Catching up with 2019 Innovations Pitch Winner, Minmin Yen, PhD

Posted 11 September 2020

Minmin “Mimi” Yen, PhD, (left, in photo) founding CEO of PhagePro, kicked off an exciting year by winning first place and a $10,000 prize at the 2nd Annual Innovations Pitch Competition (IPC) at the 2019 Annual Meeting in National Harbor, MD. She is pictured with ASTMH member and Innovations Pitch Competition founder May Chu, PhD. 

Dr. Yen provided an update during an interview from her office in Boston.
For those who didn’t attend the IPC symposium, tell us a little about PhagePro? 
Prophalytic-Vc [PhagePro Inc.] is a phage-based intervention to disrupt household transmission of Cholera. Prophalytic-Vc (PVC) is an orally dosed preparation of bacteriophage that is specifically targeted towards epidemic strains of cholera. This orally dosed preparation of bacteriophage is specifically targeted towards epidemic strains of cholera and preventing outbreaks in the world’s most vulnerable communities.  
Why PhagePro? 
I’ve always had a passion of developing an innovative solution.  I was fortunate enough to be awarded a fellowship (the Howard Hughes Medical Institute MERGE-ID fellowship) which provided me the opportunity to study the cholera epidemic I witnessed firsthand in Haiti. Upon my return to Tufts (School of Medicine), I proposed my innovation to my lab Professor, Dr. Andrew Camilli (now co-CEO and scientific advisor) about the opportunity.  

What has PhagePro been up to since #TropMed19?
The November 2019 Annual Meeting was an incredible experience for not only PhagePro, but for me, too. This was my first time attending the ASTMH Annual Meeting. The Innovations Pitch Competition and the meeting itself, have served as a monumental stepping stone for PhagePro. Following our success at #TropMed19, PhagePro was selected for the 2020 NIH I-Corps Program, which was an incredible achievement. On the development side of things, Gabrielle Grandchamp (principal scientist) and I, traveled to Bangladesh where we have collaborations with clinicians and researchers at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease research center (iccdr,b). There we were able to gain insight into our clinical trial design for the first time. Our plan is to initiate in-human trails for PVC at the idddr,b by 2021. (Photo below shows Gabrielle Grandchamp, left, and Minmin Yen, far right, with their collaborators in Bangladesh)
What advice do you have for aspiring innovators or individuals contemplating whether or not to submit a proposal for future Innovations Pitch Competition calls for application?
As a young woman, it can certainly feel daunting. But I can confidently say that the benefits significantly outweigh the negatives. I would tell fellow innovators that at some point you’re going to encounter rejection. As an early-stage biotechnology company we have faced our fair share of rejection, but do not let rejection overshadow your innovative aspirations. Lastly, while we were fortunate enough to be recognized at #TropMed19, events such as these are so incredibly beneficial not only for your innovation development, but to your growth, knowledge and opportunities within the scientific community.
The Innovations Pitch Competition 
The Innovations Pitch Competition was developed as a symposium by longtime ASTMH member May Chu, a former CDC official who has participated in multiple outbreak responses, field work and has led the building of sustainable laboratory systems in the aftermath of the 2001 U.S. anthrax attack, SARS in China, Lassa fever, Ebola and Marburg virus outbreaks in Africa and pandemic influenza response. Seconded to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2014 and 2015, she worked with the US Agency for International Development on Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development to develop a better protective suit and other medical aids to mitigate the Ebola epidemic. Chu and her Co-Chair Molly Lamb (Clinical Teaching Assistant Professor, Colorado School of Public Health) manage a team of reviewers, who rank the applications in processes similar to other ASTMH competitive awards. They also identify judges, who preside over the competition, asking questions, scoring each applicant, and providing feedback after the competition. They have integrated real-time audience questions and voting with the application. 
Don’t miss the 3rd Annual Innovations Pitch Competition at the virtual Annual Meeting in November. This year’s competition will focus on the innovative solutions to improve children’s current and future health and well-being in low-resource settings, for a healthier, more sustainable world. This year’s competition will highlight tools and methods that will improve vaccine acceptance, accessibility and delivery, diagnosis and treatment of high impact diseases in the pediatric population living in low resource settings.
For more information on PhagePro, visit their website or give them a follow on Twitter and LinkedIn.
For more information about the Innovations Pitch Competition, click here


From left, Gabrielle Grandchamp, Mimi Yen  
and Andrew Camilli, co-founder and  
scientific advisor, at the 2019 Cholera Conference