CT’s Senator Chris Murphy: Fighting the Good Fight

Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

By Ken Liebeskind

Thanks to Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy, innovation has a bright spot among the news.

Earlier this month, the senator launched “Murphy’s Innovator of the Month”: a series created to recognize outstanding Connecticut entrepreneurs or innovators on a regular basis.

“This recognition will allow [honorees] to get more publicity, educate residents on how important the tech sector is and support policies that will help them prosper,” Senator Murphy told us.

The first recipient of the “Innovator of the Month” title is IsoPlexis, a biotech startup founded in 2013 by Rong Fan, a professor of biomedical engineering at Yale University, and Sean Mackay, a graduate student studying business at Yale.

“IsoPlexis is part of the growing biotech industry in and around New Haven, and Yale is a tremendous engine of economic growth,” Murphy said. “The company sprang forth from Yale and got help from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) to do lifesaving research that will grow hundreds of jobs in Connecticut.”

Rong Fan (L), a Yale professor of biomedical engineering, and Sean Mackay (R), a Yale graduate business student.

Rong Fan (L), a Yale professor of biomedical engineering, and Sean Mackay (R), a Yale graduate business student.

IsoPlexis, headquartered in Branford and composed of 22 employees, is developing a technology based on Fan’s research that measures a broad spectrum of protein secretions in cancer cells that will assist in the treatment of cancer.

So, like, important stuff. We asked for some more details.

“The tech is a system on a chip no larger than the palm of a hand, which can be used to screen patient immune system cells and identify which patients will respond to certain cancer therapies,” Mackay explained. “Some therapies don’t get a high response rate, and this technology helps solve that problem by developing a more personalized solution so we know who will respond to the therapies and it can be used for different types of cancer, including melanoma, lymphoma and brain cancer.”

It comes as no surprise that IsoPlexis is another startup with YEI ties—it’s a common denominator among successful New Haven endeavors. “YEI provided access to a network of Yale alumni and venture capitalists to help us in our first financing round,” Mackay said. “We raised over $1 million from the first investors and Yale and since then $10 million.”

Why is Senator Murphy so invested in innovation? We had to ask.

As a senator, he sponsors legislation that helps companies like IsoPlexis grow. He currently sponsors two bipartisan bills to incentivize angel investors to put more money into startups. “I’ve been a champion of angel investment,” he said. “Most startups get money from angel investors who give money to people with ideas. I introduced two pieces of legislation, one passed the House and I will introduce it to the Senate shortly.”

This specific angel investor legislation is part of Murphy’s overall agenda that will help local tech startups. “IsoPlexis will grow with workforce policies that make it easier for people to get through college and smart tax policies that support research,” he said.

Fan and Mackay are definitely onto something big with IsoPlexis. The company, after all, has already received four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

That ought to make Senator Murphy proud, as he is an avid supporter of NIH funding. “It’s critical to biotech startups and leads companies to spin off and grow,” he said. “We got a major increase of $2 billion in NIH funding when the last budget was passed in 2015.”

IsoPlexis uses its laboratory and office space in Branford to continue developing its cancer research into a product that will be used by the healthcare industry. “When you start a life sciences company, research and development are first,” Mackay said. “Now we are in the process of finalizing the technology. Trial centers with clinical researchers and pharmaceutical companies have sent us donor samples and we send them read outs.

“They can use the service today and will eventually have boxes sent to them that accelerates their research. Then they will be able to use these solutions for their patients.”



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