Connecticut will invest $10 million over three years to help academics translate their basic science research into clinical therapies.

The news was announced by Connecticut Innovations, a state-affiliated entity that invests in early-stage technologies and startups, on Thursday morning. The investment will fund PITCH, the Program in Innovative Therapeutics for Connecticut’s Health, an organization that plans to help university faculty move compounds from bench to bedside. The group, co-led by Yale chemistry professor Craig Crews and University of Connecticut professor Dennis Wright, will also serve as an accelerator for biopharma and biotech startups.

“This collaboration … will have a positive impact on the number of viable discoveries coming from our state,” Gov. Dannel Malloy wrote in a Thursday press release. “This type of project is why we support the work of the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund.”

Researchers at both universities have generated many compounds with promising therapeutic and commercial potential, Crews said. But future investors want to see not just data from petri dish experiments, but also data on drugs’ physiological effects. Those investors will not put their money in companies unless they have  confidence in the drugs’ safety and efficacy. That is where PITCH comes in, explained Crews, principal investigator of the program and executive director of the Yale Center for Molecular Discovery.

“There is a valley of death between basic drug research and its translation into clinical therapeutics,” said Crews, noting that PITCH will bridge that gap.

Yale and UConn are well-positioned to complement each other, said Wright, professor of medicinal chemistry at UConn and founder of two biopharmaceutical companies, Promiliad Biopharma and Synaptic Dynamics. 

UConn has protein production facilities and a strong medicinal chemistry department, while Yale has a strong chemistry department and a long track record of drug development, said Peter Farina, Executive in Residence at Venture Capital firm Canaan Partners and member of PITCH’s External Advisory Board.

“In my mind, this partnership is the most impressive aspect of PITCH,” Wright said. “This is an incredible opportunity to bring together our people and assets to streamline the drug discovery process and make a positive impact on Connecticut’s economy and healthcare.”

The PITCH team is also excited about helping faculty at the two universities get their own companies off the ground, said Crews, who has founded two biotech companies.

Connecticut has been fortunate to be home to big pharmaceutical companies over the past 40 to 50 years, said Susan Froshauer, president and CEO of CURE, Connecticut’s bioscience cluster. But more needs to be done to encourage the establishment of smaller companies developing a diverse range of new compounds, she said. Not all these companies will succeed, but the ones that do survive will help grow the state’s biotech industry, Froshauer said.

Farina said strong support from the state government has been essential to launching the program.

In a Wednesday night email, Connecticut Innovations Vice President Margaret Cartiera wrote that PITCH was an attractive project because of its potential to bring outside venture investment into Connecticut and to translate the state’s academic biomedical research into new ventures and jobs.   

“[S]upport for the PITCH initiative should have an immediate impact on the local academic bioscience community,” she said.

Over the next three years, PITCH plans to present at least eight pitches to the venture capital community to secure external investment to fund the new companies.