Nine Yale faculty members with promising biotech ideas have won a total of $1.6 million in research grants from the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale. The grants are intended to support life-sciences entrepreneurship at Yale and bridge the gap, sometimes called the “valley of death,” between federal grants for basic research and industry dollars for technologies with commercial potential.

“There’s venture capital and there’s industry support as things get more advanced, but there is a big gap to do validation testing and getting to what we call key inflection points, where industry and venture folks are going to be excited about something,” said Erika R. Smith, M.B.A., who at the time was director of the fund. “Funding is needed to take [a discovery] from basic research to where that engagement happens.”

This year’s competition drew 60 entries from faculty across the university. Launched in 2016, the $10 million fund is supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and managed by the Yale Office of Cooperative Research.

Yale President Peter Salovey, Ph.D. ’86, announced the eight winning projects from a pool of 17 finalists at the fourth annual Yale Innovation Summit on May 10. An innovative sunscreen technology and novel treatments for diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease are among the early-stage Yale discoveries the Blavatnik board selected for awards.

“What we were looking for was a mix of programs that collectively would be likely to give rise to some longer-term successes,” said Fred E. Cohen, M.D., D.Phil., a co-founder of TPG Biotechnology, who chaired the fund’s Investment Advisory Board. The board comprises biopharmaceutical executives and life sciences investors.

In choosing the winners, the board assembled a portfolio of diverse technologies and risk levels, including diagnostics and treatments; cancer, fibrosis, and metabolic indications; and earlier and later phases. Cohen explained that the fund is also intended to help spread a culture of commercially viable innovation at Yale.

“If the goal is really to change medical practice,” Cohen said, “then you’ve got to figure out ways to take your most interesting ideas and drive them in a direction that could ultimately be commercially relevant. “[I’d] love to see [the Blavatnik Fund] be a catalyst for a handful of ideas that do get funded—whether they end up going into existing companies or becoming the nidus for the formation of new companies,” he added.

Innovation Fund Awards

Winners of $300,000 Development Grants:

Anton M. Bennett, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and of comparative medicine, for 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 percent of all deaths in the developed world.

Alanna Schepartz, Ph.D., Milton Harris ’29, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry and professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, for a technology for trafficking diverse protein materials into the cytosol and nucleus with high efficiency and intact form to deliver personalized therapeutics.

Stephen M. Strittmatter, M.D., Ph.D., the Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology and professor of neuroscience, for developing select inhibitors to slow, halt, or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

Andrew Xiao, Ph.D., assistant professor of genetics, for developing therapeutics around a novel epigenetic mechanism aimed at end-stage tumors that are resistant to standard therapies.

Winners of $100,000 Pilot Grants:

Elliott Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology and of biomedical imaging, for 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 D. Miranker, Ph.D., professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, for 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 beta-cell health.

Anna Marie Pyle, Ph.D., the William Edward Gilbert Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and professor of chemistry, for developing a proprietary class of molecules to be used as tumor vaccines.

W. Mark Saltzman, Ph.D., the Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemical and Environmental Engineering and Physiology, and Michael Girardi, M.D., professor of dermatology, for a multi-functional bioadhesive nanoparticle platform that has the potential to revolutionize the suncare industry.