affecting the hormonal measurements.

Firstly they must take the test in the same time window each time — either in the morning or the evening but sticking to one of those choices for good.

They also need to stick to daily testing for at least a full menstrual cycle. Plus there are certain days in the month when testing will always be essential, per Rapti, even as she suggests a “learning element” might allow for the odd missed test day later on, i.e. once enough data has been inputted.

Users also have to avoid drinking and eating for 30 minutes before taking the test. She further specifies this half hour pre-test restriction includes not having oral sex — “because that also affects the measurements”.

“There’s a few indications around it,” she concedes, adding: “The product is super easy to use but it is not for women who want to not think ever about contraception or their bodies. I believe that for these women the IUD would be the perfect solution because they never have to think about it. This product is for women who consciously do not want to take hormones and don’t want invasive devices — either because they’ve been in pain or they’re interested in being natural and not taking hormones.”

At this stage Inne hasn’t performed any comparative studies vs established contraception methods such as the pill. So unless or until it does users won’t be able to assess the relative risk of falling pregnant while using it against more tried and tested contraception methods.

Rapti says the plan is to run more clinical studies in the coming year, helped by the new funding. But these will be more focused on what additional insights can be extracted from the test to feed the product proposition — rather than on further efficacy (or any comparative) tests.

They’ve also started the process of applying for FDA certification to be able to enter the US market in future.

Beyond natural contraception and fertility tracking, Inne is thinking about wider applications for its approach to hormone tracking — such as providing women with information about the menopause, based on longer term tracking of their hormone levels. Or to help manage conditions such as endometriosis, which is one of the areas where it wants to do further research.

The intent is to be the opposite of binary, she suggests, by providing adult women with a versatile tool to help them get closer to and understand changes in their bodies for a range of individual needs and purposes.

“I want to shift the way people perceive our female bodies to be binary,” she adds. “Our bodies are not binary, they change around the month. So maybe this month you want to avoid getting pregnant and maybe next month you actually want to get pregnant. It’s the same body that you need to understand to help you do that.”

Commenting on the Series A in a supporting statement, Louise Samet, partner at Blossom Capital, said: “Inne has a winning combination of scientific validity plus usability that can enable women to better understand their bodies at all stages in their lives. What really impressed us is the team’s meticulous focus on design and easy-of-use together with the scientific validity and clear ambition to impact women all over the world.”



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Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

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Rockwell Automation

Hardware that is widely used to control equipment in factories and other industrial settings can be remotely commandeered by exploiting a newly disclosed vulnerability that has a severity score of 10 out of 10.

The vulnerability is found in programmable logic controllers from Rockwell Automation that are marketed under the Logix brand. These devices, which range from the size of a small toaster to a large bread box or even bigger, help control equipment and processes on assembly lines and in other manufacturing environments. Engineers program the PLCs using Rockwell software called Studio 5000 Logix Designer.

On Thursday, the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Administration warned of a critical vulnerability that could allow hackers to remotely connect to Logix controllers and from there alter their configuration or application code. The vulnerability requires a low skill level to be exploited, CISA said.

The vulnerability, which is tracked as CVE-2021-22681, is the result of the Studio 5000 Logix Designer software making it possible for hackers to extract a secret encryption key. This key is hard-coded into both Logix controllers and engineering stations and verifies communication between the two devices. A hacker who obtained the key could then mimic an engineering workstation and manipulate PLC code or configurations that directly impact a manufacturing process.

“Any affected Rockwell Logix controller that is exposed on the Internet is potentially vulnerable and exploitable,” said Sharon Brizinov, principal vulnerability researcher at Claroty, one of three organizations Rockwell credited with independently discovering the flaw. “To successfully exploit this vulnerability, an attacker must first obtain the secret key and have the knowledge of the cryptographic algorithm being used in the authentication process.”

Brizinov said that Claroty notified Rockwell of the vulnerability in 2019. Rockwell didn’t disclose it until Thursday. Rockwell also credited Kaspersky Lab and Soonchunhyang University researchers Eunseon Jeong, Youngho An, Junyoung Park, Insu Oh, and Kangbin Yim.

The vulnerability affects just about every Logix PLC Rockwell sells, including:

  • CompactLogix 1768
  • CompactLogix 1769
  • CompactLogix 5370
  • CompactLogix 5380
  • CompactLogix 5480
  • ControlLogix 5550
  • ControlLogix 5560
  • ControlLogix 5570
  • ControlLogix 5580
  • DriveLogix 5560
  • DriveLogix 5730
  • DriveLogix 1794-L34
  • Compact GuardLogix 5370
  • Compact GuardLogix 5380
  • GuardLogix 5570
  • GuardLogix 5580
  • SoftLogix 5800

Rockwell isn’t issuing a patch that directly addresses the problems stemming from the hard-coded key. Instead, the company is recommending that PLC users follow specific risk mitigation steps. The steps involve putting the controller mode switch into run, and if that’s not possible, following other recommendations that are specific to each PLC model.

Those steps are laid out in an advisory Rockwell is making available to customers, as well as in the above-linked CISA advisory. Rockwell and CISA also recommend PLC users follow standard security-in-depth security advice. Chief among the recommendations is ensuring that control system devices aren’t accessible from the Internet.

Security professionals universally admonish engineers to place critical industrial systems behind a firewall so they aren’t exposed to the Internet. Unfortunately, engineers struggling with high workloads and limited budgets often don’t heed the advice. The latest reminder of this came earlier this month when a municipal water treatment plant in Florida said that an intruder accessed a remote system and tried to lace drinking water with lye. Plant employees used the same TeamViewer password and didn’t put the system behind a firewall.

If Logix PLC users are segmenting industrial control networks and following other best practices, it’s unlikely that the risk posed by CVE-2021-22681 is minimal. And if people haven’t implemented these practices, hackers probably have easier ways to hijack the devices. That said, this vulnerability is serious enough that all Logix PLC users should pay attention to the CISA and Rockwell advisories.

Claroty has issued its own writeup here.

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Google’s Smart TV software will have a “dumb TV” mode

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The new Google TV is a fine smart TV interface, but when it gets integrated into some TV sets later this year, its best feature might be that you can turn it off. A report from 9to5Google details an upcoming “Basic TV” mode that will be built into Google TV, which turns off just about all the smart TV features. Right now, Google TV is only available in the new Chromecast, but Google TV will be built into upcoming TVs from Sony and TCL. Basic mode means we’ll get smart TVs with a “dumb TV” mode.

The rise of smart TVs has led to the extinction of dumb TVs—today, basically every TV has some kind of computer and operating system built into it. If you’re actually expecting to live with a TV for several years, the problem with smart TVs is that the dirt-cheap computers inside these TVs don’t last as long as the display does. When your smart TV is a few years old, you might still have a perfectly good display panel, but you’ll be forced to interact with it through a slow, old, possibly abandoned integrated computer. Companies should sell dumb TVs without any of this crap permanently integrated into them, but if they refuse, letting consumers turn off the software is the next best thing.

When the new feature rolls out, you’ll be asked to choose between “Basic TV” or “Google TV” at setup. 9to5Google says that with basic mode, “almost everything is stripped, leaving users with just HDMI inputs and Live TV if they have an antenna plugged directly into the TV. Casting support, too, is dropped.” The UI notes that you’ll be turning off all apps, the Google Assistant, and personalized recommendations.

9to5 found this feature via the ADT-3 development set-top box and the Android 12 developer preview, so it’s not entirely clear how it will work when it’s running on a real TV. It seems like basic mode will only show a minimal set of icons for things like input-switching and settings. There’s also a big banner advertising Google TV mode, which you’ll presumably just have to learn to ignore. A Google spokesperson told the site that this feature is destined to hit TVs sold with integrated Google TV in the future.

If you’re wondering what the difference is between “Android TV” and “Google TV,” Google TV is kind of like the next version of Android TV. Google TV is just the Android TV codebase with a new interface, which offers things like a unified search. The upgrade path for existing Android TV devices is Google TV, assuming your device manufacturer is actually shipping updates. By 2022, Google says TV manufacturers won’t be allowed to ship Android TV and will instead ship Google TV. There are some product lines that Google just loves to rebrand every few years, and Android TV/Google TV is one of them.

Google TV will be in Sony’s entire Bravia XR 2021 lineup and select TCL TVs later this year.

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Paramount+ will carry new Star Trek series Strange New Worlds and Prodigy

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Enlarge / Key art for the new Star Trek series Star Trek: Prodigy.

ViacomCBS

In an online event for investors, ViacomCBS revealed several new details about CBS All Access replacement Paramount+, including pricing as well as two new Star Trek series that will premiere on the network. Also, the company announced that a much-anticipated Showtime show will end up on Paramount+ instead.

Paramount+, which was announced several months ago, will launch on March 4 in the United States, Canada, and 18 Latin American countries. As with CBS All Access, both an ad-supported and ad-free plan will be offered. In the US, the ad-supported one will cost $4.99 per month, while the ad-free plan will cost $9.99.

That $4.99 per month is $1 cheaper than the ad-supported version of CBS All Access. However, this cheaper plan will not include local CBS stations. The service is also expected to launch in Nordic countries within a few weeks and in Australia sometime later this year.

When it launches, Paramount+ will have 2,500 films and 30,000 TV episodes, according to ViacomCBS executives. That will include some original series, many of which will be available in 4K and Dolby Vision HDR.

Original series will include those we’ve already seen on CBS All Access, including the large slate of Star Trek shows such as Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks.

Two new Star Trek series have recently been announced: a CG animated kids’ show called Star Trek: Prodigy, and a spinoff about Captain Pike and Mr. Spock called Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Prodigy was planned for airing on Nickelodeon (which is owned by the Viacom part of ViacomCBS), and it will still air there— but only after appearing on Paramount+ first.

Additionally, it has been confirmed that the long-anticipated and much delayed series based on the video game franchise Halo will be delivered via Paramount+; it was originally planned as a Showtime series. Steven Spielberg is an executive producer on the show, which is planned to premiere in the first quarter of 2022. According to Deadline, shooting was well underway when the pandemic forced a shutdown. During the break, it was decided to move the show to the broad-audience Paramount+ service rather than “adult” and “sophisticated” Showtime. (Those descriptors were used by Showtime exec David Nevins to describe the network.)

Other content includes a Frasier reboot, as well as some 2021 theatrical film releases like Mission Impossible 7.

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