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This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: IMF leadership scandal clouds annual meetings

Lauren Fedor
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Monday, October 11th, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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The IMF holds its big annual meetings this week, but all the talk is over whether the fund’s chief should keep her job. We’ll talk about China’s electric vehicle battery maker BYD and its plans to go global. And our science editor Clive Cookson shares his reporting on a potential new treatment for depression.

Clive Cookson
So it’s desperately needed medically and also it’s exciting technology.

Lauren Fedor
I’m Lauren Fedor, in for Marc Filippino, here’s the news you need to start your day.

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The International Monetary Fund kicks off its annual gathering today with the fate of the fund’s leader very much in doubt. Kristalina Georgieva has been accused of manipulating data to favour China while she was at the World Bank several years ago. The scandal has divided IMF members, with the US pushing for her to go and European powers wanting her to stay. Here’s the FT’s Colby Smith.

Colby Smith
Well, it’s very, very awkward. I don’t really know another way to describe it. I mean, you have the executive board split into two camps at this point. So the US and Japan, which are the fund’s two biggest shareholders, are on one side and you have France, Germany, Italy and the UK lining up in support of Georgieva. And according to people familiar with the matter, you know, China and Russia are also aligned with the Europeans on this issue. I think more broadly, what’s important is what this all means for the fund going forward. So we heard from many people who are close to the fund, have worked in very senior positions at the fund, say if the fund is putting out various reports or publications, are people going to now question the veracity and the integrity of those reports? And I think that’s actually kind of at the crux of the matter.

Lauren Fedor
Colby Smith is the FT’s US economics editor.

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One of the world’s biggest electric vehicle battery makers is the Chinese company BYD. It also makes electric vehicles which sell well in China. But now the company wants to compete globally. To find out more, I’m joined by the FT’s Henry Sanderson. Hi, Henry.

Henry Sanderson
Hi.

Lauren Fedor
So BYD is already well-known among big global investors. One early backer was Warren Buffett. What did he see in the company?

Henry Sanderson
Yes, so Buffett invested at the end of 2008. You know, the beginning of the financial crisis. And BYD’s founder, Wang Chuanfu, who’s incredibly hard working, you know, he works at the factory ‘til 11 every night. He really won Buffett over. And the story was that Buffett offered to buy even more of BYD, but Wang refused, which Buffett took as a good sign that has paid off hugely. I mean, shares since then are up over 3000 per cent. And I think it’s one of Buffett’s best investments, you know, after Apple, at least in one of his top investments.

Lauren Fedor
Henry, can you talk a little bit about the technology in BYD’s battery?

Henry Sanderson
Yes, in most electric vehicle batteries outside of China use what’s called a NMC or NCA technology, so they contain lithium but also cobalt, nickel and manganese. And what BYD has done is turn to another chemistry or another technology called LFP, which just uses lithium ion and phosphate, which are all, you know, abundant materials in the earth’s crust. And they’ve really re-engineered this technology to improve it and to make it viable basically for electric cars and longer range electric cars. So the significance is, you know, you get a cheaper battery and you don’t have all these other metals in it.

Lauren Fedor
And how big of an advantage is this?

Henry Sanderson
Yeah, I think this is a huge advantage. And you know, if we’re looking at mass market EVs, you know, if we’re looking at replacing huge numbers of the cars with EVs. You know, it’s going to put a huge strain on on the mining industry and getting hold of enough cobalt and nickel. And cobalt, over 60 per cent, 70 per cent, comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. And nickel’s also a huge issue because a lot of it, you know, is being mined in Indonesia, where you know, it takes up a lot of land to mine nickel. So BYD’s battery technology, you know, it will take the strain off some of those supply chains.

Lauren Fedor
So BYD has this cutting edge battery, but it also makes its own cars. You’ve written about how it’s shipping those SUVs to Norway, right?

Henry Sanderson
Yes, BYD, I mean, ever since Buffett bought the stake in it, you know, it’s wanted to be a global company. And actually has exported loads of electric buses around the world. I mean, even in London where I am, you know, quite a few of the buses are BYD buses. And they’re all over Europe, they’re in South America, they’re in the US. So already has experience selling electric buses to loads of cities. But now they want to export passenger EV cars. And it’s starting with Norway, which is fascinating because Norway is becoming a very competitive sort of test market for a lot of these Chinese companies.

Lauren Fedor
And is that where they see the real growth, in cars?

Henry Sanderson
I think, yes, they see growth in electric cars, but also very open to share that technology with other carmakers. And so they’re talking to Tesla, they’re talking to other carmakers about selling, you know, just their batteries, and they want to list that battery business on the stock market as a separate business. So they’re very open to helping other carmakers, which is unusual. The big question, you know, what analysts have told me is, you know, will carmakers trust getting batteries from BYD when at the same time, they’re a competitor, right? They’re also producing the cars themselves. So that’s the sort of big question as well.

Lauren Fedor
Henry Sanderson is the FT’s commodities correspondent. Thanks, Henry.

Henry Sanderson
Thanks very much.

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Lauren Fedor
Our science editor, Clive Cookson, has just reported on a potential new treatment for depression. A recent study shows that this debilitating illness could be eased using carefully targeted neural electronics. The trials took place at the University of California, San Francisco. Clive joins me now. Hi, Clive.

Clive Cookson
Hi, Lauren.

Lauren Fedor
So a lot of trials come across your desk. What was it about this one that caught your eye?

Clive Cookson
Partly because depression is such a scourge of public health around the world. The World Health Organization estimates there are 280 million people suffering from depression, serious depression. And the bad thing is that in about 30 per cent of cases, existing treatments, drugs and ECT, electroconvulsive therapy and of course, talking therapy, psychotherapy, they just don’t work. So it’s desperately needed medically. And also it’s exciting technology, and this seems like an excellent and very rewarding application of neurotech.

Lauren Fedor
How does the technology work?

Clive Cookson
It’s a form of deep brain stimulation, and it’s the most sophisticated form used so far. Essentially, the neurosurgeons at UCSF fitted an implant just under the skull of the patient, whom we’re calling Sarah. She doesn’t want her full name to be used. And from that implant, there are two fine wires extending deep into her brain, going to different regions of the brain. And the point of this is that one electrode detects signs of depressive feelings, bad sort of downward spiral in Sarah’s mood, and the other stimulates a different brain area, which is associated with rewards and pleasure. And when those two are associated, when the depressive feelings come on, stimulation of the other area lifts it immediately. I mean, Sarah, the patient, when she was speaking to journalists at the press briefing to launch this study was just ecstatic about the difference it has made to her life.

Lauren Fedor
And how big was the trial? Were there many other people in it besides Sarah?

Clive Cookson
Well, that is the weakness of this. It’s what scientists call an N=1 trial. She is the only patient for whom there are results. But it’s being extended. They have enlisted, enrolled a couple more who are starting. And the idea is to do 12 altogether in this trial.

Lauren Fedor
I think you’ve written about this in the past, but deep brain stimulation has been used to treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Were there obstacles here to using it in treating depression?

Clive Cookson
Yes, depression is a much harder target because for epilepsy and Parkinson’s, the areas of the brain responsible for those disorders were well known, so they knew where to target the stimulus. With depression, the brain circuits involved were and are much more mysterious, so they had to do quite a lot of gentle probing of Sarah’s brains to find the two places where it would work.

Lauren Fedor
Do you think this treatment could be used for other forms of mental illness?

Clive Cookson
I think if this proves itself, there are a lot of mood and anxiety disorders, like OCD, where it could be used. The biggest challenge, I think, is going to be to show that it works in depression. And remember, this is an invasive surgical technique, and it’s expensive. For this first trial, they used a $30000 implant, which was originally developed for epilepsy and they’ve adapted it for their depression trial. And then there are all the associated costs. So although it could be used for some patients with the most severe long-term intractable depression such as Sarah had, it will need to be simplified and made far cheaper in the long run if it’s going to make an impact on depression or in other psychiatric illnesses.

Lauren Fedor
So an exciting development, but still a long way to go.

Clive Cookson
Yes, it is.

Lauren Fedor
Clive Cookson is the FT’s science editor. Thanks, Clive.

Clive Cookson
Thanks, Lauren.

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Lauren Fedor
You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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