Peter Thiel is living proof that big bets on new technologies and investments can blossom with prodigious growth or fall flat. While his hedge fund hasn't impressed, his holdings in Facebook and PayPal have made the Stanford alum a billionaire, giving him the wealth to inject his risk-taking message and money into the biotech world.
In 2011 Thiel's eponymous foundation began the Breakout Labs program to fund startups with the kind of wild biotech ideas that scare off traditional institutional and government funders. Yet in his view these edgy startups--including one called Immusoft that is working on turning immune cells into drug factories and another by the name of Arigos that aims to cryogenically preserve organs prior to transplants--have the potential to bring radical change to medicine.
The nature of taking early risks in biotech is that many ideas won't pan out. Last year Thiel and fellow PayPal pal and Tesla chief Elon Musk were listed among the investors who tasted failure in biotech with bets on Halcyon Molecular, a member of the genomics herd that got trampled after running short of funds to advance faster and cheaper DNA sequencing tech. Yet Thiel has the capital to keep rolling in biotech.
Forbes estimated that Thiel is worth $1.6 billion. He cashed in handsomely on Facebook's IPO and earlier achieved tech scene master status as one of the early crew behind PayPal. (Thiel also invested early in FierceMarkets, the publisher of FierceBiotech, but sold his stake years ago.) Despite the success of his Founders Fund, the assets under management at his hedge fund Clarium Capital have dwindled.
In biotech, Thiel has set an example for other tech tycoons to follow--including much richer ones like Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Early this year Zuckerberg joined Facebook investor Yuri Milner, Google cofounder Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki and others to bankroll research grants for the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences effort. They too want to seed breaking science.
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