Talk about awkward timing.
CNBC reported Friday that Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce goliath Amazon has been working for years on a secret cure for the common cold, a goal that has eluded mainstream medicine for centuries, in a scheme known internally as “Project Gesundheit.”
Meanwhile, the 2019 novel coronavirus has spread to dozens of countries and killed thousands in one of the most disturbing viral outbreaks in recent memory, wreaking especially intense havoc in Amazon’s home city of Seattle.
According to CNBC, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud computing subsidiary that drives much of company’s profits, houses a secretive group dubbed “Grand Challenge” that focuses on far-flung technological and scientific ideas. A team therein is reportedly working on developing a vaccine for the common cold.
Bezos’ company has long expanded into what might have been unexpected areas. It started as an online bookstore, branched into manufacturing its own products (including proprietary books), and even became a major competitor for military contracts. Along the way, the company all but invented cloud computing with AWS.
A cure for the common cold would make for another big notch in Bezos’ belt. Last month, he pledged to spend $10 billion on combating climate change via a new charity, the Bezos Earth Fund. He’s also the owner of the storied Washington Post newspaper and a spaceflight company Blue Origin. Bezos reportedly spends $1 billion per year on the aerospace venture, which is headquartered at a vast West Texas ranch that also serves as a potential launch site.
In recent weeks, however, Amazon and its peers have battled problems sprouting from the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has killed at least 15 Americans. Amazon sellers raised prices to astronomical levels on essential products like hand sanitizer, and hawked merchandise using dubious health claims, requiring the company to pull a million items from its digital shelves.
Washington, Amazon’s home state, is battling the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country, with 14 deaths. The virus belongs to the family of infections known as coronaviruses, some of which actually cause illnesses that resemble the common cold. A relative, the rhinovirus family, causes roughly 75 percent of common colds, and there are roughly 160 strains of rhinovirus in circulation.
The new virus has affected Amazon's own employees, too: At least one has been infected, and the company has asked staff to work from home at its Seattle HQ.