Yale News: Amy Xiong, October 4, 2017
Innovation fund enters second year
Entering its second year, the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale will continue to support faculty researchers to bridge the gap between early-stage life science research and the successful development of biomedical products.
Supported by a grant from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and administered by the Yale Office of Cooperative Research, the fund identifies innovative research by Yale faculty members and provides guidance and grants for the projects. By providing mentorship from outside investors and bioscience industry members, the fund helps faculty members attract interest in their projects from pharmaceutical companies and venture capital investors.
“There absolutely remains a need for a program like this — there are so many fundamental discoveries Yale researchers are making that are new and cutting-edge, and the fund can offer them unprecedented access to industry and venture capital investors,” said William Wiesler, the director of the fund and the OCR’s director of new ventures.
In its first year, the fund granted eight awards to Yale researchers, who received either a pilot grant of $100,000 or a development grant of $300,000.
More than 60 initial proposals were submitted, and eight of those applicants ultimately received grants from the fund, according to Wiesler. The review board that made those decisions is composed of individuals with different areas of expertise in the pharmaceutical sciences industry, including venture capital investors as well as pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
Anton Bennett, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine and one of the development grant winners, said the Blavatnik Fund is an extremely valuable resource for research funding, which is often very difficult to obtain from the government.
Bennett said the National Institutes of Health provides little funding for the commercialization of research and is largely focused on basic research. By contrast, the fund provides money to do the applied research that attracts interest from the industry, according to Wiesler.
“These experiments wouldn’t necessarily be considered revolutionary to the field, but they are critical experiments that are absolutely required in order to get your idea to market and commercialization,” Bennett said.
The initiative also aims to bridge the gap between basic scientific discovery and marketable product: Award recipients receive support from outside mentors to understand what companies and investors are looking for.
The fund provides industry feedback about recipients’ projects, such as remaining steps that the researchers should take before investors will invest in the project. The fund has made hundreds of introductions between faculty members and industry representatives, Wiesler said, and this exposure helps the researchers extend scientific projects and find commercial partners.
“There are many ongoing discussions right now between Yale researchers and pharmaceutical companies or venture capital investors that wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for all of the introductions that were made in the process of developing these proposals,” Wiesler said.
Through the fund, Bennett said, he collaborated with Erika Smith, the director of the fund at the time, and with a venture capital investor. He received guidance on how to move his proposal in a more entrepreneurial direction and to attract greater commercial interest.
Looking forward, Wiesler said, the fund hopes that the inaugural recipients will enjoy continued success in their projects and looks forward to hearing about new deals between the researchers and industry partners.
“We’re very eager to get even more applications this year and to get more Yale faculty [members] and researchers engaged with the process,” he said.
The Blavatnik Fund will hold information sessions at the medical school on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10.