Drawing directly from the mission of the School of Medicine, the focus of this initiative is to:

  • Embrace a culture of innovation to promote discovery
  • Facilitate dissemination of new knowledge through entrepreneurial pathways to advance basic medical knowledge and ultimately improve patient care


Friday, April 5, 2019 – 2:00 PM 214 Light Hall

“From the Trenches: Perspectives on Launching a Company from Academia”

Conn_Laden4Jeff Conn, Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology; Director, Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery
Brian Laden, Co-founder and Managing Director, TriStar Health Partners


Jeffrey Conn is the Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University and Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD). Dr. Conn received a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt in 1986 and pursued postdoctoral studies at Yale University. Dr. Conn joined the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology at Emory University in 1988 where he established himself as a leader in studies of neurotransmitter receptors and their roles in regulating brain function in circuits involved in psychiatric and neurological disorders. In 2000, Dr. Conn assumed the position of Senior Director and Head of the Department of Neuroscience at Merck and Company in West Point, PA. In addition to directing the drug discovery efforts of his department in multiple CNS therapeutic areas, Dr. Conn was responsible for overseeing the global efforts of the company in discovery of new therapeutic agents for treatment of schizophrenia and movement disorders.

Dr. Conn moved to Vanderbilt University in 2003 where he is the founding director of the VCNDD, with a primary mission of facilitating translation of recent advances in basic science to novel therapeutics. The VCNDD has grown to approximately 100 full time scientists and under his leadership raised over $160M in external research funding. In addition, the VCNDD advanced novel molecules from multiple major programs into development for major brain disorders with industry partners, including Johnson and Johnson, Astrazeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Lundbeck, and others. Each of these major efforts are focused on novel mechanisms for therapeutic action that have come from the basic research efforts of Dr. Conn and his collaborators. Dr. Conn has served as Associate Editor and Editor in Chief of Molecular Pharmacology and in editorial positions with multiple other international journals. He has served the Scientific Advisory Boards of multiple foundations, research institutes, and companies. He served as Chairman of the Neuropharmacology Division of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and on multiple national and international committees. He has received numerous awards, including the NARSAD Essel Distinguished Investigator Award, the ASPET-Astellas Award in Translational Pharmacology, the Pharmacia – ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics, the Charles R. Park Award for Basic Research Revealing Insights into Physiology and Pathophysiology, the PhRMA Foundation Award for Excellence in Pharmacology and Toxicology. V. Sagar Sethi Mental Health Research Award, Jacob K. Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke. He was named as an ISI Most-Cited Scientists in Pharmacology & Toxicology and the Lee University 2008 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. Dr. Conn’s current research is focused on development of novel treatment strategies for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and other serious brain disorders.

Brian Laden is a Co-founder and Partner at TriStar Health Partners, a venture capital investment group with a focus on early stage companies across the healthcare spectrum. With a primary responsibility for directing investments in life sciences, including medical devices, diagnostics and drug discovery, he sits on the Board of six portfolio companies and actively oversees TriStar’s interest in two others. Most recently Brian helped launch Appello Pharmaceuticals, an early stage drug company developing a new therapy for Parkinson’s disease. His primary day job now is serving as the company’s President and COO. Prior to TriStar Health Partners and Appello, Brian served as an Assistant Director in the Office of Technology Transfer and Enterprise Development at Vanderbilt University. Before the birth of his first child and the need for an actual paycheck, Brian was a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biochemistry at Vanderbilt, where his work focused on structure-function studies of the cytochromes P450. He holds a doctorate in Molecular Toxicology from the University of Kentucky, a Master’s degree in Environmental and Industrial Health from the University of Michigan and an undergraduate degree in Biology from Penn State University.

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