Breakout Labs, a program of the Thiel Foundation, has announced its support of two new early-stage companies leveraging cell-based technologies: CytoVale and Pareto Biotechnologies. The new grants bring the total number of companies supported by Breakout Labs to 16.
CytoVale, an alum of the QB3 Startup in a Box program, is pioneering a new class of biomarkers based on the mechanical properties of individual cells, or mechanomics. Disease states dramatically alter cells' physical properties. Using microfluidics to route and physically probe individual cells, CytoVale can measure over 10 biophysical cell markers at rates above 2,000 cells per second, providing a high-throughput, low-cost method of detecting disease.
CytoVale CEO Ajay Shah, Ph.D., and co-founder Dino Di Carlo, Ph.D., a UCLA professor, have targeted the early detection of sepsis as an initial application of their technology. Current standard of care identifies septic patients after organ damage has begun, so there is a clear need for rapid, accurate and cost-effective methods of detecting sepsis at the earliest stages of the infection.
Shah and Di Carlo recently presented their mechanomics platform, consisting of a bench-top instrument and disposable disease-specific sample cartridges, at the annual Breakout Labs Unboxing event. Unboxing is Breakout Labs' invitation-only demonstration day at which companies supported by the program present their latest research and technologies to an esteemed group of investors, scientists and entrepreneurs. "We have already made valuable connections through the Breakout Labs network that will likely be key to our next phases of commercialization," said Shah.
Utilizing polyketide pathways and auxiliary technologies, Pareto Biotechnologies' platform creates designer molecules with near-term applicability in cosmetics, flavors and fragrances, currently derived from either limited natural resources or petroleum. Pareto's technology will enable production of similar molecules at a lower price point in a more environmentally sustainable manner than current production methods allow, while still retaining the designation of "natural."
Pareto's CEO, Jamie Bacher, Ph.D., is a synthetic biologist who previously managed a $100 million project at Total New Energies in partnership with Amyris. Pareto's co-founders include Joe Noel, Ph.D., who worked with the biochemistry and application of plant secondary metabolism; Mike Mendez, inventor of the XenoMouse and founder of four biotech startups including Sapphire Energy; and Mike Burkart, Ph.D., who has experience with polyketide and fatty acid synthases and metabolic engineering.
"Synthetic biology is an area of substantial technological interest to us," said Hemai Parthasarathy, Breakout Labs' scientific director. "There is obviously breakthrough potential for companies that have both a deep understanding of biology and the savvy to navigate biotech's significant business development hurdles."
Over the past two years, Breakout Labs has matured into a new model for early-stage R&D funding. Grant recipients benefit not only from financing at a tipping point in their technical development, but also gain access to an ever-broadening network of investors, entrepreneurs and startup resources that are needed for long-term sustainability of their companies.
"Having worked intensively with our first companies, we have honed the support that is most critical to their development," said Lindy Fishburne, Breakout Labs executive director. "In addition to our semi-annual networking and mentoring events in the Bay Area, we have been able to make introductions and provide strategic advice throughout the year.”