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Yale chosen to train scientists in entrepreneurship to accelerate their impact on the U.S. drug crisis

October 02, 2017

An interdisciplinary team at Yale will train substance abuse researchers from across the country in entrepreneurship beginning next Spring.

The training program, funded with a $1.25 million grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is called Innovation to Impact: Translation Support and Education. It will offer a free 5-day bootcamp on entrepreneurship and product development, virtual office hours to access an extensive network of new venture mentors, seed funding for new ventures, and training in how to promote a culture of entrepreneurship locally.

Approximately 20.8 million Americans have a substance use disorder, according to a national survey on drug use and health. To prevent and treat these disorders, researchers have developed scientific innovations. However, many innovations do not reach the public because scientists often do not have formal training in how to commercialize their innovations.

The training program at Yale aims to increase the reach and impact of scientific innovations by providing this much-needed training.

The program is open to any researcher in the country who is interested in substance use innovations. Participants will be students, trainees (e.g., postdoctoral fellows) and faculty who are curious about how business principles might help increase the reach of their research innovations.

The training program will recruit researchers focused on basic science, epidemiology, prevention, treatment, and policy. The program will support innovations that can impact any aspect of the substance use field (e.g., pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, biomedical devices, software, health services, app development, behavioral interventions).

The training program will be led by two Yale faculty members, Seth Feuerstein, MD, JD (Program Director/Principal Investigator) and Patricia Simon, PhD (Program Director). Feuerstein, is in the Department of Psychiatry and is a successful entrepreneur, executive, inventor and investor who has successfully commercialized research-based innovations in several fields ranging from biotechnology to health software. He is Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Medical Officer of Medical and Digital Innovation at Magellan Healthcare, a position he assumed after Magellan acquired a health IT company he started, ran and built into the leading digital therapeutics platform for a variety of behavioral and medical conditions including apps and software programs for substance use disorders, insomnia, depression, panic attacks, OCD and phobias.

Simon, also in the Department of Psychiatry, studied entrepreneurship at Duke University and conducted consumer market research for Proctor and Gamble’s CoverGirl and MaxFactor brands prior to beginning her career as an addiction researcher. Over the past decade, Simon has built a research program that focuses on identifying risk and protective factors for substance use and developing substance abuse prevention and treatment programs. At Yale, she teaches a seminar on developing products that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) in mental and behavioral health care, with a special emphasis on addiction. The session draws upon her experience working with startups in this space through her consulting firm, The PsychAI.

“It is incredibly exciting to see the foresight the NIDA has in funding this program and rewarding to be able to spend time sharing the experiences and lessons I have been able to learn through my good fortune,” Feuerstein said. “The training I received at Yale and relationships I have built in different areas of the university paved the way for me including the work I am fortunate to do at Magellan which is an incredibly innovative healthcare company in how it is leveraging technology to innovate. I am looking forward to working with this amazing team to share these lessons with others.”

“The inspiration to write this grant came from my experiences as a scientist,” Simon said. “I observed that there are many scientific innovations that have the potential to reduce suffering from substance use disorders, but it takes a long time for these innovations to reach the market. Given the nation’s current drug use crisis, every second we wait to get these innovations to market is a second too late.”

In addition to Feuerstein and Simon, the program’s executive committee includes Erika R. Smith, MBA; Janie Merkel, PhD; Richard Hunt, MBA; Joanne Richardson, BS; and Kristin Budde, MD, who have led startups and/or innovation support at Yale for many years. Training program faculty include leaders from venture capital, industry, and academia. The team has played a key role in supporting the 160+ Yale associated businesses that have raised over $150 million in venture capital. Companies that have emerged from the Yale ecosystem include Koolltan Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Tummy Zen.

The NIDA grant is a prestigious honor for the university. After a national competition, only one such five-year award was made by NIDA, whose mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction, and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health.

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Submitted by Christopher Gardner on October 02, 2017