Working out of a Starbucks in 2012, Obdulio Piloto saw an article about the Peter Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs’ funding effort for revolutionary technology projects.
He and Ian Cheong, a friend from his student days at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, thought they had one: a universal platform that would allow diagnosis for multiple diseases easily, cheaply and quickly. Many people in developing countries lack access to life-saving diagnostic tests because of their high cost and the countries’ lack of advanced medical infrastructure.
Piloto sent in that idea for a company called Entopsis.
About a month later, the Peter Thiel Foundation, set up by the founder of PayPal, called with good news: Breakout Labs had chosen Entopsis for a $160,000 grant. The company was one of only 16 startups selected nationwide and the only one in Florida.
“I said, ‘You understand I work [out of] Starbucks. I don’t have a lab or a team,’ ” Piloto, who had moved back to South Florida and was researching his ideas, recalled telling Breakout Labs. “But they understood the science, the implications and where this could go. They said this is a grant to test out your crazy idea.”
Today, Entopsis has a core team of four Ph.D.-level scientists, plus consultants, working in a lab at the Hialeah Technology Center. Co-founder Cheong, who is based in Singapore, remains as an advisor. The company has created prototypes and has begun testing its platform with partners in the areas of cancer and infectious diseases, said Piloto, Entopsis’s CEO. His educational background — a bachelor’s in microbiology from Cornell University, a doctorate in cellular and molecular medicine from Johns Hopkins, and post-graduate work in therapeutics using small molecules and peptides at Stanford — has proven critical.
To fund further development, Piloto closed on an $800,000 round of seed financing last week led by Miami-based Krillion Ventures. Investors include Miami investment firm, G3 Capital Partners, another anonymous Miami investor and several Hong Kong-based investors.
This is the third Miami-based investment for Krillion Ventures, which launched last fall. The $50 million venture fund for early-stage tech companies has also funded Everypost and Videoo. Krillion also funded Cohealo, a health-tech startup that launched in South Florida but moved to Boston early last year.
“We are interested in investing in groundbreaking ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency for hospitals and healthcare professionals. Entopsis has the potential to do both,” said Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures. “By employing nanoengineering to develop a universal diagnostic platform that can be used in a clinical setting, Entopsis can simultaneously evaluate small molecules, proteins and cells from any sample at a significantly lower cost and in less than an hour.”
Said G3 partner Darius Nevin, “it was a chance to participate at an early stage in a company with a technology that could really benefit all of us. If they’re right, we will have a good investment – but the company will have done something good for the health of people all over the world. And Obdulio is the kind of leader you want to help succeed any way you can.”
Entopsis is developing an innovative molecular profiling platform that will allow easy and inexpensive diagnosis using NuTEC, a single device that can diagnose many diseases, unlike many individual tests now used to diagnose different diseases. NuTEC testing technology could be applied to almost any substance and across a range of industries including agriculture, food science and human health, Piloto believes.
“Breakout Labs looks for novel cutting-edge science with broad application. Entopsis is based on an entirely new way to analyze biomolecules that, if successful, could become the new paradigm for rapid molecular identification in contexts ranging from food safety to medicine,” said Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, in a November interview.
In addition to the funding, Breakout Labs has provided valuable mentorship and connections, said Piloto. “It’s opened a lot of doors,” he said.
In its research and development phase, Entopsis is working with local hospitals to beta test its platform. The company also partnering with a global diagnostics leader — its identity currently is secret — is working on a partnership with FIU’s engineering school.
Currently the company is testing urine samples, but it plans to add blood and saliva and, perhaps, breath. “We are keeping our options open,” Piloto said.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.