While most of us are still reeling in shock after last week’s one billion Instagram buy, Peter Thiel — through both Founders Fund and the Thiel Foundation — is leading the charge into a future where humans don’t age or suffer from cancer, among other things. Call it crazy or whatever you’d like, but there’s no doubt that people who are trying to drastically change the world for the better often do.
If a hologram can give a concert, it’s not that far-fetched to imagine a future where humans don’t die. As part of its commitment to improving the quality of human life in general, Thiel’s latest project, Breakout Labs, is awarding $5 million to companies who push the envelope with regards to “revolutionary” scientific innovation.
Though induction in the grant program is on a rolling basis, Breakout Labs has awarded its six first grants, to companies who are “pursuing science in an entrepreneurial way,” Breakout Labs’ Executive Director Lindy Fishburne tells me.
“That [$350k] in funding can help an early-stage team reach a milestone,” Fishburne said, “and make these companies more attractive to future funding.” She hopes that Breakout Labs’ support will eventually become imprimatur for early stage companies hoping to change the pursuit of science with technology. “We want to take advantage of the revolution in healthcare and science that is happening and reward companies who are operating in a nimble way,” circumventing the slow moving institutions of academia and traditional grants.
In return for the up to $350k and other soft support, Breakout Labs companies devote a modest percentage of their proceeds back to the incubator. The very first batch runs the gamut from organ cooling to molecular physics. While this cohort was heavy on biotech, Breakout Labs emphasizes that applicants can be anyone trying to meld the worlds of science and tech. Here is the full list of the first group of winners (with each company’s own description):
- 3Scan, to develop 3-D digital reconstruction of brain tissue, using a novel, faster, less expensive microscope technology. Building a map of connections in the brain—the connectome—is a critical step to understanding what makes the human brain unique.
- Arigos Biomedical, to develop methods of cooling organs for long-term storage. When combined with emerging advances in cryopreservation, tissue engineering, and stem cell therapies to eliminate graft rejection, this technology would make banked organs immediately available to anyone needing a transplant.
- Immusoft, to re-program human immune cells to produce therapeutics in the body. This technology could dramatically improve the ability to treat a range of diseases, as well as enhance human health and longevity.
- Inspirotec, to develop a universal system for collecting and identifying virtually any airborne agent. Our environment is increasingly subject to natural and man-made toxins, and this technology would allow for their capture and identification in a simple, low cost handheld device.
- Longevity Biotech, to develop an entirely new class of therapeutics via artificial protein technology (“Hybridtides”). Hybridtides are targeted biologic-like molecules which are highly-resistant to breakdown by natural digestive enzymes and tunable to very stable molecular structures. These features have demonstrated potent therapeutic activity with the possibility of oral biologic delivery.
- Positron Dynamics, to enhance the production and collection of positrons, a class of elementary particles. Positrons have many near-term applications, for example, in medical imaging; in the long run, they may be a source of energy—antimatter propulsion—for space travel.
Thiel himself defended these ambitious goals in a release, “In the past, people dreamed of the future as a radically better, more technologically advanced place: you might live for centuries, delegate work to your robots, and take your vacations on the moon. Now, many people expect their children to inherit a world worse than today’s. With Breakout Labs, we want to rekindle dreams of an amazing future. That’s why we’re supporting researchers who dream big and want to build a tomorrow in which we all want to live.”
You know you really can’t argue with this.