Leadership and Management

Gordon R. Alton, PhD
President and CEO

Dr. Gordon Alton has more than 20 years of structure-based drug discovery experience in Oncology, Inflammation, Metabolic Disease, CNS and Ophthalmology. He has deep knowledge of signal transduction, kinases, nuclear receptors, GPCRs, phosphodiesterases and metabolic enzymes. He has importantly contributed to the successful development of multiple drugs, clinical candidates and INDs. These include the T-cell activator Revlimid® for multiple myeloma and Xalkori® for anaplastic large cell lymphoma and non-small cell lung carcinoma.

Previously he was Head of Assay Development and Project Manager at Dart Neuroscience. He was also the founder of Altonyx Consulting providing due diligence on compound in-licensing and drug discovery out-sourcing to biotechnology companies. From 2001-2009, he worked at Pfizer Global R and D where he led multiple drug discovery projects to IND and was a member of the Oncology Strategic Alliance Advisory Group and Global Kinase Strategy Team. He also managed several academic collaborations, external research and served on corporate business development teams. Previously Dr. Alton was involved in Inflammation and Oncology drug discovery at Signal Pharmaceuticals and Celgene. He importantly contributed to the development of nuclear receptor and kinase therapeutic agents.

Dr. Alton has several drugs in the clinic or on the market, 2 patents and 40 peer-reviewed publications. Dr. Alton obtained a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Alberta and did postdoctoral work at the Burnham Institute on metabolic biochemistry.

Dr. Jim W. Zapf, PhD
CSO

Dr. Jim Zapf has 21 years of direct experience in developing small molecule therapeutics in the biopharmaceutical industry.  His work has resulted in 8 patents and 6 clinical candidates.  His area of specific expertise is the use of structure-based drug design and Structure Activity Relationships (SAR) to identify and optimize small molecules for clinical development.  In addition to working directly on inflammatory disease he has expertise in drug discovery for diabetes, cardiovascular, and cancer.  He has developed computational methods for virtual screening/hit identification, driving SAR studies, optimizing lead molecules, improving compound properties and predicting ADME profiles.  At Helicon he importantly contributed to the filing of an IND for a small molecule enzyme inhibitor. At Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharmaceuticals Dr. Zapf led 2 nuclear receptor projects from target identification to IND-enabling studies for inflammatory diseases. 

Dr. Zapf obtained a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of South Carolina and did postdoctoral studies at the Scripps Research Institute on protein structure function. He has 27 peer-reviewed publications.

Louis Tommasino, CPA
CFO

Mr. Louis Tommasino has extensive experience in small company start-up, tax services, auditing and financial consulting, including trust and business planning and management services. Since 1996, he’s operated his own CPA practice, providing results-oriented tax and accounting services for small businesses, non-profit organizations, estates and individuals, Mr. Tommasino has accounting experience in a broad range of industries including the biotech industry, entertainment, restaurants, real estate, medical offices, contractors, retailers, medical supplies, and not-for-profit organizations. Mr. Tommasino has worked with several start-up companies in Arizona and California. He also teaches accounting and tax courses at a San Diego community college. He graduated with a bachelor of science in business administration from Arizona State University, which is consistently rated in the top 20 U.S. schools of accountancy. He has worked in government as a controller and in a large accounting firm as an auditing manager.

Dr. Chris A. Buhr, PhD
Senior Director of Medicinal Chemistry

Dr. Chris Buhr has more than 20 years of direct experience in the discovery and development of small molecule therapeutics in Oncology and Inflammation.  His work has resulted in 40 patents and applications.  He has importantly contributed to 6 Investigational New Drug (IND) applications.    As a Director of Medicinal Chemistry at Exilixis Dr. Buhr’s most significant achievement to date was leading the medicinal chemistry program for the discovery and development of XL765. This drug is currently in eleven Phase I and Phase II clinical trials (five completed), and is in active development with Sanofi Aventis as SAR245409.   His area of expertise is the syntheses and medicinal chemistry of small molecules for the discovery and lead optimization of new chemical entities for the purpose of making new human therapeutics.  He has deep knowledge of structure-activity relationships, physicochemical properties of compounds, cellular permeation and cellular biology, structural biology, absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) properties, pharmacology, toxicity, and other areas. Dr. Buhr has extensive experience in the nuclear hormone receptor area including LXR and FXR with a very successful track record of leading nuclear receptor lead optimization programs into human clinical trials.   

Dr. Buhr obtained a PhD in Chemistry from the University of California Los Angeles and did postdoctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Scientific Advisory Board

David Webb, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor, Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology, The Scripps Research Institute

Dr. Webb is currently Adjunct Professor at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI).  At TSRI, he is currently associated with the laboratory of Professor Ian Wilson that employs structure based drug design to suggest new approaches to drug discovery for important, life threatening  viral diseases such as HIV, Influenza and Hepatitis C.  From 2011-2014 he was associated with the laboratories of Professors Ray Stevens and Peter Kuhn, that includes studies on the structural biology and pharmacology of G-protein coupled receptors with a focus on receptors that have therapeutic potential (Stevens) and detection of circulating tumor cells (Kuhn). He was Chairman of the Board of Sorrento Therapeutics from 2012-2013 and is also Chairman Emeritus of the Board of BIOCOM (2012), a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of CONNECT, a member of the Board of Directors of the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology, and a member of the Advisory Council of the College of Science and Mathematics at Cal State University, San Marcos.  He currently serves as an advisor/SAB member for several private biotechnology companies.

Dr. Webb joined Celgene-San Diego in September, 2003 as Vice President, Research. During this time, the Research Division placed six drugs into clinical development; four of which are still in clinical studies (Phases I and II) in the areas of cancer and inflammation/autoimmunity.  He was Project Team Leader for Apremilast in 2004-06, now approved for Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis).  Between 1995 and 2003, he held a series of senior management positions in several biotechnology companies where he developed and led drug discovery programs focused on inflammation, asthma, cancer and diabetes. These included Syrrx (Vice President of Drug Discovery, 2001-2003) where he led a team that discovered and developed alogliptin for type II diabetes; OSI Pharmaceuticals (Corporate Vice President, Drug Discovery 1999-2001) where he was associated with the development of Tarceva; and Cadus Pharmaceutical Corporation (Vice President of Research and Chief Scientific Officer, 1995-99). He was also Adjunct Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College. From 1987 to 1995, Dr. Webb was at Syntex, Inc., where he held the positions of Distinguished Scientist and Director, Institute of Immunology and Biological Sciences and was responsible for all of the inflammation and immunology research programs world-wide. He was part of the development team for CelCept, and was a Consulting Professor of Cancer Biology at Stanford University.  From 1973-1987 he was a member of the Department of Cell Biology, Roche Institute of Molecular Biology and Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons.  From 1971-73 he was a Dernham Junior Fellow of the American Cancer Society, California Division at UCSF.  He has published over 200 papers and abstracts and has been a member of numerous editorial boards and study sections in Immunology.

Dr. Webb earned his Ph.D. in Microbiology/Immunology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick, and a BA, MA in Biology from California State University-Fullerton.

Dr. Michael Karin, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and Pathology at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego

Dr. Michael Karin received his BSc in Biology in 1975 at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel and his PhD in Molecular Biology in 1979, at the University of California, Los Angeles.  Dr. Karin is currently a Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and Pathology at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, where has been on the faculty since 1987. He was a cofounder of Signal Pharmaceutical (currently Celgene) and had served as a member of its Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Karin also served as a member of the National Advisory Council for Environmental Health Sciences and has been an American Cancer Society Research Professor since 1999. Dr. Karin was elected as a member of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2005 and as an associate member of the European Molecular Biology Association in 2007. He is a leading world authority on signal transduction pathways that regulate gene expression in response to extracellular stimuli, infection, inflammation and stress. Key achievements include the definition of cis elements that mediate gene induction by hormones, cytokines and stress, identification and characterization of the transcription factors that recognize these elements (members of the AP-1/ATF family) and the protein kinase cascades that regulate their activities, including the Jun kinases (JNK) and IkB kinases (IKK). Much of Dr. Karin’s current activity is focused on understanding the link between inflammation, cancer and metabolic disease as well as on understanding the signaling mechanisms used by receptors involved in inflammation and innate immunity. In addition to establishing molecular links between obesity, inflammation and cancer, this work has revealed new targets for cancer prevention and therapy. Dr. Karin has published over 300 scientific articles and is an inventor on over 30 different patents or pending patent applications. In addition to numerous honors, Dr Karin was ranked first worldwide by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) in a listing of most-cited molecular biology and genetic research papers published in prestigious journals.

David W. Anderson, Ph.D. 

Biotechnology Consultant

Dr. Anderson is an accomplished leader in medical research & product development with experience as a research scientist, director of research, entrepreneur, & executive leader in the pharmaceutical industry (Searle, Johnson & Johnson, Celgene), biotechnology (Signal/Celgene, Proprius Pharmaceuticals, Cypress Bioscience, Eclipse Therapeutics, and Ignyta), and several academic institutions (University of Colorado, The Scripps Research Institute, Graceland University). He holds a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

He has a successful track record as a leader or member of teams responsible for development of 5 drugs (Procrit®, Leustatin®, & Revlimid® for oncology, Zubrin® for veterinary arthritis and Surfaxin® for respiratory distress syndrome), 9 INDs and multiple drug candidates. His expertise in Personalized Medicine in drug development (biomarkers, companion diagnostics) includes the launch of 2 products in a CLIA lab. David co-founded and was CSO/VP of R&D of Signal Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Celgene) and Proprius Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Cypress Bioscience) and help with 5 additional biotech start-ups. Dr. Anderson has deep research experience/understanding of pathogenic processes, targets and unmet needs in oncology, inflammatory diseases, pain, bone diseases, virology, microbiology and metabolic diseases. David has held academic positions at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (Assistant Professor) and The Scripps Research Institution (Visiting Investigator). He has organized, chaired, and spoken at international conferences focused on discovery and development of novel anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory drugs, and has refereed articles for peer-reviewed journals including Science and The Journal of Rheumatology. David also has an outstanding record of scientific publications and presentations (over 30 peer reviewed publications and 50 presentations/abstracts), been a member of AAI, ASCO, ACR and has received a number of awards and five patents for his innovative research.

Board of Directors

Dushyant Pathak, PhD, MBA
Associate Vice Chancellor for Technology Management and Corporate Relations

Dr. Dushyant Pathak, President of VentureEdge LLC, has over 20 years of life-sciences domain expertise. He has held senior management  positions at both listed and private biopharmaceutical companies including Chiron, Axys Pharmaceuticals, Centaur Pharmaceuticals, Renovis and iPierian where he was responsible for negotiating and closing a number of high value transactions as well as managing business and clinical project operations. At Renovis he was Vice President of Corporate Development and an Officer of the Company, after the acquisition of Centaur, he led the company's business development ($180 million Pfizer alliance), commercial planning (Ph 2 clinical project go / no-go decision making) and IND-track  and clinical project operations (multiple IND, Ph1 and Ph2 single–site and multi-center clinical trials) and was a member of the team responsible for Renovis’ successful IPO in 2004.

In addition to his strategic and operational roles at clinical-stage companies, Dr. Pathak has led and managed companies at the start-up and early development stage from business plan development onwards, including BioProtocol and Cellexicon. Dr. Pathak received his M.B.A. from the Haas School of Business at UC, Berkeley and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and  Cell Biology from Northwestern University. He conducted post-doctoral research as a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Fund Fellow and was a member of the Research Faculty at Yale University / HHMI prior to initiating his business career in venture capital at Connecticut Innovations.

John K. Westwick, PhD
Drug Discovery Consultant

John K. Westwick, Ph.D. was formerly the President and CEO of Odyssey Thera, Inc. Dr. Westwick has led research and development efforts at Odyssey since 2002, and was also responsible for corporate management since 2005. During his tenure, Odyssey has created a unique platform for cell systems biology that has been validated by partnerships with premier pharmaceutical and life sciences companies and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Dr. Westwick worked previously at Celgene Corp. and Signal Pharmaceuticals. He holds a B.A. degree in Biology from the University of California at San Diego, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Pathology from the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Post-doctoral studies in Medicine and Pharmacology were performed at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Medicine, and he was subsequently named the Lineberger Fellow at the UNC Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Westwick’s scientific and biotech career spans 27 years, with a constant focus on defining cellular mechanisms of cancer, inflammatory and metabolic diseases and translating this knowledge into improved therapeutics. Dr. Westwick has contributed to multiple drug development programs that are currently in human clinical trials. Recent work also involves the development of novel technologies for cellular engineering systems biology. He remains active in these fields, with over 200 podium presentations at international conferences, pharmaceutical and biotech companies and over 60 published scientific articles and patents. Dr. Westwick also serves on the board of Vala Sciences.

Ayse Batova, PhD
Founder

Dr. Ayse Batova has 22 years of research experience in molecular cancer therapeutics. She is currently Faculty at the University of California, San Diego in the Department of Chemistry where she is investigating the mechanism of action of immunomodulators and chemotherapeutics targeting tumour metabolism. Dr. Batova is an inventor on a patent covering the synthesis and use of a gambogic acid analog as a therapeutic agent. For 15 years Dr. Batova was Faculty in the Department of Pediatrics (Hematology/Oncology) at UCSD where she investigated the molecular basis of T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and Neuroblastoma. She has been instrumental in Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials of an anti-GD2 monoclonal antibody for refractory Neuroblastoma.

Additionally, she worked on Integrin biology at Telios Pharmaceuticals and has extensive experience with the mechanisms of growth control and differentiation of retinoids in normal and transformed epithelial cells. Dr. Batova received her PhD in Biochemistry/Chemistry at the University of Southern Carolina and a B.A. in Chemistry at the college of Wooster.

Gordon R Alton, PhD    [biography above]
Founder

Jim W. Zapf, PhD          [biography above]
Founder