Thiel's Breakout Labs awards new grants to biotech startups

Tech tycoon Peter Thiel, recently named one of FierceBiotech's top biotech billionaires and an early venture investor in Facebook, has chosen two recipients of the first round of grants of up to $350,000--Stealth Biosciences and SkyPhrase, which are both developing innovative technologies that could have uses in the biopharma space.

The funding will help Stealth Biosciences--founded by a group of Stanford University professors--develop its nanoscale devices that can measure and exert control over biological processes at the level of single cells. Nick Melosh and Craig Garner's two nanomaterial devices, Nanostraws and Stealth Probes, provide direct, nondestructive electrical and fluidic access to cells. The technology could have research, therapeutic, and diagnostic applications in a number of areas, including high-throughput drug discovery, regenerative medicine, oncology and neuroscience.

"We are excited about the potential of our nanotechnologies for biological research and disease treatment," Stealth CEO Ari Chaney said in a statement.

Stealth said it plans to build its Nanostraw devices so that they can be used to do things like reprogram T cells for cancer therapy, produce stem cells efficiently and safely, or create a set of stapled-peptide drug candidates.

SkyPhrase will use its funds to advance its natural language processing research. The startup, which was created by Nick Cassimatis, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is working on new software meant to understand human language better--essentially, it will allow companies to turn natural language questions into a format that their databases can understand.

With a focus on cutting-edge technologies, Thiel began Breakout Labs in 2011 to bolster early-stage R&D. So far, Breakout Labs has awarded grants to 14 companies, and several recipients have since received additional funding through investment or government grants. Thiel was also an early investor in FierceBiotech's publisher, FierceMarkets.

Special Report: Peter Thiel - Fierce's 10 top biotech billionaires

- here's the press release

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