Four Faculty Members Win Cash Prizes at OCR’s Pitchfest

New Haven, CT (Dec.  19, 2018) –– Four faculty members took home cash prize awards on Dec. 12, after a full day of pitching their lifesciences projects at Pitchfest, hosted by the Office of Cooperative Research.
A panel of judges and industry partners reviewed and assessed 31 presentations throughout the day and awarded prizes to Drs. Alanna Schepartz, Paul Turner and John Deacon in the amount of $1,000 and Dr. Anna Pyle $1,500 for hers.  
Dr. Schepartz, Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, took home the award for Most Innovative Breakthrough for her pitch on moving therapeutic proteins into the cytosol and nucleus.
“Even though it has been known for 50 years that positively change materials are taken up by the cell in a process known as endocytosis, no one has figured out the key to unlocking the endosomes so that the materials that are found within can reach the cytosol and nucleus and traffic to other organelles where they can mediate their biological effects,” Schepartz said during her pitch.
Her team, she said, has discovered that key. Schepartz is a two-time Blavatnik awardee and intends to continue her research to further the development of her company Exolva Therapeutics which is working to hijack endocytosis to deliver better medicines. Her work has a range of applications in research and in therapeutics.
The Highest Potential Impact award went to Dr. Turner, whose work on phage therapy has been featured on Netflix and Buzzfeed. Turner’s pitch, entitled ‘Developing Phages as Evolution-proof Therapies Against Drug-resistant Bacteria’ offered a solution to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance illnesses and diseases.
“The problem is a very familiar one,” Turner said during his pitch. “There’s been a lot of investment in antibiotics, but they widely fail. Through time, you use these drugs, they fail and it’s a never-ending battle.”
Since antibiotic discovery isn’t keeping up with bacterial evolution, Turner said his research, which is discovering and developing antibiotic phages that are evolution proof, has the potential to save lives and change the course of treatment for antibacterial resistance illnesses.
Dr. Deacon’s pitch on improving small molecule therapy through targeted drug delivery to solid tumors was recognized as the best presentation of the day. Deacon said his research efforts continue to challenge the traditional paradigm of drug design in oncology.
Deacon’s technology targets oncology drugs to solid tumors, dramatically improving the effectiveness and safety of often toxic therapies.  His company, Cytosolix, was founded in 2017, with the vision of bringing his technology to the clinic and revolutionizing drug design in oncology.
His participation in Pitchfest was, in part in pursuit of securing seed investment to begin research operations at Cytosolix.  He aims to complete proof-of-concept studies and raise a Series A round to support clinical development in 2019.
For the final and largest award, the judges selected Dr. Pyle’s pitch on nontoxic antifungals that target RNA as Most Valuable Pitch
View Pyle’s pitch here:
“I’m very grateful to the OCR and to the event participants for highlighting the exciting innovation environment at Yale.  I also really enjoyed listening to the pitches and hearing about the creative work being done by my Yale colleagues - it made me very glad to be part of this community.”
Though four faculty members were selected for awards at Pitchfest, all 31 pitch participants as well as a number of poster presenters are being considered for up to $300k in funding from the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale. Finalist for the Blavatnik Fund will be selected and informed in January and will advance to the Innovation Summit, scheduled for May 8, 2019.
By: Mercy A. Quaye