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Searching for 'Unicorns'

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and a Facebook investor, is also interested in biotech, especially in companies that can methodically put their ideas into practice, writes Antonio Regalado at MIT's Technology Review. Too often, Thiel says, companies wind up spending a lot of money trying to come up with drugs that may not even work.

"Most companies are very heavily invested in the unpredictably paradigm," he tells Regalado. "But when you treat it as a lottery ticket, both the participants and the investors have already psyched themselves into losing. A small probability times a big payoff normally equals zero."

Instead, Thiel has taken his 'contrarian' approach — as Tech Review calls it — to invest in companies like Counsyl, 3Scan, and EpiBone. The prenatal genetic testing company Counsyl has been, Regalado notes, a 'unicorn' of Silicon Valley — its tests have used in connection with some 3 percent of births in the US, and the company is now estimated to be worth about $1 billion. 

"Thiel is a master technologist and salesperson. If he is looking to change biotech, the old players need to watch out," SolveBio's Mark Kaganovich tells Regalado.

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