Lucence raises $20 million Series A for its non-invasive cancer screening technology

Lucence Diagnostics, a genomic medicine startup that develops non-invasive tests for cancer screening, announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series A led by IHH Healthcare, one of the world’s largest integrated private healthcare groups. Other participants included SGInnovate and returning investors Heliconia Capital (a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings), Lim Kaling and Koh Boon Hwee.

The round will be used for scaling Lucence’s labs, hiring and making its products commercially available to more patients in Asia and North America.

The funding will also support two prospective clinical trials. One will focus on its technology’s sensitivity to actionable variables in late-stage cancer patients, while the other will evaluate its use for early-stage detection in several types of cancer, including lung, colorectal, breast and pancreatic. Lucence is currently designing a study that will involve 100,000 participants to validate its early-stage detection test. It will recruit its first patient in the middle of next year and launch in the United States and Asia.

Together with its seed funding, this round brings Lucence’s total raised so far to $29.2 million.

Lucence’s tests are currently used by physicians in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, and it plans to expand further in North America and East Asia. Its lab in Singapore has received both CLIA certification and CAP accreditation, which means its tests can be used by doctors and patients in the United States. It is also currently building a lab in the Bay Area to decrease turnaround times for patients.

Headquartered in Singapore, with offices in San Francisco, Hong Kong and Suzhou, China, Lucence was founded by CEO Dr. Min-Han Tan, an oncologist, and spun out from Singapore’s Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in 2016. Two years later, it launched LiquidHALLMARK, which the company describes as “the first and only clinical sequencing blood test that detects both cancer-related genetic mutations and cancer-causing viruses with a single assay” and looks for signs of fourteen types of cancer. The company says LiquidHALLMARK has been used by oncologists for 1,000 patients in Asia so far.

Other genomic sequencing startups that have developed tests that screen for cancer risks and signs include Sanomics, Prenetics, Guardant and Grail. Lucence’s differentiators include its proprietary amplicon-sequencing, which examines specific genomic regions for variations, including mutations linked to cancer. The company describes its tests as a “Swiss Army knife,” because it can be used for cancer screening, diagnoses, treatment selections and monitoring.

In a statement, Dr. Kelvin Loh, the CEO-designate of IHH Healthcare, said “liquid biopsy is a game-changer in our endeavor to provide cancer treatments with better, value-driven outcomes through precise treatment selections and more affordable care. Our investment in Lucence will provide IHH patients with better access to this advanced technology.”

New York State Attorney General reportedly investigating WeWork

WeWork is reportedly being investigated by the New York State Attorney General. According to Reuters, the NYAG’s questions include if WeWork founder and former CEO Adam Neumann engaged in self-dealing.

A WeWork spokesperson said in an email that “we have received an inquiry from the office of the New York State Attorney General and are cooperating in the matter.” TechCrunch also contacted the New York State Attorney General’s office for comment. WeWork is headquartered in New York City.

This comes less than a week after Bloomberg reported WeWork is the subject of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into potential rule violations related to its cancelled IPO.

WeWork’s parent company, The We Company, announced on Sept. 30 that it was withdrawing its S-1 filing for an initial public offering, shortly after Neumann stepped down as CEO. In addition to questions about the company’s financial state, red flags for investors included that Neumann had borrowed against his WeWork shares and leased properties he owned back to the company.

An entity Neumann controlled also sold the company the right to use the word “We” for $5.9 million, though he later asked the company to unwind the agreement and returned the money after public criticism.

After receiving a lifeline from investor SoftBank worth up to $8 billion, WeWork is now engaging in major cost-cutting measures, including layoffs at Meetup, which it acquired for $200 million in 2017.

Yahoo Japan and Line Corp confirm merger agreement

SoftBank Corp announced today that it has reached an agreement to merge with Z Holdings (the SoftBank subsidiary formerly known as Yahoo Japan) and Line Corp, in a move they hope will better position them against competitors. The merger, which was first reported by Nikkei last week, is expected to be completed in October 2020.

SoftBank and Naver, the owner of Line, will each hold 50% of a new holding company that will operate Line and Z Holdings. By uniting, SoftBank and Naver hope that they will better position search portal Yahoo Japan, Line’s messaging app and their other businesses to compete against rivals from the United States and China.

In its announcement, SoftBank said “in the Internet market, overseas companies, especially those based in the United States and China, are overwhelmingly dominant, and even when comparing the size of operations, there is currently a big difference between such overseas companies and those in other Asian countries, other than China.”

Line is one of the most popular messaging apps in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, but has struggled to compete in other markets, despite offering a wide array of services that includes Line Pay, Line Taxi and Line Music. Yahoo Japan is one of the country’s biggest search engines, but it competes with Google and its other businesses, including e-commerce, are up against rivals like Rakuten and Alibaba.

Once merged, SoftBank and Naver say cooperation between their subsidiaries and investment portfolio companies will enable them to make more advances in artificial intelligence and other areas, including search, advertising and payment and financial services.

The merger would entail taking Line private by acquiring all outstanding Line shares, options and convertible bonds. The tender offer for Line’s remaining shares will be 5,200 yen, a 13.41% premium over the closing price of Line’s common shares, listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, on Nov. 13, before reports came out about the potential merger.

Twitter suspends accounts affiliated with Hamas and Hezbollah

Twitter suspended several accounts affiliated with Hamas and Hezbollah over the weekend after being repeatedly asked to do so by a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives. The lawmakers—Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Tom Reed (R-NY), Max Rose (D-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)—criticized the company for allowing the accounts to stay up even though Hamas and Hezbollah are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States government.

The accounts suspended include Hamas’ English and Arabic-language accounts and ones belonging to Al-Manar, a television station linked to Hezbollah, and Hamas-affiliated news service Quds News Network.

Hamas' suspended English-language Twitter account

Hamas’ suspended English-language Twitter account

Twitter initially told the congressmen that it distinguishes between political and military factions of those organizations. In an Oct. 22 response, the House members told Twitter that “this distinction is not meaningful, nor is it widely shared. Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist organizations as designated by the United States Government. Period.”

On Nov. 1, Twitter’s director of public policy in the United States and Canada Carlos Monje Jr., replied that the accounts had been suspended after a review.

“Twitter’s policy is to remove or terminate all accounts it identifies as owned or operated by, or directly affiliated with, any designated foreign terrorist association. If Twitter identifies an account as affiliated with Hamas or Hizballah [sic], Twitter’s policy is to terminate that account,” he wrote in a letter to the congressmen.

Monje added that “Twitter also takes significant steps to identify accounts that are not directly affiliated with a designated foreign terrorist organization but which nonetheless promote or support violent extremism.”

Raja Adulhaq, co-founder of Quds News Network, told the Wall Street Journal that three of the news agency’s accounts had been removed and described the suspensions a “clear censorship of Palestinian narratives.”

The accounts’ suspension comes as social media companies, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, face increased scrutiny from lawmakers over what content and advertising they allow on their platform. Twitter recently said it would stop running political ads, an announcement that came after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s policy of not fact-checking political ads while testifying in front of Congress last month.

TechCrunch has contacted Twitter for comment.

Japanese instant-credit provider Paidy raises $143 million from investors including PayPal Ventures

Paidy, a Japanese financial tech startup that provides instant credit to consumers in Japan, announced today that it has raised a total of $143 million in new financing. This includes a $83 million Series C extension from investors including PayPal Ventures and debt financing of $60 million. The funding will be used to advance Paidy’s goals of signing large-scale merchants, offering new financial services and growing its user base to 11 million accounts by the end of 2020.

In addition to PayPal Ventures, investors in the Series C extension also include Soros Capital Management, JS Capital Management and Tybourne Capital Management, along with another undisclosed investor. The debt financing is from Goldman Sachs Japan, Mizuho Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank. Earlier this month, Paidy and Goldman Sachs Japan established a warehouse facility valued at $52 million. Paidy also established credit facility worth $8 million with the three banks.

This is the largest investment to date in the Japanese financial tech industry, according to data cited by Paidy and brings the total investment the company has raised so far to $163 million. A representative for the startup says it decided to extend its Series C (announced last year) instead of moving onto a D round to preserve the equity ratio for existing investors and issue the same preferred shares as its previous funding rounds.

Launched in 2014, Paidy was created because many Japanese consumers don’t use credit cards for e-commerce purchases, even though the credit card penetration rate there is relatively high. Instead, many prefer to pay cash on delivery or at convenience stores and other pickup locations. While this makes online shopping easier for consumers, it presents several challenges for sellers, because they need to cover the cost of merchandise that hasn’t been paid for yet or deal with uncompleted deliveries.

Paidy’s solution is to make it possible for people to pay for merchandise online without needing to create an account first or use their credit cards. If a seller offers Paidy as a payment method, customers can check out by entering their mobile phone numbers and email addresses, which are then authenticated with code sent through SMS or voice. Paidy covers the cost of the items and bills customers monthly. Paidy uses proprietary machine learning models to score the creditworthiness of users, and says its service can help reduce incomplete transactions (or items that buyers ultimately don’t pick up and pay for), increase conversion rates, average order values and repeat purchases.

As Juul announces mass layoffs, a new lawsuit alleges it shipped a million contaminated pods

A lawsuit filed a by former Juul executive alleges that the company knew a batch of contaminated e-liquid had been used in about one million pods shipped to retailers earlier this year, but did not inform customers. The lawsuit, first reported by BuzzFeed, was brought by Siddharth Breja, former senior vice president of global finance at Juul from May 2018 to March 2019, who alleges he was fired after complaining about the contaminated pods.

News of the lawsuit comes the same day as Juul’s announcement it will lay off about 500 people, or 10% to 15% of its workforce, and the departure of four executives, including chief financial officer Tim Danaher. Juul is currently under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration, which claims the startup made misleading statements about its product and targeting of teens.

In the lawsuit, Breja claims that during a meeting on March 12, he learned a contaminated batch of mint e-liquid was used to make 250,000 refill kits, or a total of one million pods, that had already been shipped to retailers.

Breja alleges that when he complained about Juul’s refusal to issue a product recall or health and safety notice, Danaher said doing so would cost the company billions of dollars in lost sales, hurting its then-$38 billion valuation. About a week later, Breja says the company fired him, telling him that it was because he had misrepresented himself as former chief financial officer at Uber. In the lawsuit, Breja says the claim was “preposterous,” and that he had accurately represented his former position as a chief financial officer of a division at Uber.

In the lawsuit, Breja also claims that Juul wanted to sell pods that were almost a year old and when he asked the company to include an expiration or best by date, or a date of manufacture on the packaging, he was told by former CEO Kevin Burns that “half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods?”

TechCrunch has contacted Juul and the law firm representing Breja for comment. In a statement to BuzzFeed, Breja’s attorney Harmeet Dhillon said “Mr. Breja became aware of very concerning actions at the company, and he performed his duty to shareholders and to the board by reporting these issues internally. In exchange for doing that, he was inappropriatey terminated. This is very concerning, particularly since some of the issues he raised concerned matters of public safety.”

Burns was replaced in September by K.C. Crosthwaite, a former executive at Juul’s largest shareholder Altria . A replacement for Danaher has not been announced yet.

Market research platform Milieu Insight raises $2.4 million to launch in more Southeast Asian countries

Milieu Insight, a Singapore-based market research and data platform, announced today that it has raised $2.4 million in pre-A funding. The round, led by MassMutual Ventures Southeast Asia, will be used on product development and to launch in four new Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The startup’s platform, called Milieu Surveys, is already available in Singapore and Thailand and has signed more than 45 clients.

This brings Milieu Insight’s total funding so far to $3.15 million, including a seed round announced in November 2018. Founded in December 2016 by CEO Gerald Ang, who previously worked at global research firms including GfK and YouGov, Milieu Insight seeks to make market research and data analysis accessible to smaller businesses and organizations. Milieu Portraits, its consumer segmentation tool, returns insights about specific demographics, including what products, media and brands they prefer, while Milieu Studies allows companies to create their own studies.

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COO Stephen Tracy told TechCrunch in an email that the startups’ four new markets were picked because “they are in high demand among existing research buyers who want to study consumer trends, particularly because the market dynamics in these countries are evolving fast.” Milieu focuses exclusively on mobile data since smartphone penetration is still growing quickly in many Southeast Asian markets.

He added “one other dynamic that makes us particularly excited about expanding across Southeast Asia is that, through our investment in tech and automation, we’re able to sell market research solutions at considerably more affordable price points (i.e. research studies as low as US$350). Meaning our platform can also activate new spending among businesses/organizations who couldn’t previously afford it, such as charities/non-profits, academic institutions and startups.”

Milieu Insight’s competitors include traditional research firms like Kantar and YouGov for Milieu Studies and Global Web Index for Milieu Portraits. Tracy says the startup’s competitive edge is its end-to-end solution. “That is, there’s no other company that offers a single platform that connects an audience (i.e. our managed consumer panel) with a SaaS service that allows you to access consumer profiling data on-demand as well as launch bespoke consumer studies and get results in just a few hours, all within a self-serve environment.”

In a press statement, MassMutual Ventures managing director Anvesh Ramineni said “Milieu’s impressive team has built a world-class product, making market research services affordable, accessible and more relevant in today’s mobile first landscape. We are pleased to lead Milieu’s current round and look forward to supporting the company as it scales across the region.”

ByteDance denies it will go public in Hong Kong next quarter

ByteDance has responded to a report in the Financial Times that said the Chinese Internet startup plans to go public in Hong Kong as early as the first quarter of next year. “There is absolutely zero truth to the rumors that we plan to list in Hong Kong in Q1,” said a spokesperson for the company, the owner of TikTok.

The Financial Times reported that ByteDance, which was founded in 2012 and is backed by investors including SoftBank, is preparing for a public listing by retaining law firm K&L Gates and hiring a chief legal officer and former U.S. officials to help address concerns by U.S. lawmakers that TikTok can pose “national security risks,” such as being compelled to turn over data from American users to Chinese authorities.

Speculation that ByteDance is gearing up for an IPO started last year when it closed a $3 billion funding round that put its valuation between $75 billion to $78 billion, making it the world’s most valuable startup.

ByteDance’s apps also include Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, news app Toutiao and TopBuzz, a news aggregation app for the U.S. market that the Financial Times reports it is planning to sell as it prepares for an IPO.

In September, Reuters reported that ByteDance had made between $7 billion and $8.4 billion in revenue for the first half of the year and had posted a profit in June.

Microsoft reports a strong fiscal first quarter, but Azure’s growth rate continues to decline

Microsoft posted quarterly results today that were well ahead of analysts’ expectations, but Azure’s growth rate continues to decline as it competes with AWS.

The company’s revenue for the first quarter of the fiscal year rose 14% year-over-year to $33.1 billion. Net income increased 21% to $10.7 billion, or $1.38 per share.

Revenue from Microsoft’s Productivity and Business Processes segment, which includes its Office products and LinkedIn, grew 13% to $11.1 billion. LinkedIn’s revenue increased by 25%.

Meanwhile, its Intelligent Cloud segment’s revenue increased 27% to $10.8 billion, with revenue from server products and cloud services growing 30%. The company said Azure’s revenue grew by 59%, but that represents a decline in growth rate that began a year ago, when Azure clocked quarterly growth of 76%. The rate has fallen more since then, with today’s report representing a drop from the 64% growth reported in the previous quarter.

Revenue from Microsoft’s personal computing segment grew 4% to $11.1 billion.

The company said it expects second-quarter revenue to be in the range of $35.15 billion to $35.95 billion.

PayPal reports solid third-quarter results, with total payment volume growing 25%

PayPal reported third-quarter results today that were slightly ahead of analysts’ expectations, driven by an increase in total payment volume.

The company’s quarterly revenue grew 19% year-over-year to $4.38 billion. Its GAAP net income was 39 cents per share, or $462 million, a 7% year-over-year increase. On a non-GAAP basis, net income was 61 cents a share, a 5% increase.

These figures included a negative impact from strategic investments in MercadoLibre and Uber; without that, GAAP net income would have increased 48% to 54 cents per share, and non-GAAP net income would have rose 31% to 76 cents per share.

During the third quarter, PayPal added 9.8 million active accounts, increasing the total number by 16% to 295 million. Total payment volume (TPV) increased 25% to $179 billion. Venmo processed more than $27 billion in TPV during the quarter, an increase of 64%.

For its full-year results, PayPal said it expects earnings per share ranging from $3.06 to $3.08 per share, on revenue of $17.7 billion to $17.76 billion.

In September, PayPal announced it will acquire a 70% equity interest in GoPay (Guofubao). The deal is expected to close during the fourth quarter and will make PayPal the first foreign payments company licensed to provide online payment services in China, an important potential driver of future growth.