A look at opportunities and startups in healthcare innovation at Yale

Yale is ramping up opportunities in entrepreneurship focused on healthcare and life sciences this year, said Chris Loose, executive director of the new Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology (CBIT) a session held Nov. 13 as part of the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) Assembly LXXIV.

Loose led a discussion with two student founders who are developing their ventures.

Read more about the AYA Assembly LXXIV

Sean Mackay, CEO of IsoPlexis has raised $1.25M to date for his startup’s cell-decoding micro-device. The venture is built around technology developed by Rong Fan, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Yale, and is located in Branford, Connecticut. The team members at startup 109 Design are still building their business designing devices and a related app for scoliosis braces at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) where they participated in the YEI Fellowship program last summer. They recently received $100,000 from the YEI Innovation Fund and plan to have their first 100 devices ready by the end of the year.

Medical device design is one of the big initiatives that CBIT is pushing, according to Loose, who mentioned that their new “Medical Device Design” course had 65 students apply for just 20 slots. “We help clinicians identify unmet medical needs and then connect them with students, the School of Management (SOM), and business training,” he told the delegates. “We help clinicians identify unmet medical needs and then connect them with students, the School of Management (SOM), and business training,” he told the delegates.

Loose, who co-founded the company Semprus BioSciences while receiving his doctorate at MIT, talked about other steps CBIT has taken to expand opportunities for Yale faculty and students, including growing the number of mentors in the biomedical space to complement the more than 150 mentors in YEI’s Mentor Network. Of particular interest, he noted, are finding mentors who can help Yale biomedical founders navigate regulatory issues. The center also held a successful hackathon in October called Hacking Health @ Yale that produced 10 prototype medical devices by the end of the weekend. They are planning another hackathon for the spring with a focus on digital health. And they are building a network with design houses around the state that can help with device manufacture and are helping to administer awards (in $1,500 and $50,000 amounts) from the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation for projects in this space as a YCCI Emerging Core.

Mackay noted that he’s seen incredible opportunities open up since he came through Yale as an SOM student determined to start a healthcare business. Mackay was connected with Fan through the Technology Commercialization Program run by YEI and the Office of Cooperative Research; and his company licenses Fan’s technology via OCR. They went through several hypotheses before finding the right niche for their single-cell immunoassay — cancer immunotherapies. Their device helps researchers measure complex reactions to cancer drugs. His Yale connections have been essential, Mackay says. “All our investor base has some Yale affiliation,” he notes. “Healthcare is not easy — there’s hardware; there are regulatory concerns. We’ve been helped through all of that by our Yale mentors.”

Levi DeLuke ’14, who co-founded 109 Design with Sebastian Monzon ’14 and Ellen Su ’13, spoke about his startup’s wearable health technology, which tracks how long and how tightly a brace is worn by scoliosis patients. It’s essentially a “smart strap” he said, and it is paired with a smartphone app that lets patients, parents, and doctors easily track brace data. Parents can even provide rewards for kids’ compliance via the app. DeLuke mentioned that having a team with diverse backgrounds was essential for developing the startup, which came through a summer fellowship at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design before applying to YEI.

DeLuke said he never planned to be an entrepreneur. “I wasn’t planning to start a company — I wanted to be an engineer,” he said. “But then I started working on a project and realized that the things I was learning in class could have real applications.”

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