October 28, 2020

Baker-Polito Administration Announces Awards for Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Initiative for Women Entrepreneurs

Six women-led, early-stage life sciences companies selected to receive non-dilutive capital and access to executive coaching network

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) announced the 2020 winners for the MLSC’s Massachusetts Next Generation Initiative (MassNextGen), a competitive program to support women entrepreneurs in early-stage life sciences companies. Six companies will receive more than $85,400 in funding and access to a network of executive coaches for a year. For this funding year, the MLSC and the program’s industry sponsors contributed $512,500 in funding for awards. Since inception, including this year’s awards, the MLSC has deployed more than $1 million in funding for women entrepreneurs through MassNextGen with an executive coaching network providing 200-plus hours of coaching.

“This dynamic group of entrepreneurs and the companies they lead are an essential pillar of our innovative and thriving life sciences sector,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “The Baker-Polito Administration is committed to providing the tools and other resources to ensure the success of women at all levels in our innovation economy, with a hyper-focus on STEM-oriented fields.”

MassNextGen is a five year, more than $2 million commitment to ensure greater gender parity in the next generation of life science entrepreneurs. Each year, following a competitive program, the MLSC awards women-led early-stage life science companies a yearlong customized package of support, which includes non-dilutive grant funding and access to a network of seasoned Executive Coaches from the life sciences ecosystem to refine their business strategies and effectively raise capital. Lt. Governor Polito formally announced the 2020 awardees via a celebratory video message.

“The Life Sciences Center continues to play a unique role in developing and executing new strategies to address persistent unfairness toward female entrepreneurs in this vital industry,” said Massachusetts Housing & Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as Co-Chair of the MLSC Board of Directors. “Producing a more diverse workforce and empowering more women entrepreneurs is essential for Massachusetts to retain its global leadership in the life sciences industry.”

“Ensuring women have equal representation will further accelerate the output of innovative ideas and developments in this thriving sector,” said Secretary for Administration and Finance Michael J. Heffernan, who serves as Co-Chair of the MLSC Board of Directors. “Supporting a strong and diverse environment of early-stage companies is a smart business strategy and consistent with the Baker-Polito  Administration’s robust commitment to attract and retain top talent in Massachusetts.”

The six women-led companies selected as awardees through the third year of the MassNextGen program represent a wide range of applications to improve human health. This year’s awardees are:

Axonis, Inc.
MassNextGen Entrepreneur: Joanna Stanicka, CEO
Advancing breakthrough drug discoveries to develop groundbreaking therapies for spinal cord injury and other currently incurable neurological disorders, making a real difference for patients, their families, and the global healthcare system

MassNextGen Entrepreneur: Natalie Artzi, Co-Founder and CEO
Aiming to transform the field of surgical and topical adhesive materials with a family of proprietary internal, external and reversible adhesive materials that reacts in a graded manner with each tissue as a function of type and state to provide adequate adhesion while maintaining biocompatibility

Ernest Pharmaceuticals
MassNextGen Entrepreneur: Nele van Dessel, Co-Founder and CEO
The vision of Ernest Pharmaceuticals is to create a new bacterial toolbox for cancer therapies that will increase translation of cutting-edge discoveries in fundamental cancer research into clinical treatments. Ernest Pharmaceuticals’ focus will be on tumors with low survival rates, such as liver, pancreas, ovarian and metastatic breast cancer. For these patients, very few therapeutic possibilities exist that greatly improve overall survival time. Bacterial cancer therapies have the potential to change these high mortality rates and to make a significant impact in the lives of patients that have exhausted all treatment options.

New Equilibrium Biosciences
MassNextGen Entrepreneur:Virginia Burger, Co-Founder and CEO
Building a computational-experimental platform that will empower the discovery of drugs targeting a class of proteins implicated in most cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, but for which no drugs have been successfully developed

PionEar Technologies
MassNextGen Entrepreneur: Ida Pavlichenko, CEO, President, and Co-Founder
Developing a new generation of fluid-guiding, and biocontamination-resistant medical conduits (e.g. tubes and shunts) that can be customized to address the need for more efficacious drug delivery or drainage of biological fluids in different parts of the human body. PionEar’s first product is a bioinspired tympanostomy tube (also known as an ear tube) that allows antibiotic drops to penetrate the middle ear more efficiently than existing tubes for a more effective resolution of infection and reduces the risk of unnecessary revision surgeries and complications.

Seaspire (J&J Awardee)
MassNextGen Entrepreneur: Camille Martin, CEO
Pioneering a new category of multifunctional materials utilizing the  bio-inspired, patent-pending, natural ingredient Xanthochrome® to combat negative health implications associated with environmental pollution.

“Now more than ever, the sustaining of the Massachusetts’ leadership post in the life sciences requires an increased sense of urgency for a more diverse workforce which empowers more women in the field,” said MLSC interim President and CEO Damon Cox. “Women are essential members of an innovative and thriving ecosystem and the MLSC remains committed to providing the tools necessary in order for them to succeed, thereby providing an opportunity for Massachusetts to gain a competitive advantage by having women equally represented.”

Increasing the number of successful entrepreneurs is in the best interest of the entire life science industry and as such, this initiative is a public-private partnership between the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Sanofi, King Street Properties, and the initiative’s initial corporate sponsor, Takeda.

“As one of the inaugural sponsors of the MassNextGen Initiative, Takeda is honored to partner with the MLSC and the Baker-Polito administration on this important program,” said Ramona Sequeira, President of Takeda’s US Business Unit and Global Portfolio Commercialization. “Women bring unique ideas and experiences to the entrepreneurial process and this diversity is critical for driving access to innovative medicines and care, supporting patients, and addressing health disparities in our communities.”

“At Sanofi we have a long, and proud, history of Community Engagement in the areas of health equity, STEM education, inclusion and diversity, and community needs,” said Rachel Sha, Vice President, Digital Strategy and Governance at Sanofi. “We believe that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to thrive, to be healthy and to be part of a flourishing community. We are proud to support MassNextGen in its efforts to empower female entrepreneurs in Massachusetts. Now, more than ever, we all have a responsibility to step up to bring about meaningful change.”

“We are more committed than ever to providing support to the life science economy in Massachusetts,” said King Street Properties Principal Steve Lynch on behalf of himself and his co-Principal Tom Ragno. “MassNextGen’s focus on inclusiveness and entrepreneurship matches perfectly with our own corporate values and the times we live in. Harnessing the full potential of women in the life science community has never been more important.”

This past September, the MLSC announced Johnson & Johnson Innovation as the newest sponsor for MassNextGen. The funding provided to the public-private strategic partnership allows Johnson & Johnson Innovation to define a “J&J Awardee” of which Seaspire was selected to participate.

Now with 16 companies in its portfolio, MassNextGen continues toward its goal of shifting the paradigm to build a diverse ecosystem with equal representation. As MassNextGen Entrepreneurs and their respective teams work toward new innovative therapeutics and products for patients, MLSC funding and executive coaching mentorship have proven invaluable for these women entrepreneurs in building their teams and progressing forward with new opportunities. First-year awardee Olaris closed its Series A funding round in September 2019, now employing a team of seven. Fellow first-year awardee, Reveal Pharmaceuticals received a Fast-Track Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the National Cancer Institute. Second-year awardee Envision Endoscopy completed critical prototyping, while also receiving SBIR funding. Additionally second-year awardees, PhagePro and LivOnyx, were able to make critical hires, while Lucy Therapeutics received a Golden Ticket at LabCentral and See Yourself Health has executed key partnerships putting them in a better position to add to customers and partners.

The announcement of the 2020 MassNextGen awardees follows a series of announcements and new program rounds from the MLSC related to capital programming, its Seed Fund, and most recently the launch of a new $3.6 million funding initiative, Accelerating Coronavirus Testing Solutions (A.C.T.S.), to increase testing capacity and address gaps that currently exist in coronavirus testing.