The fourth annual Yale Innovation Summit (link is external) on May 10 presented by the Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) and Yale Entrepreneurial Institute provided a window into an expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem at Yale, particularly around biotech and tech discoveries. Interest in entrepreneurship from both faculty and student populations is on the rise, new technologies and discoveries are happening across campus, and the world outside Yale’s walls is taking notice. Nearly 600 were in attendance—including representatives from over 35 venture capital firms—and there was real energy and enthusiasm throughout the day’s panels, keynotes, pitch contests and outdoor poster session.
“The Yale Innovation Summit has quickly become a capstone event,” says Jon Soderstrom, Managing Director of OCR, “and it’s drawing attention inside and outside Yale—both for the number of transformative breakthroughs in progress at Yale and the impressive rise in startup success stories.”
The event came just days after the cofounders of one Yale-born biotech company, Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and raised $168M in an IPO. Biohaven, one of the Summit’s sponsors—is developing drugs for neurological diseases and rare disorders. There are now many faculty eager to follow in their footsteps.
These include the 17 finalists of the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale—a new $10M gift from the Blavatnik Family Foundation that is bridging the gap between breakthrough life science discoveries and high-impact products.
“There’s funding from the National Institutes of Health and others that supports a lot of the discoveries,” says Stephen Strittmatter, Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology and Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Yale Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “When it actually gets to a drug and it’s ready to be tested in people and profits are about to be made, companies come in. But there’s this gap in between making discoveries and making dollars.”
Strittmatter is developing select inhibitors to slow, halt or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease and was one of four faculty who won a $300,000 Development Grant from the Blavatnik Fund at the event. In addition, four faculty were awarded $100,000 Pilot Grants to move their research along the path to commercialization (see below for a list of all winners).
“I have a particular interest in encouraging scientific innovation,” says Len Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries, who supported the Fund, “and Yale is obviously a perfect base for finding new ways to invest in the future of research and entrepreneurship.”
Yale President Peter Salovey announced the winners of both the Blavatnik Awards and the event’s Biotech and Tech Pitch Contests, saying “Yale is breaking down barriers to discovery and innovation.”
Alanna Schepartz, Milton Harris ‘29 Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry & Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, won both a $300,000 Blavatnik Development Grant and took first place in the Biotech Pitch Contest at the Summit, winning a $5,000 prize supported by Elm Street Ventures. Schepartz presented a promising technology called Exolva that would allow protein materials into the cytosol and nucleus to deliver personalized therapeutics. She’s been developing the technology for the past decade.
Winning the $5,000 first place award from Connecticut Innovations in the Tech Pitch Contest was Alva Health, a startup that is developing a wearable monitor for early stroke detection. The team combines the talents of Kevin Sheth, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Sandra Saldana Ortega, PhD (SOM ’17), Hitten Zaveri, PhD, Associate Professor in Neurology and Ronald Coifman, PhD, Philips Professor of Math and Computer Science.
In his keynote address, Gerald Chan, leading philanthropist and cofounder of Morningside Group, praised the display of innovative thinking evident across Yale and called for even greater nurturing of entrepreneurial interest among faculty and students. He mentioned that university research has become “an engine in the economy,” and says “I celebrate the translation of research as a public good. Engagement with the biotech community does not violate the university’s self-conscious mandate to be for the good of society.” In fact, he called the relationship between university researchers and the investment community “symbiotic,” a point very much on display as connections were forged throughout the day-long event.
BLAVATNIK FUND FOR INNOVATION AT YALE DEVELOPMENT GRANT AWARDEES ($300,000)
Alanna Schepartz - Milton Harris ‘29 Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry & Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Innovation: A robust technology for trafficking diverse protein materials into the cytosol and nucleus with high efficiency and intact form to deliver personalized therapeutics.
Anton Bennett - Professor of Pharmacology and of Comparative Medicine; Co-Director, Program in Integrative Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism; Director, BBS Minority Affairs. Innovation: Developing a chemical drug design platform to establish rich intellectual property for a first-in-class therapeutic for the treatment of fibrosis which accounts for nearly 45% of all deaths in the developed world.
Stephen Strittmatter - Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology and Professor of Neuroscience; Director, Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair; Director, Memory Disorders Clinic; Director, Yale Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Innovation: Developing select inhibitors to slow, halt or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease.
Andrew Xiao – Assistant Professor of Genetics. Innovation: Developing therapeutics around a novel epigenetic mechanism aimed at end-stage tumors that are resistant to standard therapies.
BLAVATNIK FUND FOR INNOVATION AT YALE PILOT GRANT AWARDEES ($100,000)
W. Mark Saltzman - Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemical & Environmental Engineering & Physiology and Michael Girardi - Professor of Dermatology; Director, Residency Program; Vice Chair. Innovation: A multi-functional bioadhesive nanoparticle platform that has the potential to revolutionize the suncare industry.
Anna Marie Pyle - William Edward Gilbert Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Professor of Chemistry; Director, Division of Biological Sciences. Innovation: Developing a proprietary class of molecules to be used as tumor vaccines.
Elliott Brown - Assistant Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging. Innovation: A novel bone marrow aspiration device that limits blood contamination and maximizes stem cell recovery while also increasing the area of bone sampled 45-fold compared to current devices.
Andrew Miranker - Professor of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry. Innovation: Advancing a small molecule that is water soluble, non-toxic and crosses the plasma membrane and can work in conjunction with existing diabetes drugs to improve long-term b-cell health.
BIOTECH PITCH CONTEST WINNERS
First Place ($5,000): Exolva - Cell-permeable miniature proteins that can deliver better medicine. Team: Alanna Schepartz, PhD, Milton Harris ‘29 Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology; Rebecca Wissner, Postdoctoral candidate in chemistry.
Second Place ($2,000): ChitRx - Engaging chitinases in the treatment of asthma. Team: Geoffrey Chupp, MD, Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary); Director, Yale Center for Asthma and Airways Disease (YCAAD); Director, Pulmonary Function Laboratory, Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Third Place ($1,000): Sidera Medicine –Targeting stem cell-like, invasive subpopulations of glioblastoma and melanoma with a new generation of highly selective small-molecule kinase drugs. Team: Jesse Rinehart, PhD, Associate Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology; Farren Isaacs, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.
TECH PITCH CONTEST WINNERS
First Place ($5,000): Alva Health – a wearable device for early stroke detection. Team: Kevin Sheth, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology and of Neurosurgery; Division Chief, Neurocritical Care and Emergency Neurology; Director, Neuroscience ICU; Chief, Clinical Research, Department of Neurology); Sandra Saldana Ortega, PhD (SOM ’17); Hitten Zaveri, PhD, Associate Professor in Neurology; Ronald Coifman, PhD, Philips Professor of Math and Computer Science.
Second Place ($2,000): Rio Medical – an off-the-shelf filter that plugs into standard IV lines and purges gas from infusions. Team: Sandra Lynne Fryhofer, JD-MBA Candidate at Yale Law School and Yale School of Management; Sandra Saldana-Ortega, PhD (MBA ’17).
Third Place ($1,000): Trellis - A network survey app that allows users to track and manage teams in order to improve productivity. Team: Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, Director Human Nature Lab and Co-Director, Yale Institute for Network Science; Thomas Keegan, PhD, Director of Yale’s Human Nature Lab; Mark McKnight, Web Developer at Yale’s Human Nature Lab; Marcus Alexander, PhD, scientist in Yale’s Human Nature Lab.