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Bioscience exec supports effort to bring startups to region

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published February 24. 2013 4:00AM

The newly named president of the state's leading bioscience organization said she supports a legislative initiative to help startup biotech and pharmaceutical firms launch in southeastern Connecticut.

"I think it's a great idea," Susan Froshauer of Guilford, who will assume her duties as leader of Connecticut United for Research Excellence April 1, said in a phone interview.

Froshauer said details need to be worked out, but CURE supports the concept behind a bill introduced last month by local legislators - led by state Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford - that calls on the state Department of Economic and Community Development to come up with a model plan to capitalize on local scientific innovations.

The plan would provide incentives largely to former Pfizer Inc. scientists - many of whom have been caught in the company's worldwide downsizing over the past few years - to create new bioscience businesses in Connecticut.

Froshauer, a former Pfizer scientist in Groton who worked at the company for more than a decade and later co-founded New Haven-based Rib-X Pharmaceuticals, said the initiative would build on a grassroots effort that has been building in southeastern Connecticut to nurture new bioscience enterprises.

Mary Anne Rooke, director of the Technology Incubation Program at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point in Groton, has been one of the key figures in jump starting local entrepreneurial activity. And Jean Schaefer, who started the Southeastern Connecticut Entrepreneur Network, also has helped build local interest in bioscience startups.

As director of the University of Connecticut's Tech-Knowledge Portal, Froshauer has devoted time herself to helping local entrepreneurs through her work at the new public-private partnership known as SECT Tech, based at Avery Point. The idea behind the partnership, announced late last year, is to offer entrepreneurs technical and business advice as well as mentoring services.

"I don't think anyone could prevent me from doing that," Froshauer said when asked whether she would continue her mentoring at Avery Point after becoming CURE president.

"Hopefully, we're going to get more and more of a juggernaut going," she added. "We're beginning to (develop) some serious ideas for sustainable bioscience companies."

Among Froshauer's ideas for expanding the activities of CURE is to branch out from its base in New Haven and Farmington to include meetings and seminars in other parts of the state, including southeastern Connecticut. She also wants to be more active in connecting bioscience startups in the state with well-heeled investors.

"Susan really understands entrepreneurs," Paul Pescatello, outgoing president of CURE, said in a conference call with Froshauer. "She will help draw entrepreneurs into Connecticut and draw out the entrepreneurial talent that's already here. I think you'll see a turbocharging of the process."

Pescatello, who has headed CURE for a decade, announced this month that he would step aside to pursue private business ventures and policy issues outside the bioscience field. But he agreed to stay on to coordinate CURE's government-affairs office, which lobbies on behalf of biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the state.

CURE has been successful over the years in lobbying for a variety of industry initiatives, including millions of dollars in state funding for stem-cell research.

"That sent a message about how open and hospitable we are and how much about science Connecticut is," Pescatello said.

The state has two stem cell centers that Pescatello said will eventually spawn new treatments for diseases.

"You'll see companies in the future come out of that," he predicted.

Other initiatives announced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy over the past two years have received strong support from CURE, including incentives to bring Jackson Laboratories into the state and to make sure that Alexion Pharmaceuticals and its 1,100 jobs stayed in Connecticut.

Pescatello said a state tax-credit exchange that allows biotechs to fund research has been a big boon to the small companies that are the lifeblood of science innovation. Enterprise zones that have kept costs down also are crucial to science startups, he said.

The Bioscience Facilities Fund administered by Connecticut Innovations is another key driver of the state's bioscience industry, Pescatello said, and there has never been a single default in the program that is critical to setting up lab space.

CURE is supportive as well of a $1.5 billion initiative by Malloy to bolster science and technology teaching at UConn.

Pescatello said CURE has been successful in helping develop companies incubated out of Yale University and UConn that have populated a corridor between New Haven and Farmington.

"Now we have a good-sized cluster that can hold its own, literally around the world," he said.

And, while Connecticut has lost some bioscience companies and bioscience jobs over the past decade - including a major downsizing that saw Pfizer shed 1,200 positions in the region over the past two years, with about 400 jobs moving to Massachusetts - Froshauer is hopeful that the state's new initiatives will reverse some of these trends.

"Connecticut is being seen as a go-to state with biotech ventures," said Froshauer, who received an undergraduate degree from Connecticut College and earned a doctorate from Harvard University. "We want to bring people here from Cambridge."

l.howard@theday.com

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