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TALKING POINTS

Boston biotech Valo is latest to ink billion-dollar SPAC deal

Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, in a file photo from 2007. Khosla's blank-check company is acquiring Boston-based Valo Health, a cancer drug startup launched out of Flagship Pioneering, in a deal that values the combined company at $2.8 billion.
Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, in a file photo from 2007. Khosla's blank-check company is acquiring Boston-based Valo Health, a cancer drug startup launched out of Flagship Pioneering, in a deal that values the combined company at $2.8 billion.John Raoux/Associated Press

BIOTECH

Boston biotech startup Valo is latest to ink billion-dollar SPAC deal

Valo Health, a Boston biotech focused on transforming drug development and discovery, announced on Wednesday that it will merge with a special purpose acquisition company in a deal that values the combined firm at $2.8 billion. The SPAC, Khosla Ventures Acquisition Co., is backed by Khosla Ventures, a California venture capital giant that has invested in companies like DoorDash and Instacart. Valo launched in 2019 out of Flagship Pioneering, the Cambridge-based investor and incubator that spun out the breakout biotech Moderna. As part of the deal, Valo will receive a $168.5 million private investment in equity from investors including Khosla Ventures, Flagship Pioneering, Longevity Vision Fund, and others. SPAC mergers have become a popular way for firms to go public, as an alternative to traditional IPOs, and several local biotechs are taking that path. Boston’s Ginkgo Bioworks announced a $17.5 billion SPAC merger in May, and a month earlier, Cambridge-based Tango Therapeutics said it would go public in a $353 million SPAC deal. — ANISSA GARDIZY

POLICY

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AG Healey calls on business leaders to support voting reforms

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey urged business leaders on Wednesday to support national voting reform laws during a speech she gave to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce via livestream. Healey, a Democrat from Charlestown, called for the business community to join her in championing federal reforms pushed by Democrats in Congress, including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The federal bills would essentially make it easier for people to vote in certain situations and in some cases would override more restrictive laws at the state level. She noted that more than 360 bills have been introduced across 47 states to impose voting restrictions of some sort; she singled out legislation being considered by the New Hampshire legislature, saying it would impose stricter voter ID measures and limits on students’ voting rights. “There are two forces in our country: those that are fighting to protect our democracy and those that are trying to undermine it,” Healey said. “I don’t think you can have a stable, predictable economy and successful businesses if these fundamental American … principles and institutions fail, and they are really threatened today.” — JON CHESTO

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CURRENCY

Chinese users are unable to search for popular crypto exchanges on the country’s Internet services amid reports of possible censorship. Keywords searches for online trading platforms including Binance, OKEx, and Huobi on popular Internet services such as Baidu, Sogo, Zhihu, or Weibo are yielding no results. Other media outlets including CoinDesk first reported the possible blockage. The Chinese government has recently renewed a regulatory crackdown on crypto mining and trading, helping send Bitcoin down about 45 percent since its peak in April. The exchanges that appear to be affected are some of the largest in the digital-asset world, with Asia-based users being among the earliest adopters. Binance is the world’s biggest crypto platform, with $30 billion in trading volume in the last 24 hours, according to CoinMarketCap.com, a site owned by Binance. The Chinese government has been tightening its cryptocurrency regulations since 2017 in an effort to control capital outflows and prevent speculative bubbles. ― BLOOMBERG NEWS

RETAIL

Brooks Brothers goes casual in post-bankruptcy revamp

A year of remote work has forced many to rethink what post-pandemic office life will be like — including the retailer that has been dressing businesspeople for 200 years. That’s the idea behind a series of initiatives from Brooks Brothers as it plots a relaunch after exiting bankruptcy last year. There’s a new athleisure line, a product mix with other casual items, and a mascot: Henry the Sheep. The move is overdue, said Ken Ohashi, who took over as chief executive officer in January with a plan to capture more of Brooks Brothers’ regular customers’ spending. Even before the pandemic, shoppers’ tastes were shifting away from dressier clothing and toward more casual offerings. Still, changing a centuries-old image isn’t easy. New York-based Brooks Brothers will try by adding more relaxed shirts, suits, and bottoms, with items like knits and sweaters. That’s alongside the new men’s and women’s athleisure lines including hoodies and sweatpants. Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy last year, one of a wave of retailers that sought court protection as the pandemic kept Americans away from office life. Even before that, Brooks Brothers, which calls itself the country’s oldest clothing retailer, struggled to keep up with evolving consumer tastes and grappled with some expensive leases. It now operates more than 630 stores globally, including 170 in the United States. Authentic Brands Group bought Brooks Brothers out of bankruptcy along with SPARC Group, a joint venture with mall owner Simon Property Group, adding it to a portfolio of other formerly bankrupt retailers including Forever 21. Authentic is preparing for an initial public offering, Bloomberg reported last month. ― BLOOMBERG NEWS

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AUTOMOTIVE

GM softens on tough standards for car pollution

The nation’s largest automaker said Wednesday it can support greenhouse gas emissions limits that other car manufacturers negotiated with California — if they are achieved mostly by promoting sales of fully electric vehicles. It is a new stance for General Motors, which had supported the Trump administration’s efforts to end California’s ability to set its own limits. The shift brings GM closer to the 2019 California deal signed onto by five other automakers. Details of GM’s shifted stance came in a letter from CEO Mary Barra to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who has been meeting with auto companies this week in advance of the agency’s release of its proposed tailpipe-pollution and fuel-economy standards, set for later this month. An EPA spokesman said Wednesday that negotiations with automakers remained fluid but constructive as the agency seeks to meet the July goal set by President Joe Biden for emissions standards. In her letter to Regan dated Tuesday, Barra wrote that GM now supports the requirements in a 2019 deal between California and five of its competitors: Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, BMW, and Volvo. GM’s proposal is far less stringent than what Senator Tom Carper has proposed to the EPA to achieve climate goals. The Delaware Democrat urged the agency in April to follow the California deal through the 2026 model year, then set targets to end sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. The move toward electric vehicles already is happening, but slowly. Experts have said it will be difficult to replace the 279 million passenger vehicles now on US roads — most of which burn gasoline — with electric vehicles in less than 15 years. ― ASSOCIATED PRESS

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TRAVEL

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Delta hiring back agents to tackle hourslong reservations phone waits

As customers face hourslong phone waits for customer service, Delta Air Lines has called some former reservations employees back to work on a temporary basis to help handle the load. Delta’s reservations lines are overloaded as travelers return to the skies and seek to use credits from flights canceled early in the pandemic. Atlanta-based Delta cut about 18,000 people from its staff of 90,000 as travel dropped 60 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19, and had more than 40,000 employees take voluntary unpaid leaves of absence last year. According to the most recent federal statistics, Delta had 65,659 employees working in April, including full-time and part-time workers. That’s down 27 percent from a year earlier. The airline is now increasing its staffing levels as the summer travel season ramps up, bringing back hundreds of reservations agents who have worked for the airline in the past. Delta has already seen a strong recovery in domestic leisure travel this month, driving more queries from travelers. “We are seeing a higher call volume as more customers are beginning to travel, so we’re adding staffing through more scheduled hours and overtime for our specialists, hiring temporary summer contract workers and fast-tracking technology upgrades to reinforce existing self-service options to assist with travel needs,” Delta said. The airline also plans to hire 1,300 new employees this year to help handle the workload. Delta recommends customers first try using the airline’s online tools to rebook or change flights or find out about travel requirements. ― COX NEWSPAPERS