UConn Health Logo Health

Technology Commercialization Services News

UConn Innovation Fund Provides First Round Funding to Three Biotech Startups

Storrs, Conn. – April 20, 2017The University of Connecticut, in partnership with Connecticut Innovations (CI) and Webster Bank, today announced first round funding to three startups through the UConn Innovation Fund. The $1.5 million UConn Innovation Fund was established to provide early-stage financial support to new business startups affiliated with UConn.

The UConn Innovation Fund provides investments of up to $100,000 to companies founded by students, faculty members, and alumni of the university with an in-state business startup tied to research, advanced technologies, or innovations developed at UConn.

The companies receiving first-round funding are:

  • Torigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is a startup housed in UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) that is focused on providing veterinary cancer care solutions for companion animals using the animals’ existing tumor cells to fight the disease.
  • Bioarray Genetics, Inc. is a molecular diagnostics company focused on changing the way that cancer patients are evaluated and treated with tests that predict patient response to cancer treatments. Bioarray is housed at UConn’s Technology Incubation Program facility at UConn Health in Farmington.
  • Shoreline Biome, LLC. is another UConn TIP company that is focused on understanding how the human microbiome functions across the entire landscape of human health and disease.

“In the first round of funding, we identified three exceptional companies that all have ties to the university,” said Jeff Seemann, vice president for research at UConn. “UConn continues to be a center of innovation, and we look forward to supporting and catalyzing more promising startups in the future to continue to create new companies, new jobs, and economic growth in the state.”

The UConn Innovation Fund serves as a critical early-stage revenue stream for in-state business startups that will allow them to stay in Connecticut and grow. The fund’s investors review a company’s strength and existing resources, innovative technology, potential for commercialization, and likelihood of obtaining additional external funding among other factors. All investment decisions are made by a unanimous vote from UConn, CI, and Webster Bank.

“We look forward to supporting these startups with the resources to help them bring their products closer to commercialization,” said Matt McCooe, CEO of Connecticut Innovations. “We know how difficult it can be to grow a company at the earliest stages of development and this funding can help companies overcome some of those first hurdles.”

The fund is managed by the UConn Evaluation Board, fund managers, and an investment committee comprised of representatives from UConn, CI, and Webster Bank. The fund permits Connecticut Innovations—the leading source of financing and ongoing support for Connecticut’s innovative, growing companies—to continue its support of new business startups established through UConn. Webster Bank provides the key financial and banking expertise needed to help new companies grow.

“We are pleased to support Connecticut-based entrepreneurs in their efforts to bring exciting biotech innovations to market,” said Peter Hicks, senior vice president of the emerging growth banking group at Webster Bank.

The next deadline for applications is July 14, 2017.  Businesses interested in learning more about the fund should go to: innovationfund.uconn.edu.

About the University of Connecticut
The University of Connecticut is one of the top 25 public research universities in the nation and is a research leader in the fields of advanced materials, additive manufacturing, biomedical devices, cybersecurity, energy, life sciences, sensors, and nanotechnology.  As Connecticut’s flagship institution of higher education, UConn serves as an important resource for Connecticut economic development and is dedicated to building collaborations with industry and entrepreneurs. To learn more, visit ip.uconn.edu.

About Connecticut Innovations
Connecticut Innovations (CI) is the leading source of financing and ongoing support for Connecticut’s innovative, growing companies. CI provides venture capital and strategic support for early-stage technology companies; grants that support innovation and collaboration; and connections to its well-established network of partners and professionals. For more information, please visit www.ctinnovations.com.

About Webster Bank
Webster Financial Corporation is the holding company for Webster Bank, National Association. With $26.1 billion in assets, Webster provides business and consumer banking, mortgage, financial planning, trust, and investment services through 168 banking centers and 349 ATMs. Webster also provides mobile and Internet banking. Webster Bank owns the asset-based lending firm Webster Business Credit Corporation; the equipment finance firm Webster Capital Finance Corporation; and HSA Bank, a division of Webster Bank, which provides health savings account trustee and administrative services. Webster Bank is a member of the FDIC and an equal housing lender. For more information about Webster, including past press releases and the latest annual report, visit the Webster website at www.websterbank.com.

UConn Incubator Companies Raise $39.9 Million in 2016

Farmington, Conn. – April 17, 2017 – The University of Connecticut, today announced record growth in 2016 for the University’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP). TIP was established in 2004 to accelerate the growth of technology-based startups with a strong connection to the University of Connecticut.

TIP companies raised record investments in 2016. Last year TIP startups attracted a record $39.9 million in debt and equity to accelerate the growth of their operations. This is $15.5 million more than the previous record set in 2014.

TIP facility in Farmington, CT at UConn Health

TIP facility in Farmington, CT at UConn Health (UConn Photo/J. Gelineau)

Under the umbrella of UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research, TIP supports UConn startups as well as innovative external technology ventures. Outside startups conduct R&D activities in Connecticut and benefit from UConn’s research infrastructure, specialized equipment, customized business support services and talent pool.

“The unprecedented state support from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for the Bioscience CT initiative is bearing fruit in the University of Connecticut Technology Incubation Program,” said Jeff Seemann, Ph.D., UConn/UConn Health vice president for research. “Instead of going to Boston or New York, these companies choose to stay in Connecticut to grow their companies, create jobs, and benefit society with their cutting-edge advances.”

Several TIP companies raised significant investments from debt and equity in 2016, contributing to the program’s record setting total.

Agrivida, an agritech company focused on animal nutrition, had the most substantial raise with $21 million in Series E funding. The funds will be used to advance the commercialization of Agrivida’s patented GRAINZYME® feed additive enzymes for use with poultry and swine, and to support product development for dairy and beef cattle.

“Being a part of UConn’s incubator has helped us meet significant milestones for our company,” said Dan Meagher, CEO of Agrivida. “We are looking forward to delivering on our promise to improve the production efficiency of meat, milk, and eggs to help address the growing global demand for food.”

Frequency Therapeutics successfully raised $9.1 million in 2016, and recently announced a $32 million Series A financing, to continue developing a drug-based therapy to restore hearing in individuals with hearing loss caused by continuous exposure to loud noises. Frequency is applying its proprietary platform, called Progenitor Cell Activation (PCA™), to regenerate inner ear sensory hair cells, which detect sound and transmit signals to the brain. Per the World Health Organization (WHO), 360 million people worldwide have moderate or worse hearing loss, with an additional 1.1 billion people at risk for hearing loss from recreational noise alone.

“Frequency’s scientific team, based at TIP at UConn Health, played an important role in supporting the development of the company’s PCA platform to restore healthy tissue in the body,” said Bob Langer, Ph.D., the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of Frequency Therapeutics. “We greatly appreciate the ongoing support from TIP as Frequency advances its program for chronic noise-induced hearing loss and looks to expand into additional therapeutic indications.”

Diameter Health, a healthcare software company that helps providers analyze data from their electronic health records more effectively, raised $2.3 million; and CaroGen Corporation, an emerging vaccine immunotherapy company, raised $2 million.

UConn researchers working in the lab

Kepeng Wang, assistant professor of immunology, right, with Kasandra Rodriguez, a research associate at CaroGen Corporation’s technology incubation lab in Farmington onDec. 12, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

According to Bijan Almassian, CEO of CaroGen Corporation, the TIP location provides a beneficial vantage point to meet and acquire the talent and expertise needed to conduct R&D operations to grow his company. “The powerful combination of faculty expertise, student and graduate hires, and seasoned industry scientists from across the state give us access to the full array of capabilities that are enabling our progress,” Almassian said.

UConn’s Technology Incubation Program continues to outperform other technology incubators, both in Connecticut and nationally. According to the latest National Business Incubation Association survey data, in 2016 UConn’s incubator was 12,000 square feet larger and housed 62% more startups than that national average. TIP companies raised $39.5 million dollars more in capital investments than the Connecticut average, as reported in the latest Connecticut Business Incubator Network survey.

“TIP is an established program in Connecticut that is known to improve the likelihood of startup success,” said Mostafa Analoui, Ph.D., executive director of venture development and TIP at UConn. “We are pleased with the growth we experienced in 2016, and hope to keep up this momentum.”

Analoui was hired in last year to lead UConn’s efforts to identify disruptive technologies that are ripe for venture development, recruit entrepreneurs and talent to lead these startups, and raise early-stage and follow-on funding to grow these companies.

In January 2016, a $19 million expansion at the TIP facility in Farmington at UConn Health was completed. Paid for through the state of Connecticut’s landmark Bioscience CT initiative, the addition increased total square footage by 20,000 square feet. The program now boasts over 32,000 square feet of high-tech wet labs and office space at its two major locations in Storrs and Farmington.

The extra space has allowed TIP to accept more technology startups into the program. In 2016, TIP was home to 33 companies – the most in the program’s history.

TIP companies contributed to economic development in the state through increased job creation. At the end of 2016, TIP companies employed 71 full-time and 30 part-time employees. This compares with the state average of 27 full- and part-time employees at other incubators in Connecticut.

More than 85 startup companies have been supported through TIP since it was established in 2004. These companies have raised more than $50 million in grant funding, $80 million in debt and equity, and more than $45 million in revenue during that time.

For more information about the UConn Technology Incubation Program, call 860-679-3992 or visit ip.uconn.edu.



Jessica McBride
Office of the Vice President for Research

UConn Scientists Develop New Antibody for Bowel Disease

April 10, 2017 – Jessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research

Molecular and cell biology professor Michael Lynes with lab manager Clare Melchiorre. (Taylor Hudak '18 (CLAS, ED)/UConn Photo)

Molecular and cell biologist Michael Lynes and an international team of researchers have developed a novel antibody designed to prevent the patient’s immune system from attacking its own body. Lynes is shown here with lab manager Clare Melchiorre. (Taylor Hudak ’18 (CLAS, ED)/UConn Photo)

UConn molecular and cell biologist Michael Lynes and an international team of researchers have been awarded a patent for a novel antibody therapeutic that may prove to be safer in the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) than other antibodies currently available.

Existing antibody treatments for IBD are ineffective in some IBD patients and pose a risk to the normal functioning of the immune system.

The new antibody, co-invented by the UConn researchers together with a team from Ghent University in Belgium, is designed to prevent the patient’s immune system from attacking its own body and potentially causing irreversible damage.

More than 1.6 million Americans have IBD. Two of the most common forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, chronic but treatable conditions that affect children and adults. One in 10 people with IBD are under 18, according to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

More than a decade ago, Lynes, professor and head of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn, and his research team discovered a novel and important role that a protein called metallothionein (MT) plays in influencing the body’s immune function. The body produces MT when cells are under stress, and extended periods of stress cause MT to be released from the cells that produced it, Lynes says. MT is an unusual protein that holds onto chemicals in the body – both those that are beneficial, such as zinc and copper, and those that are harmful – such as cadmium and mercury.
Sadikshya Bhandari, a Ph.D. student in molecular and cell biology, in Professor Michael Lynes’ lab. (Taylor Hudak ’18 (CLAS, ED)/UConn Photo)
Sadikshya Bhandari, a Ph.D. student in molecular and cell biology, is reconstituting a chemoattractant to set up a chemotaxis experiment. (Taylor Hudak ’18 (CLAS, ED)/UConn Photo)

While studying MT, Lynes and his research team noticed that MT released from cells could mimic some of the signals that the immune system uses as cues to tell cells to go to one place or another in the body. Under normal circumstances, immune cells use these signals to guide them to local infections or other tissue damage. When cells are stressed over prolonged periods, this can mean that there is persistent inflammation accompanied by damage to nearby healthy tissue.

About 50 million people, or 20 percent of the U.S. population, suffer from some form of autoimmune disease or chronic inflammation, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. More than 80 autoimmune diseases have been identified, and autoimmune diseases are becoming increasingly prevalent, for reasons unknown, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. While causes of autoimmune diseases also remain largely unknown, scientific consensus is that autoimmune diseases are probably triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

A team of Belgium doctors and scientists studying IBD had published a paper saying that their sickest patients were those whose bodies produced the most MT. The MT protein, which serves as a normal part of the cell’s internal machinery inside the cell, was getting outside the cell and causing damage. That paper by Dr. Martine DeVos, Debby Laukens, and Lindsey Devisscher led to a collaboration with Lynes.

Since the protein serves an essential purpose, researchers can’t shut it off all together; so they had to find a way to stop MT from prolonging inflammation and damaging healthy cells. Lynes and his team produced an antibody protein that basically attaches itself to MT when it is outside the cell and inactivates it – preventing the body from attacking its intestinal system. This approach dramatically reduced IBD in mouse models of the human disease.

“It’s like we have created a partner for MT that binds it and hugs it and won’t let it go,” Lynes says.

The UConn team has been testing this treatment on mice, and is working on creating a form of the antibody that their collaborators can test in humans.

Since one form of stress on cells comes from environmental triggers, Lynes and his team have received funding support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He and his team have also received funding from UConn and from the state’s quasi-public investment agency, Connecticut Innovations, to commercialize the anti-MT therapeutic. This includes $50,000 from UConn’s SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund, and $500,000 from the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund managed by Connecticut Innovations. He has also worked with the External Advisory Board and received funding for the project from Yale University’s Program in Innovative Therapeutics for Connecticut’s Health (PITCH).

“This is a prime example of cutting-edge research from a UConn lab being translated into a potentially life-changing treatment for patients,” says Jeff Seemann, vice president for research at UConn and UConn Health. “The exciting research being conducted by internationally recognized faculty at UConn is not only important for the scientific community, but also for our citizens and our state’s economy.”

Lynes’ research is significant, because while there is a great deal of research being done to try to keep autoimmune diseases at bay, his work seeks to learn more about the causes. Autoimmune diseases are increasing in both industrialized and developing countries, so his work has strong public health and commercial potential.

Meanwhile, Lynes is also working with Ciencia Inc., an East Hartford-based biotech company, to develop a test that could measure 1,000 different kinds of molecules in a drop of blood to find patterns of molecular biomarkers that can serve as red flags for the early onset of autoimmune disease.

“We are excited about the opportunity presented by Dr. Lynes’ innovative work,” says Arturo Pilar, president of Ciencia. “UConn has been a great partner, and university support for this effort has been critical to the substantial progress made to develop a commercial product.”

Early detection can mean that treatment can begin earlier in the disease, thus improving people’s chance for better health.

“It appears this has the potential to identify someone’s propensity to develop an autoimmune disease, and to enable treatments that are more effective,” Lynes says.

Often, by the time people have symptoms of autoimmune disease that brings them to their doctor, irreparable damage has been done to their bodies. Developing these biomarkers won’t cure the disease, he adds, but will allow for medical intervention early, minimizing the damage.

Responding to a Crisis: A Vaccine for Zika

While a new Gallup poll finds most Americans are not worried about Zika, the recent case of an infected baby born in San Diego demonstrates the virus is a very real issue in this country. One UConn scientist has been working on a vaccine for Zika since the news about cases in Brazil first surfaced last year. For Paulo Verardi, the work is both professional and personal – he’s a native of Brazil. And for his lab, creating a vaccine that is both effective and economical is a daily goal.

UConn Joins Hunt for New Materials

Rampi Ramprasad, professor of materials science and engineering, received a grant from the Toyota Research Institute. The project will involve design of functional polymers using advanced quantum mechanical computations and machine learning. Photo taken on March 30, 2017. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Rampi Ramprasad, professor of materials science and engineering, received a grant from the Toyota Research Institute. The project will involve design of functional polymers using advanced quantum mechanical computations and machine learning. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The University of Connecticut is one of several leading research institutions collaborating with the Toyota Research Institute to accelerate the design and discovery of advanced materials using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) announced March 30 that it is investing $35 million to support the initiative over the next four years in an effort to revolutionize materials science and identify new advanced battery materials and fuel cell catalysts that can power future zero-emissions and carbon-neutral vehicles.

It is extremely likely there are new and potentially much better functional polymers out there waiting to be discovered. Our goal is to accelerate the discovery process by using virtual screening methods … so that potential new polymers may be identified before they are made.
— Rampi Ramprasad

UConn materials scientist Ramamurthy “Rampi” Ramprasad is leading the effort at UConn. Ramprasad’s lab will work to identify new polymers using quantum mechanical computations and data-driven machine learning. Because of their flexible chemical compositions, polymers are impressive when used as insulators, semiconductors, and permeable membranes. They also are safe, inexpensive to produce, and light. As such, they hold the potential for broader use in energy storage applications such as rechargeable batteries and fuel cells.

“Given the nearly infinite chemical compositions for polymers, it is extremely likely there are new and potentially much better functional polymers out there waiting to be discovered,” says Ramprasad, a professor in the School of Engineering. “Our goal is to accelerate the discovery process by using virtual screening methods powered by advanced computations and machine learning so that potential new polymers may be identified before they are made.”

Other institutions participating in the initiative include Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and the University at Buffalo. The U.K.-based materials science company Ilika is also a research partner, and there may be others. TRI is in ongoing discussions with additional collaborators.

“Toyota recognizes that artificial intelligence is a vital basic technology that can be leveraged across a range of industries, and we are proud to use it to expand the boundaries of materials science,” said TRI Chief Science Officer Eric Krotkov. “Accelerating the pace of materials discovery will help lay the groundwork for the future of clean energy, and bring us even closer to achieving Toyota’s vision of reducing global average new-vehicle CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050.”

The research will merge advanced computational materials modeling, new sources of experimental data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence in an effort to speed up the development of new materials, a process that historically has been measured in decades. The institutional research programs will follow parallel paths, working to identify new materials for use in future energy systems as well as to develop tools and processes that can accelerate the design and development of new materials more broadly.

The Toyota Research Institute is focusing on three key areas as part of the initiative:

• The development of new models and materials for batteries and fuel cells;
• Broader programs to pursue novel uses of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and materials informatics approaches for the design and development of new materials; and
• New automated materials discovery systems that integrate simulation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and/or robotics.

Ramprasad’s lab has spent the past several years painstakingly building an online polymer genome knowledge base for a data vault the research team created called Khazana. The Khazana platform, which is publicly accessible, allows scientists to search for potential polymers with specific properties. Polymers are large molecules made up of many repeating chemical building blocks. A common example of a polymer type is plastics, which can be chemically altered and easily manufactured for a variety of different applications from soda bottles to deck chairs to garbage bags.
UConn Professor Rampi Ramprasad is using advanced computing and machine learning to search for new polymers as part of a research project with the Toyota Research Institute. Because of their flexible chemical compositions, polymers hold great potential for use in energy storage applications such as high density capacitors. (Rampi Ramprasad/UConn Graphic)
UConn Professor Rampi Ramprasad is using advanced computing and machine learning to search for new polymers as part of a research project with the Toyota Research Institute. Because of their flexible chemical compositions, polymers hold great potential for use in energy storage applications such as high density capacitors. (Rampi Ramprasad/UConn Graphic)

The novel computational method created by Ramprasad’s research team applies basic quantum mechanics to calculate the atomic and electronic structures of different polymers. This information is then used to “train” a machine learning model to make ultra-fast predictions of properties of new polymers. The machine learning model recognizes polymers based on their numerical representations or “fingerprints.” With this approach, materials scientists can quickly predict the electronic properties of a new polymer, such as its band gap (the amount of energy it takes for an electron to break free of its home atom in the polymer), and its dielectric constant (a measure of the effect an electrical field has on the polymer). Those bits of information, and other relevant information that will be incorporated into the system as part of the TRI initiative, are crucial to scientists looking to create new materials that will improve electrochemical energy storage devices like fuel cells and batteries.

Accelerating materials science discovery represents one of four core focus areas for TRI, which was launched in 2015 with mandates to also enhance auto safety with automated technologies, increase access to mobility for those who otherwise cannot drive, and help translate outdoor mobility technology into products for indoor mobility.

Crossing the River to Find Healthcare Solutions

Jessica McBride, Office of the Vice President for Research

Kourosh Parham, MD, Ph.D. has come up with a blood test that can detect hearing loss far sooner than existing tests.  Early detection can potentially prevent further hearing loss, Parham told a group of medical practitioners, faculty and students from engineering, business, medicine and other UConn graduate programs at Healthcare Solutions Night, held recently at UConn Health.

Many people suffer from hearing loss, but hearing tests are limited and fail to capture the full range of hearing, he said. Researchers are working on medications to prevent further hearing damage – once it has been detected. But, at this point, he can’t give patients their test results until he has 90 blood samples to test at once. He was seeking someone to help him find a way to test blood samples individually.

As soon as he finished his presentation, people in the audience suggested ideas and offered to collaborate.

A biodegradable force sensor developed by Dr. Thanh Duc Nguyen from the Department of Mechanical Engineering

A biodegradable force sensor developed by Dr. Thanh Duc Nguyen from the Department of Mechanical Engineering

Parham was one of five clinicians and researchers at the recent cross-pollination event aimed at developing solutions to pressing health-care problems. He and the other presenters had devised a potential solution to a problem and came hoping others with different skills could help bring the ideas to market. In addition, Thanh Duc Nguyen, Ph.D., a member of the department of mechanical engineering who invented an implantable, dissolvable sensor, was looking to partner with clinicians who could apply his biodegradable sensor to their practice. He knew he had a great idea, but needed to demonstrate its ability to positively impact medical conditions.

Teams that formed during the team-building portion of the event will compete for two $1,500 Healthcare Solutions Seed Grants offered through the Accelerate UConn program. Accelerate UConn is a joint operation of the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Accelerate UConn’s goal is to build and support cross-disciplinary teams that improve the likelihood of commercial success of UConn technologies. The funds are intended to help the winning teams begin working together and prepare for future competitions where they can win additional funding and business development support.

“Sometimes you get unexpected solutions when you mix the crowd together,” said Mostafa Analoui, Ph.D. executive director of Venture Development, Office of the Vice President for Research and the evening’s host.  Anne Diamond, CEO of UConn John Dempsey Hospital and Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of the School of Medicine, welcomed and encouraged the attendees, a mixture of medical students, graduate students, faculty and clinicians.  “This is a great way to spur an accelerated effort to commercialize academic research,” Liang said.

The other presenters were Dr. Santhanam Lakshminarayanan, Division of Rheumatology; Dr. Joel Levine, Colon Cancer Prevention Program; Dr. Courtney Townsel, Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine; and Heather Spear, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Courtney Townsel is a Maternal Fetal MedicineFellow at UConn. She is developing a non-invasive treatment for cervical cerclage. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Photo).

Dr. Courtney Townsel is a Maternal Fetal MedicineFellow at UConn. She is developing a non-invasive treatment for cervical cerclage. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Photo).

After Parham and other presenters explained their concepts, attendees from the various disciplines were invited to approach whichever presenter they felt they could help, given their various disciplinary expertise or interest. Evan R. Jellison, Ph.D., assistant professor, immunology, who runs the Flow Cytometry lab at UConn Health, met with Parham to discuss ideas for an alternate, more efficient and individualized blood test method.

“We are planning to apply for the Healthcare Solutions Seed Grant to fund our collaboration,” Parham said following the meeting.

Another presenter, psychiatric nurse Heather Spear, held her son’s teddy bear while explaining her idea for a device that could be imbedded into a stuffed animal to help sooth delirious patients. She outlined the problem faced in hospitals nationwide, pointing out that as Baby Boomers age, the challenge will snowball.

More than 40 percent of the patients admitted to UConn John Dempsey Hospital are over 65, and nationally, about 35 percent of admitted patients are at least age 65.  About 10 to 31 percent of patients 65 and older come to hospitals in a state of delirium, said Spear, a leader in the NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) program at UConn Health. Once they arrive, another 11 to 42 percent develop delirium.

As a result, these patients’ hospital stays are prolonged, increasing their risk of infection, decline, continued confusion and death. These factors lead to increased costs and decreased quality of life.

Spear hopes to create a hospital-acceptable bear that has a four-quadrant, digital panel imbedded in its belly. When patients touch the bear, whether intentionally or accidently, they would see and hear either a video of a loved one, the date and time, video clips of TV shows from their younger years or music from their youth. The bear has to withstand being thrown, since delirious patients can become agitated, anxious or disoriented.

During the team-building portion of the event, electrical engineer Insoo Kim, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of medicine at the UConn Health, offered Spear new ideas to advance her product’s development. “The solution to your idea is a software design rather than a device,” he said with confidence. “We can program the tablet. A student can write an app.”

“To me, it was rocket science,” she said later. “I was thinking, ‘This is exactly why I came to this event.’ ”

She’s had this idea for a few years, but jumped on the chance to present it to colleagues with different skills, she said.

“I was somewhat nervous, but I knew that I only had to present what I know,” Spear said. “It was a very welcoming audience. They’re there because they want to be there. They’re hoping to hear something they can jump in on and invent and make.”

It was comforting to see a few other nurses in the audience, she said. She wasn’t sure her idea would gain any traction and was thrilled at the response. Other nurses who work with dementia patients felt it would help their patients who experience memory loss.

Kim invited Spear to attend the Senior Design Pitch Day on March 27, where third-year biomedical engineering students hear about different ideas that they could work on for their senior design projects. Energized, she’s working on her application for the Healthcare Solutions Seed Grant offered through the Accelerate UConn program.

Accelerate UConn is the University’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site. Its mission is to bring scientific discoveries and capabilities from the lab to the marketplace.  Participating teams receive $3,000 in seed funding for their new ventures and an introduction to the most critical elements of the I-Corps Curriculum and Lean Launchpad methodology. Over seven weeks, teams learn how to assess the market opportunity for their product or technology.

Each workshop provides hands-on training in the basics of business planning and is delivered by entrepreneurs and faculty members. These coaches provide personalized guidance and feedback to help teams construct an evidence-based business model and market-entry strategy.  Participating teams also receive $3,000 in seed funding for their ventures. Accelerate UConn is open to all university faculty and students.  For more information, visit www.accelerate.uconn.edu.

To Market, To Market, with Science Solutions

February 27, 2017 – Colin Poitras – UConn Communications

Chris Clark, Research Scientist; Tom Jarvie, CEO; Mark Driscoll, CSO; and Ryan Beach, Research Scientist. Jarvie and Driscoll are discussing the manufacturing process for the kits. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

Chris Clark, Research Scientist; Tom Jarvie, CEO; Mark Driscoll, CSO; and Ryan Beach, Research Scientist. Jarvie and Driscoll are discussing the manufacturing process for the kits. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

Biochemist Mark Driscoll is trying to crack open a stubborn microbe in his lab at the UConn technology commercialization incubator in Farmington, Conn.

He needs to get past the microorganism’s tough outer shell to grab a sample of its DNA. Once he has the sample, Driscoll can capture the bacterium’s genetic ‘fingerprint,’ an important piece of evidence for doctors treating bacterial infections and scientists studying bacteria in the human microbiome. It’s a critical element in the new lab technology Driscoll and his business partner, Thomas Jarvie, are developing.

But at the moment, his microbe isn’t cooperating. Driscoll tries breaking into it chemically. He boils it. He pokes and pushes against the outer wall. Nothing happens. This drug-resistant pathogen is a particularly bad character that has evolved and strengthened its shell over generations. It isn’t giving up its secrets easily.

Stymied, Driscoll picks up the phone and calls Peter Setlow, a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at UConn Health and a noted expert in molecular biology and biophysics. Setlow has been cracking open microbes since 1968.

A few hours later, Driscoll jumps on a shuttle and takes a quarter-mile trip up the road to meet with Setlow in person. He explains his predicament. Setlow nods and says, “Here’s what I would do …”

And it works.

That brief encounter, that collaboration between a talented young scientist and a prominent UConn researcher working in Connecticut’s bioscience corridor, not only results in an important breakthrough for Driscoll’s and Jarvie’s new business – called Shoreline Biome – it leads to a proposal for more research, a new finding, and at least one patent application.

If we were on our own … there would be no place to go to ask questions. But inside this environment at TIP, you can wander around and just ask people. … Even if they can’t give you an answer, chances are they know someone who can. — Mark Driscoll

In a broader sense, it also exemplifies the collaborative relationships that UConn and state officials hope will flourish under the University’s Technology Incubation Program or TIP, which provides laboratory space, business mentoring, scientific support, and other services to budding entrepreneurs in Connecticut’s growing bioscience sector. At incubators in Storrs and Farmington, TIP currently supports 35 companies that specialize in things like health care software, small molecule therapies, vaccine development, diagnostics, bio-agriculture, and water purification.

The program has assisted more than 85 startup companies since it was established in 2003. Those companies have had a significant impact on Connecticut’s economy, raising more than $50 million in grant funding, $80 million in debt and pay equity, and more than $45 million in revenue.

“This is not a coincidence,” Driscoll says as he recounts his microbe-cracking story in a small office across the hall from his lab. “This is what government is supposed to do. It’s supposed to set up an environment where these kinds of things can happen.”

A Bold Idea

Driscoll and Jarvie, a physical chemist and genomics expert, arrived at UConn’s Farmington incubator in June 2015 with a bold business concept but virtually no idea of how to get it off the ground. Both had worked in the labs at 454 Life Sciences in Branford, Conn., one of the state’s early bioscience success stories. 454’s development of a next generation genome sequencing process in 2005 was a huge success, and led to the company being acquired by international healthcare conglomerate Roche two years later. In 2013, Roche announced it was closing 454’s Connecticut offices and moving the operation to its diagnostics division near San Francisco, Calif.

Mark Driscoll holds the product that Shoreline Biome is developing -- a kit for identifying and quantifying the bacteria in the human microbiome. This kit takes 96 samples, such as human stool, cracks open the bacteria, and selects a 'fingerprint' region of the bacterial DNA to send off to DNA sequencing. The fingerprint region allows the bacteria to be identified down to the subspecies level. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)
Mark Driscoll holds the product that Shoreline Biome is developing — a kit for identifying and quantifying the bacteria in the human microbiome. This kit takes 96 samples, such as human stool, cracks open the bacteria, and selects a ‘fingerprint’ region of the bacterial DNA to send off for DNA sequencing. The fingerprint region allows the bacteria to be identified down to the subspecies level. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

Driscoll and Jarvie decided to stay. They had talked about starting a business based on new technology that, if developed properly, would allow researchers and medical professionals to more quickly and precisely identify different strains of bacteria in the human microbiome, the trillions of good and bad microorganisms living in our bodies that scientists believe play an important role in our health and well-being. The study of the microbiome is a rapidly growing area of biomedical research. There are currently more than 300 clinical trials of microbiome-based treatments in progress, according to the National Institutes of Health, and the global market for microbiome products is estimated to exceed $600 million a year by 2023.

Driscoll says Shoreline Biome is “the most frightening thing” he has ever done: “As scientists, we know that nine out of 10 new companies fail. That sound you constantly hear in the back of your head is the ‘hiss’ of money being burned. The pressure is intense. You have to reach the next level before your money goes to zero, because when the money’s gone, you’re done.”

Driscoll and Jarvie say it was fortuitous that their decision to launch a bioscience company came at a time when Connecticut and UConn were committing resources to strengthen the state’s bioscience research sector.

As part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Bioscience Connecticut initiative approved in 2011, Connecticut’s legislature allocated $864 million to efforts that would position the state as a leader in bioscience research and innovation. That initiative included the expansion of UConn’s technology incubator site in Farmington, the opening of The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX Genomic Medicine), and major upgrades at UConn Health to boost its research capacity.

Those resources came at just the right time for a fledgling bioscience company like Shoreline Biome. Driscoll and Jarvie remember the early days when company ‘meetings’ took place at a local Starbucks. The company’s official address and warehouse was Driscoll’s Wallingford garage, now stocked with leftover lab equipment and supplies acquired from Roche during the move. The pair didn’t even have a lab.

But they did have a vision of what Shoreline Biome could be. They knew that George Weinstock, one of the world’s foremost experts in microbial genomics, had just arrived at The Jackson Laboratory’s new Connecticut research site. They reached out to Weinstock, who had been one of their customers at 454 Life Sciences, with an offer to collaborate. He not only agreed, he became their principal scientific advisor.

About the same time, Driscoll and Jarvie began exploring the possibility of renting space at UConn’s TIP in Farmington because of its proximity to people like Weinstock and Setlow.

“If you’re looking to start a bioscience company, in some parts of the state the cost for commercial space is going to be more than your will to live,” says Driscoll. “But here, the rent is graduated. So we were able stay here in the beginning for just a few hundred bucks a month.”

The pair also obtained $150,000 in pre-seed funding from Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public investment authority supporting innovative, growing companies; and a $500,000 equity investment from the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund or CBIF.

Along with the pre-seed investment funds, Connecticut Innovations’ experienced staff helped guide Driscoll and Jarvie through the early stages of business development and introduced them to the investment community. And, as part of the arrangement, CBIF member Patrick O’Neill sits on Shoreline Biome’s board. O’Neill’s business savvy has been crucial in helping the company achieve its early success, says Driscoll.

Unknown Unknowns

But Shoreline Biome’s good fortune isn’t limited to timely infusions of cash and access to outside investors – although both certainly help. The company also benefits from the internal camaraderie and technical expertise provided through UConn’s TIP.

Ryan Beach, research scientist, left, uses the kit to identify bacteria in 96 microbiome samples by pipetting liquids into the samples as part of the process. Mark Driscoll, right, holds a pipettor in his right hand and tubes of general laboratory reagents in his left. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)
Ryan Beach, research scientist, left, uses the kit to identify bacteria in 96 microbiome samples by pipetting liquids into the samples as part of the process. Mark Driscoll, right, holds a pipettor in his right hand and tubes of general laboratory reagents in his left. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

“If we were on our own in Wallingford or Branford, there would be no place to go to ask questions,” says Driscoll. “But inside this environment at TIP, you can wander around and just ask people. Companies that are ahead in the process are mentoring those just starting. They can help if you have questions about finding a patent attorney, or writing up a workplace hygiene plan, or getting business insurance. Even if they can’t give you an answer, chances are they know someone who can.”

As part of its services, UConn’s TIP holds monthly business meetings at its incubators where CEOs can exchange ideas, ask questions about anything from accounting practices to business law, and hear presentations from different state agencies and research departments at UConn that might help them.

“To channel Donald Rumsfeld, there are things that you know, things that you don’t know, and things that you don’t know you don’t know,” says Jarvie. “This environment is the type of place where you can find out what those unknown unknowns are and start to address them.”

Outside investors also are invited to visit with startups and learn more about them. The fact that CBIF had other scientists and business professionals screen and approve Shoreline Biome’s new technology and business plan prior to making its investment, bolsters the company’s standing with potential investors.

Using the TIP location also allowed Driscoll and Jarvie to save money on purchasing high-end lab equipment. When they need to run a DNA sequencing test on a bacteria sample, they just walk down the hall to a UConn researcher’s lab. Located in UConn’s Cell and Genome Sciences Building, the Farmington TIP shares space with the University’s Stem Cell Institute.

“We need certain types of equipment to process our samples and they have one of those up the hall,” Driscoll says. “They use it maybe once a day and the rest of the time it is sitting there. So we asked if we could use it for like five minutes a day and they said, ‘Sure, just pay us a little bit of money to help keep it maintained and we’ll let you do that.’ They get a little bit of cash in the door and we get access to a machine we couldn’t possibly buy ourselves.”

Tracking the Bad Guys

The lab kit Driscoll and Jarvie are currently testing is a low-cost, off-the-shelf tool that replaces hours of painstaking hands-on processing of patient samples for bacteria DNA testing. Rather than processing one sample at a time, the kit can extract dozens of DNA samples at once. It then identifies all of the good and bad bacteria species in those samples within minutes rather than taking hours or days. Its state-of-the-art sequencing technology allows users to see not only all of the different species of bacteria in a sample, but their subspecies as well. It represents a major step forward in the rapidly advancing field of microbiome diagnostics and research.

It’s about getting DNA out of the bacteria from a complicated environmental sample and doing that in a fast, cheap, and comprehensive way, explains Jarvie.

Researchers and medical professionals have previously relied on targeted testing and laboratory cultures to identify different bacteria strains. But many bacteria species are hard to grow in the lab, making identification and confirmation difficult. Even when scientists can confirm the presence of a bacteria such as salmonella in a patient sample, the findings are often limited, which can impact diagnosis and treatment.

“The DNA fingerprint region in a bacteria is about 1,500 bases long,” says Jarvie. “Most of the sequencing technologies out there are only getting a fraction of that, like 150 bases or 10 percent. It’s like relying on a small segment of a fingerprint as opposed to getting the entire fingerprint. You can’t really identify the organisms that well.”

Jarvie describes the difference this way. Say you are running tests for mammals on three different samples. Current sequencing technology would identify the samples as a primate, a canine, and a feline. With Shoreline Biome’s technology, the results are more definitive. They would say, “you have a howler monkey, a timber wolf, and a mountain lion.”

Tom Jarvie, CEO, left, and Mark Driscoll, CSO, discuss the manufacturing process for the kits. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)
Tom Jarvie, CEO, left, and Mark Driscoll, CSO, discuss the manufacturing process for the kits. The technology they hope to develop would be a low-cost, off-the-shelf tool that could extract dozens of DNA samples at once. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

That level of specificity is important to researchers and medical professionals studying or tracking a bacteria strain or disease. Driscoll says the kit is not limited to identifying harmful bacteria like salmonella, listeria, or MRSA. It also can assist researchers investigating the microbiome’s role in maintaining the so-called ‘good’ bacteria that keeps us healthy as well as its role in other ailments such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and even mental health disorders like schizophrenia.

For example, the kit easily lets a researcher compare 50 bacteria samples from individuals with multiple sclerosis and 50 samples from individuals who don’t have the disease to see whether the presence or absence of a particular bacteria in the microbiome plays a role in impacting the body’s nervous system.

“If you don’t make it cost-effective, if you don’t make it practical, people won’t do it,” says Driscoll. “It’s like going to the Moon. Sure, we can go to the Moon. But it takes a lot of time and money to build a rocket and get it ready. With our kit, all that stuff for the Moon shot is already pre-made. We provide the whole system right off the shelf. You don’t need to know how to extract DNA fingerprints, or use a DNA sequencer, or analyze DNA, all you have to do is buy our kit and turn the crank.”

As part of their product testing, Shoreline Biome is working with researchers at UConn Health and JAX to learn more about a particularly toxic and potentially fatal intestinal bacterium, Clostridium difficile, otherwise known as C. diff.

“People who track this disease, especially in hospitals where it is a problem, want to know how it gets in there,” says Driscoll. “Does it come from visitors? Does it come from doctors? You have all these spores floating around. You can answer that by looking at the bacteria’s genetics. But if you can’t get to the bacteria’s DNA, you can’t identify it.

“Our tool cracks open the microbes so you can get at their DNA and fingerprint the bugs to see what you have,” says Driscoll. “It lets people see everything. And we’ve simplified the software so you don’t have to be a skilled microbiologist to do it. A person in the lab can sit down and with just a few clicks, all of this stuff comes up and tells you these are the bad guys, the infectious organisms that are present, and these are the good guys.”

Deer in the Headlights

Initial product testing on Shoreline Biomes’ lab kit has exceeded expectations and the company is continuing to line up investors.

While their focus is certainly on growing Shoreline Biome, Driscoll and Jarvie also have come to appreciate Connecticut’s broader effort in building a strong bioscience research core to help drive the state’s economy. Providing scientist entrepreneurs with an affordable base of operations, working labs, access to high-end lab equipment, and a cadre of science peers ready to help, takes some of the pressure off when launching a new company.

“This is all part of a plan the governor and the legislature have put together to have this stuff here,” Driscoll says. “You can sit around and hope that companies form, or you can try to make your own luck. You set up a situation where you are likely to succeed by bringing in JAX, opening up a UConn TIP incubator across the street, and setting up funding. Is that going to start a company? Who knows? But then you have Tom and I, two scientists kicked loose from a company, and we notice there are all these things happening here. We could have left for California or gone to the Boston-Cambridge research corridor, but instead, we decided to stay in Connecticut.”

Mostafa Analoui, UConn’s executive director of venture development, including TIP, says the fact that two top scientists like Driscoll and Jarvie decided to stay in Connecticut speaks to the state’s highly skilled talent pool and growing innovation ecosystem.

“Instead of going to Boston or New York, they chose to stay in Connecticut, taking advantage of UConn’s TIP and other innovation programs provided by the state to grow their company, create jobs, and benefit society with their cutting-edge advances in microbiome research,” says Analoui.

As the state’s flagship university, UConn provides critical support to ventures at all stages of development, but it is especially important for startups, says Jeff Seemann, vice president for research at UConn and UConn Health.

When asked if they still have those moments of abject fear that they aren’t going to make it, Driscoll and Jarvie laugh.

“Every day is a deer-in-the-headlights moment,” says Driscoll. “Even when things are going well, it’s still a huge risk.”

Adds Jarvie, “It never goes away.”

But during a recent visit to the Shoreline Biome lab, both men are in good spirits. The company met the 12-month goals set in their CBIF funding agreement in just six months. For that effort, Driscoll and Jarvie received another $250,000 check, the second of their two CBIF payments.

In the world of business startups, however, there is little time for extended celebration. The two scientists mark the milestone with smiles and a fist bump, then turn around and get back to work.

TIP company to treat hearing loss by regenerating inner ear hair cells

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office
February 21, 2017

Within the inner ear, thousands of hair cells detect sound waves and translate them into nerve signals that allow us to hear speech, music, and other everyday sounds. Damage to these cells is one of the leading causes of hearing loss, which affects 48 million Americans.

Each of us is born with about 15,000 hair cells per ear, and once damaged, these cells cannot regrow. However, researchers at MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear have now discovered a combination of drugs that expands the population of progenitor cells (also called supporting cells) in the ear and induces them to become hair cells, offering a potential new way to treat hearing loss.

“Hearing loss is a real problem as people get older. It’s very much of an unmet need, and this is an entirely new approach,” says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and one of the senior authors of the study.

Jeffrey Karp, an associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School in Boston; and Albert Edge, a professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School based at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, are also senior authors of the paper, which appears in the Feb. 21 issue of Cell Reports.

Lead authors are Will McLean, a recent PhD recipient at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and Xiaolei Yin, an instructor at Brigham and Women’s and a research affiliate at the Koch Institute. Other authors are former MIT visiting student Lin Lu, Mass Eye and Ear postdoc Danielle Lenz, and Mass Eye and Ear research assistant Dalton McLean.

Cell regeneration

Noise exposure, aging, and some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs can lead to hair cell death. In some animals, those cells naturally regenerate, but not in humans.

The research team began investigating the possibility of regenerating hair cells during an earlier study on cells of the intestinal lining. In that study, published in 2013, Karp, Langer, Yin, and others reported that they could generate large quantities of immature intestinal cells and then stimulate them to differentiate, by exposing them to certain molecules.

During that study, the team became aware that cells that provide structural support in the cochlea express some of the same surface proteins as intestinal stem cells. The researchers decided to explore whether the same approach would work in those supporting cells.

They exposed cells from a mouse cochlea, grown in a lab dish, to molecules that stimulate the Wnt pathway, which makes the cells multiply rapidly.

“We used small molecules to activate the supporting cells so they become proliferative and can generate hair cells,” Yin says.

At the same time, to prevent the cells from differentiating too soon, the researchers also exposed the cells to molecules that activate another signaling pathway known as Notch.

Once they had a large pool of immature progenitor cells (about 2,000-fold greater than any previously reported), the researchers added another set of molecules that provoked the cells to differentiate into mature hair cells. This procedure generates about 60 times more mature hair cells than the technique that had previously worked the best, which uses growth factors to induce the supporting cochlea cells to become hair cells without first expanding the population.

The researchers found that their new approach also worked in an intact mouse cochlea removed from the body. In that experiment, the researchers did not need to add the second set of drugs because once the progenitor cells were formed, they were naturally exposed to signals that stimulated them to become mature hair cells.

“We only need to promote the proliferation of these supporting cells, and then the natural signaling cascade that exists in the body will drive a portion of those cells to become hair cells,” Karp says.

Easy administration

Because this treatment involves a simple drug exposure, the researchers believe it could be easy to administer it to human patients. They envision that the drugs could be injected into the middle ear, from which they would diffuse across a membrane into the inner ear. This type of injection is commonly performed to treat ear infections.

Some of the researchers have started a company called Frequency Therapeutics, which has licensed the MIT/BWH technology and plans to begin testing it in human patients within 18 months.

Jeffrey Holt, a professor of otolaryngology and neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, says this approach holds potential for treating hearing loss, if its safety and effectiveness can be demonstrated.

“The ability to promote proliferation of inner-ear stem cells and direct their maturation toward an auditory hair cell fate is an important advance that will accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and facilitate translation of regenerative medicine approaches for restoration of auditory function in patients with acquired hearing loss,” says Holt, who was not involved in the research.

The researchers also hope their work will help other scientists who study hearing loss.

“Drug discovery for the inner ear has been limited by the inability to acquire enough progenitor cells or sensory hair cells to explore drug targets and their effects on these cell types,” McLean says. “We hope that our work will serve as a useful tool for other scientists to more effectively pursue studies of supporting cells and hair cells for basic research and potential therapeutic solutions to hearing loss.”

Karp, Langer, and Yin are also working on applying this approach to other types of cells, including types of intestinal cells involved in insulin regulation and control of the gut microbiota.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the European Commission, the Harvard-MIT IDEA2 Award, the Shulsky Foundation, and Robert Boucai.

Small Molecule, Big Hope for Healing Advanced Heart Failure

February 21, 2017 – Kim Krieger – UConn Communications

Dr. Bruce Liang, center, reviews a patient's case with physicians from the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center. (Lanny Nagler for UConn Health Center)

Dr. Bruce Liang, center, reviews a patient’s case with physicians from the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center. (Lanny Nagler for UConn Health Center)

Heart failure is a big problem. But cardiologist Bruce Liang believes it could be fixed with a small molecule.

Liang’s startup, Cornovus Pharmaceuticals, is developing a new drug based on a small molecule that could save people in the advanced stages of heart failure, people who would otherwise worsen and die. The potential medicine has been found effective in mice and in dogs, and could soon be tested in humans. But first it needs to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an investigational drug.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and Europe have advanced heart failure but cannot, due to age or infirmity, get heart transplants or implants to help their hearts pump better. The outlook for these patients is grim. And for Liang, that’s unacceptable.

Liang is the dean of UConn’s medical school, but he’s also a researcher and practicing cardiologist. He became a cardiologist in part because of the immediate results it can give: a cardiologist can do a surgery that clears a clogged artery, or prescribe a drug that nudges blood pressure to a better level and give someone a brand new lease on life in just days. As a cardiologist, he’d like to be able to help even the sickest heart patients. He is constantly motivated by these sickest of patients, for whom a new medication is sorely needed.

So Liang, collaborating with National Institutes of Health (NIH) chemist Kenneth Jacobson, co-invented a potential new drug that may help even the most difficult cases of advanced heart failure. It has worked well in mice with heart failure conditions, and later in dogs, larger animals that are closer to human physiology. The drug seems to prevent heart cells from dying by affecting nitric oxide, a signaling molecule. And it does this without lowering blood pressure, which is a big disadvantage of similar drug candidates.

“That’s a big advantage, because that means if it’s true in humans with end-stage heart failure, you could go ahead and give it without worrying about dropping their blood pressure, which is a big no-no because they could die from low blood pressure,” Liang says. “To our knowledge, there’s not another drug out there in development that has this unique property.”

The new medication is a small molecule, which means it can be chemically manufactured (think of aspirin or penicillin) instead of having to be grown in a bacterial or animal cell (like insulin). Small molecules are easier to manufacture and potentially more affordable for patients than more complex drugs, and Liang’s new drug could potentially help many people. More than 500,000 people in Europe and the U.S. suffer from advanced heart failure that cannot be treated with surgery or other options. And less advanced disease affects more than five million people in those same regions.

But even small molecules need big money to become medicines. Cornovus has secured about $3.5 million in funding from Connecticut Innovations and from longtime UConn supporters Ray ’56 (CLAS) and Carole Neag. And the young company received critical early-stage support from UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research to seek patent protection and establish a startup. Cornovus rents space in UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) facility at UConn Health in Farmington.

Cornovus is also receiving funding for chemical manufacturing process development from the NIH through the Science Moving towArds Research Translation and Therapy (SMARTT) program. If all goes as planned, the company’s compound could get investigational new drug status from the FDA in summer 2018. With that in hand, they could start testing the drug in humans –  and hopefully someday soon, providing a better option for even the sickest heart patients.

Accelerate UConn Spring 2017 Winners Announced

Accelerate UConn, an NSF I-Corps Site to move technologies more quickly and successfully from the lab to the market

Accelerate UConn, an NSF I-Corps Site to move technologies more quickly and successfully from the lab to the market

Dr. Jeff Seemann, UConn/UConn Health Vice President for Research, and Dr. Timothy B. Folta, Professor of Management and Faculty Director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, are pleased to announce the teams selected to participate in the Spring cohort of Accelerate UConn, the University’s National Science Foundation I-Corps site. The following teams will receive special training and a $3,000 seed grant to help understand whether and how their technology might create customer value:

  • Dr. Abhishek Dutta, Ashwini Srishyla & Alexei Sondergeld (Faculty & Graduate Students), Drought Water Generator, School of Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Dr. Sandra Weller, Dr. Dennis Wright & Dr. Lorry Grady (Faculty & Postdoctoral Fellow), Small Molecule Inhibitors, Schools of Medicine & Pharmacy, Departments of Molecular Biology & Biophysics and Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Dong Yu & Susan Jacob (Graduate Students), High Rate BioGas Conditioning, School of Business, MBA Program
  • Katie Boyle (Faculty), Novel Underarm Scrub, Center for Public Health & Health Policy
  • Caseem Ward (Undergraduate Student), Project Mobo, School of Business
  • Dr. David Han, Dr. Poornima Hegde & Veneta Qendro (Faculty & Graduate Student), Therapeutic Antibodies for Triple Negative Breast Cancer, School of Medicine, Departments of Cell Biology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
  • Dr. George Lykotrafitis & Kostyantyn Partola (Faculty & Graduate Student) WBV Rheometer Project, School of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Dr. Rampi Ramprasad, Dr. Huan Tran, Chiho Kim & Arun Mannodi Kanakkithodi (Faculty, Postdoctoral Fellows & Graduate Student), Polymer Genome Project, Institute of Materials Science
  • Faizan Khan, Ishita Banerjee & Natalie Miccile (Undergraduate & Graduate Students), Dermatat, Schools of Medicine & Business, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Departments of Mathematics, Physics, Immunology and MBA Program

The program includes seven weeks of intensive training to evaluate their business ideas and conduct customer discovery activities.

In cases where a single faculty member or student was accepted into the program, the AU staff helped identify appropriate Academic or Entrepreneurial Leads or Industry Mentors to round out the team.

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) jointly operate Accelerate UConn (AU).  As an NSF I-Corps Site program, AU was formed to foster entrepreneurship resulting in technology commercialization.  I-Corps Sites are academic institutions that catalyze the engagement of multiple, local teams in technology transition and strengthen local innovation.

For more information about Accelerate UConn, visit www.accelerate.uconn.edu or email accelerateuconn@uconn.edu