MassBio® Welcomes 18 Principal Investigators to its MassCONNECT PI Summer and COVID-19 Cycles

Aug 14, 2020

Principal investigators were matched with experienced industry mentors to explore the path to commercialization for discoveries addressing numerous therapeutic areas and COVID-19

August 14, 2020 (CAMBRIDGE, MA) – The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio®) recently kicked off the summer and COVID-19 cycles of its MassCONNECT PI program, the only program in Massachusetts that is solely dedicated to serving the needs of Principal Investigators (PIs) in life sciences. After a pilot program in 2019, MassCONNECT PI was officially launched in March 2020 to support academic and industry collaborations and reduce the time between drug discovery and development.

“The MassCONNECT PI program is an excellent opportunity to receive valuable and honest feedback from industry experts who have been through the drug development and approval process,” said Vincent J. Venditto, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. “The mentors were well selected by the program to align with our technology as each had several years of experience in cardiovascular disease in their roles as scientists, consultants, and in venture capital firms. The guidance provided through this program has proven beneficial as we continue to consider commercialization and the contacts will prove beneficial throughout my career.”

The summer cycle of MassCONNECT PI opened with a webinar with RMG Associates to prepare the PIs for their mentoring discussions, as well as future partnering meetings. This cohort consists of 12 PIs from seven institutions, who were introduced to mentors via email. Representing Keene College, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Boston University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Tufts University, Harvard McLean Hospital, and the University of Kentucky, this cycle’s PIs are focused on oncology, mental health, infectious diseases, neurogenerative diseases, biomaterials/regenerative medicine/orthopedics, and cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.

In addition to the MassCONNECT PI Summer Cycle, MassBio also launched a new MassCONNECT PI cycle dedicated to PIs developing diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccine/drug delivery platforms to address the novel coronavirus. Eight principal investigators from Tufts University, University of Kentucky, LSU Health, UMass Medical School, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and NCI participated in this new cycle. Of the participating PIs, two have therapeutics that are clinical ready and can enter Phase I clinical trials for another indication but are being repurposed for COVID-19; and four have intellectual property or other degrees of protections for their discoveries.

Under the umbrella of MassBio’s MassCONNECT® program, MassCONNECT PI matches principal investigators with industry experts for mentorship as they explore the possibilities of commercializing their technologies. One PI is matched for two, one-hour meetings with two mentors for perspectives and guidance. Mentors are composed of subject matter experts and key opinion-leaders from MassBio’s renowned MassCONNECT network. RMG Associates is a supporter of both these MassCONNECT PI cycles.

“MassCONNECT PI can be defined as a MassBio program and a paragon of innovation,” said John Hallinan, Chief Business Officer, MassBio. “We seek to empower technology transfer and provide a voice to the scientists at academic medical centers and universities across the US. Patients don’t care where a therapy comes from and it was proven by these two cycles as it included 18 PI’s from nine institutions and five states.”

Learn more about the MassCONNECT PI program, here.

Quotes from MassCONNECT PI Participants:

Steven Borken, Boston University

“MassCONNECT PI warmed us up with a panel discussion from established entrepreneurs, then introduced our MassCONNECT PI mentors…The assignment of two project specific mentors rapidly identified the strengths and challenges of my project, injected new ideas and most importantly, generated a straight-line focus towards funding success. I am eternally grateful to MassBio for being energized by talented and passionate mentors with my translational project in mind. “

Robert Lodder, University of Kentucky

“I learned about the MassCONNECT PI program through the Office of Technology Commercialization at the University of Kentucky. I joined the program because you can never have too many friends in business.”

Louis Messina, UMass Memorial

“I saw MassBio’s call for new therapeutics to treat the COVID-19 pandemic. Many recent scientific publications on COVID-19 have revealed that COVID-19 is largely a “Blood Vessel Disease” But what is unusual, is that it primarily affects the microcirculation that includes very small arteries, veins and capillaries. The cells that line all blood vessels are called endothelial cells.  The microscopic study of the lung that showed that endothelial cells were either inflamed and/or infected by the SARS-Cov-2virus. Together, these pathological findings  are consistent “microvascular endothelial dysfunction”. All of the different causes of microvascular endothelial dysfunction ultimately reduce nitric oxide bioavailability. Normal nitric oxide bioavailability is essential for normal endothelial function that includes anti-inflammation, anti-thrombosis, and vasodilation. Microvascular dysfunction is responsible for the microscopic findings in the lungs of patients who have COVID-19. We have developed a multicomponent biologic that restores endothelial nitric oxide concentrations. Our goal is to prevent patients with mild or moderate symptoms of COVID-19 from escalating to severe life-threatening complications of COVID-19. The expertise of the mentors that MassBio has identified for me will provide the collective expertise necessary to bring our formulation to patients with COVID-19.”

Steven Munevar, Ph.D., M.B.A., Senior Business Development Manager/BRIDGE Fund, UMASS Medical School

“I am excited to be taking part in this program as I believe it will provide great insight and support toward the translation and commercialization of the research taking place at the medical school.”

Patrick E. Reed, RTTP, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Office of Innovation & Partnerships, LSU Health New Orleans

“We’re thrilled that one of our investigators is working with MassCONNECT.  As a smaller institution not on one of the two coasts, this program provides our innovators unique interactions with mentors and other thought leaders that we might not otherwise be able to facilitate.”

University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization

“The MassCONNECT PI program has an excellent value proposition that meets an unmet need.  Our researchers first get matched up with mentors, and have the opportunity to get feedback and guidance regarding their technologies from industry experts, entrepreneurs, and VCs.  Beyond that there is the potential that the mentors may offer introductions to other experts that could be of value.  At an even more fundamental level this program raises the awareness of the research conducted at the University of Kentucky and opens the door for possible future collaborations with industry.”

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