When it comes to technology, we usually hear a lot about consumer products and Internet algorithms more than the advancing biotechnologies that could save lives or change our way of lives forever. But grants built from on of the biggest investors in consumer tech, Peter Thiel, are now going toward tagging cells, detecting biomarkers and creating no-harm synthetic meat.
Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal and an investor in Quora, BuddyMedia, Facebook Zynga and dozens of other Internet tech companies, launched Breakout Labs in October 2011, and has now given grants to nine companies furthering life science and biotech advancements.
The latest three companies announced Wednesday include Bell Biosystems, Entopsis and Modern Meadows. These three companies were the lucky few out of the hundreds of grant applicants to receive funding and support up to $350,000 each to help them reach scientific research goals over the next 12-24 months.
I caught up with Breakout Labs' Executive Director Lindy Fishburne to find out how these grantees are selected.
"Funding for life science research is a lengthy process, especially in the early days when you have to prove your scientific advancements in order to move forward," Fishburne explained. "We place early bets on the really big ideas that we think can reach key milestones in the next 15-18 months."
Breakout Labs looks at ideas across a wide swath of biotech and life science proposals and does an internal review of the concepts as well as an external scientific review to see if the claims are founded before choosing their grant recipients.
Fishburne also pointed out that in addition to the grants awarded, Breakout Labs also assists in creating a scientific community for these companies to reach out and communicate with one another, and twice a year the companies get together to work with established executives that can help them get over business humps that may be hindering progress -- such as hiring issues, operations management and presentation skills.
Past recipients included Arigos Biomedical (a company focused on cryopreservation of tissues and organs), Positron Dynamics (designing a cooling system for positrons which could assist in space travel), Immusoft Corporation ( a company focused on reprogramming human immune cells in the body to treat a range of diseases), Longevity Biotech (a company creating artificial proteins that deliver nutrients to the body), 3Scan Corp (which is building a 3-D digital reconstruction of brain tissue to map neurological connections), and Inspirotec (which is developing a system to collect and identify airborne agents).
The latest round includes a really interesting concept that PETA might be interesting in learning about -- heck, maybe even funding. And that is the work coming out of Modern Meadow, where animal fabric and meat is being created without killing or harming any animals. No that's some crazy technology people are going to want to know about.
“They are really trying to engineer meat and animal products without killing any animals,” said Hemai Parthasarathy, science director for Breakout Labs.
While 3D printing has been used to create amazing medical implants, very design-chic lamps and other parts of our lives, not many would think that a piece of fried chicken or a hamburger could come straight off the presses.
Frankly, that just sounds messy.
But the Columbia, Mo.-based startup Modern Meadow, snagged a grant to work n advancing bioprinted meat as a more furry-friendly way to consume meat.
While still in the very early stages, you can believe that this failed vegan will keep an eye on this, but also se what the GMO and other health-conscious crowd says. I'd even be interested in seeing how the meat lobby flags this one once the company hits a few milestones.
Breakout Labs also awarded grants to Bell Biosystems and Entopsis.
Bell Biosystems, co-founded by Caleb Bell in June 2009, is building a way system for tracking therapeutic cells, including stem cells, using MRI instruments. This regenerative medicine hinges on a way to track cells that divide within the body.
This is far less invasive than having to cut someone (or some animal) open to track the cells that have split and spread).
The third grant recipient, Entopsis is using nanoengineering to develop a low-cost and versatile platform to assess multiple markers of disease from diverse biological samples. This new system would help detect biomarkers in tissue or blood samples so that scientists can find not just mutations for cancer cells but also locate all the proteins that could be diagnostic of a disease.
This money provides a crucial bridge between early research and well-established government grants, which also puts these companies is a better position for venture capital or angel funding. We'll be keeping an eye on these Breakout Labs selectees.