Four Life Sciences Startups Chosen To Participate In New Cycle Of MassBio’s Massconnect Mentorship Program

New class includes entrepreneurs working to predict therapeutic response, harness the microbiota, non-invasively monitor white cell counts, and revolutionize drug encapsulation.

(CAMBRIDGE, MA) — Life sciences startup companies working to predict therapeutic response, harness the microbiota, non-invasively monitor white cell counts, and revolutionize drug encapsulation have been chosen for a new cycle of MassBio’s MassCONNECT® mentorship program. This MassCONNECT® cycle is being sponsored by Foley Hoag.

MassCONNECT®, the only entrepreneur mentorship program in Massachusetts that dives deep into the life sciences industry, kicked off its second cycle of 2017 with a Technology Showcase today. At the Showcase, the four chosen entrepreneurs presented their ideas to a room of industry executives and potential mentors for early feedback. Afterwards, each entrepreneur was matched with mentor teams that possess expertise specific to the entrepreneurs’ objectives and business needs. The entrepreneurs will receive coaching from these mentors over a two-month period before presenting in a final session in front of potential investors and partners.

"Foley Hoag is a proud supporter of MassCONNECT® and its mentoring initiatives," said Foley Hoag attorney Karen Tepichin. "We are committed to working with entrepreneurs at all stages of development, and look forward to what this cycle's teams have in store."

“We launched the MassCONNECT program to fill the gap for entrepreneurs stranded in the Valley of Death between academia and industry,” said John Hallinan, Chief Business Officer at MassBio. “This new class of entrepreneurs brings an array of pioneering ideas to the table and we’re excited to help them launch and grow.”

“MassCONNECT owes its success to the incomparable local life sciences community,” said Anna Christo, Director of Innovation Services at MassBio. “Our network of dedicated mentors, partner organizations, and the generous support of sponsors like Foley Hoag enable us to make a tangible difference for these promising entrepreneurs. We are excited to continue to grow the MassCONNECT community with this new cohort of mentees.”

About the Four MassCONNECT® Mentees

BIDMC NewCo: Establishing novel and personalized therapies in inflammatory bowel disease by using ex-vivo treatments of patient mucosal explants

Investors/Investigators/Co-founders: Efi Kokkotou, MD/PhD

Overview: We have established a novel methodology for candidate drug evaluation in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The technology (TheRPA-Therapeutic Response Predictor Assay) is based on ex-vivo treatment of patient-derived tissue and the assay performance has been validated using anti-TNF, a standard of care therapy for IBD (assay sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy 85-90%). The established functional screening platform for drug effectiveness can be used to a) select the best therapeutic option available for a given patient (tailored therapies) ; b) proof-of-concept and mechanistic studies in preclinical drug evaluation with relevance to human disease; c) select the best performing drug among several candidates for further clinical development; d) inform the design of early clinical trials (phase II) in terms of anticipated response rates and providing a screening tool for patient selection prior to enrollment (precision medicine); e) a companion diagnostic

Application: Drug development and evaluation in the area of inflammatory diseases or cancer; personalized patient care

Harvard NewCo: Harnessing the microbiota to treat inflammatory diseases

Inventors/Investigators/Co-founders: Neil Surana, M.D., Ph.D., Dennis Kasper, M.D.

Overview: It is clear that numerous diseases are associated with changes in the microbiota, the commensal organisms that live symbiotically with the host. Given the crucial role that these organisms play in maintaining host physiology, there have been concerted efforts to identify specific bacteria that can protect against inflammatory diseases. We have developed a discovery platform for identifying a broad array of immunomodulatory commensals by coupling gnotobiotic mice that harbor different microbiotas and a novel approach of microbial pedigree analysis. Our first asset that has arisen from this platform is a new bacterial species with an attractive IP position that confers robust protection in a murine model of inflammatory bowel disease through a novel mechanism. We have also identified other bacteria that are promising leads in the anti-infective space. Ultimately, we aim to develop clinically useful probiotics as well as identify the specific bacterial factors that confer protection for more classic drug development.

Application: microbiome-based therapeutics; immunomodulators; autoimmune, inflammatory, and infectious diseases

Leuko Labs: Non-invasive white cell counts to improve chemotherapy treatments

Inventors/Investigators/Co-founders: Carlos Castro-Gonzalez, PhD; Ian Butterworth, MSc; Aurelien Bourquard, PhD; Alvaro Sanchez-Ferro, MD.

Overview: Leuko Labs is developing the first medical device to non-invasively measure white blood cell (WBC) concentrations and WBC differential. Assessment of WBC is necessary for the management of various medical conditions, such as the treatment of cancer with cytotoxic chemotherapy and serious infections with anti-infectives. There have been no advances in the assessment of WBCs in decades. We have re-imagined WBC testing without the need for blood draws by means of a mobile phone-sized portable device utilizing innovative optics. The initial focus will be on the hematology – oncology market in the U.S.; once proof-of-concept and the value of our technology is demonstrated in patients with cancer, additional opportunities will be explored.

Application: Diagnostic medical device; chemotherapy monitoring; companion device for immunosuppressant drugs.

Wyss Institute NewCo: Enabling encapsulation and delivery of sensitive biopharmaceutical therapies

Inventors/Investigators/Co-Founders: Daniele Foresti, PhD, Armand Kurum, MSc, Jennifer Lewis, ScD

Overview: Biopharmaceutical therapies are disrupting the drug industry by achieving unchallenged specificity and potency. These novel drugs are based on large molecular compounds, presenting significant delivery challenges due to their intrinsic high viscosity and susceptibility to degradation. Despite strong efforts at the formulation stage to decrease the viscosity of these compounds, highly invasive and costly intravenous injections still represent the gold standard. Encapsulating the drug into a low viscosity, microparticle-based solution represents a promising alternative delivery method (subcutaneous delivery), while also providing the possibility for controlled drug release. Nonetheless, there is currently a lack of a robust manufacturing technology capable of processing high viscosity biopharmaceutical drugs for the manufacturing of microparticles. Wyss Institute NewCo has developed a unique technology to handle and process large molecules, enabling the encapsulation of highly viscous formulations in a microparticulate form. The unchallenged control over the size, structure, and material of the microparticulate system enables Wyss Institute NewCo to specifically tailor the biopharmaceutical drug dosage to specific patient’s needs. Wyss Institute NewCo will disrupt the current biopharmaceutical delivery market, enabling new opportunities for encapsulation of biopharmaceutical drugs, reducing costly Research and Development, and increasing medical adherence. Remarkably, our technology, owing to its high versatility, also has the potential to pave new ways in complementary pharmaceutical research and production areas, such as precise fluid dispensing, high throughput screening, and additive manufacturing of drug dosages.

Application: Delivery of biopharmaceutical drugs, small molecules, high throughput screening, additive manufacturing


MassBio’s MassCONNECT® program is the only entrepreneur mentorship program in Massachusetts that dives deep into the life sciences. MassCONNECT® matches entrepreneurs and founders with seasoned life sciences professionals to catalyze and commercialize innovation. The MassCONNECT® process involves a two-month mentorship where industry experts guide entrepreneurs as they seek to develop business plans, launch companies, and raise capital. MassCONNECT® mentors evaluate and provide feedback on commercial feasibility; identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; and team up to furnish industry-specific business advice for innovative ideas in therapeutics, diagnostics, medical devices and health IT. Entrepreneurs gain invaluable advice and coaching on defining value proposition, developing pitches and building professional networks. For more information, or to apply to be a mentor, mentee or MBA project manager, visit

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