Meet the visionary leaders who are here to partner with you in forging an exciting future in drug discovery and development and realize the potential of your science.
Brendan O’Leary, PhD
Chief Executive Officer
Dr. Brendan O’Leary has an outstanding track record of success in supporting life sciences innovation, particularly in the biotech, medical device, and diagnostic sectors. At Prism Ventures, he analyzed investment opportunities spanning the therapeutic spectrum, mentored entrepreneurs, and built and invested in many successful private and public life science companies. As the founding Executive Vice Chancellor of Innovation and Business Development at UMass Medical School, he led all BD&L functions and co-led many translational development activities. His team generated a significant number of licenses, spinouts, and industry collaborations while rapidly growing and diversifying revenue sources. Most recently, he co-founded AllosteRx Capital, a biotechnology venture capital firm and founded the life sciences investment banking practice at Bowen, Inc. Earlier in his career, Dr. O’Leary held numerous operating roles at diagnostic and high-throughput drug discovery platform companies. Dr. O’Leary received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BA in chemistry from Middlebury College.
Thomas Novak, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
Dr. Tom Novak is the Chief Scientific Officer of Autobahn Labs. Prior to joining Autobahn Labs, he was Vice President of Life Sciences Business Development at Cellular Dynamics International (CDI), the world’s leading supplier of stem cell-derived, terminally differentiated cells. In addition, he was the Principal Investigator on CDI’s $16MM grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to reprogram samples from 3000 patients with a variety of multigenic disorders. As part of CIRM’s “Human iPSC Initiative” he was also the PI on CDI’s $6.3MM subcontract with the Coriell Institute for Medical Research to provide stocks of iPSC clones for commercial sale. Prior to joining CDI in 2012, Dr. Novak was Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Fate Therapeutics, a San Diego-based biotech developing small molecules and biologics to induce proliferation and differentiation of adult stem cells to replace tissue lost to aging or disease. From 2001 to 2010, Dr. Novak held a number of positions at Roche Palo Alto, including Senior Director and Head of Discovery Technologies wherein he led a group of >60 scientists with responsibility for all compound screening, cell culture, molecular biology, protein production, and crystallography at that site. In 2009, he was chosen to lead a global team of scientists to evaluate opportunities to utilize stem cells as research tools. This ultimately led to the initiation of three collaborations (CDI, iSTEM, and Harvard Stem Cell Institute) centered around nonclinical safety, neuroscience, and cardiovascular diseases, respectively.
Dr. Novak earned an AB in biology and chemistry, magna cum laude, from Amherst College (Amherst, MA) and received his PhD in molecular biology and immunology from Caltech (Pasadena, CA). After completing post-doctoral training in immunobiology at Yale University, he began his pharmaceutical career in 1994 as a research scientist at Wyeth-Ayerst in Princeton, NJ.
Director, Search & Evaluation
Dimitre is an Analyst at Autobahn Labs. Dimitre began his scientific journey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he obtained a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. He then joined the Undiagnosed Diseases Program at the National Institutes of Health to investigate rare genetic disorders and improve their diagnosis. Dimitre completed a Ph.D. in Alex Marson’s Laboratory at the University of California San Francisco working at the intersection of human genetics, immunology, and genetic engineering. He helped pioneer Cas9 ribonucleoprotein genome editing in primary human T cells and developed CRISPR-based methodologies to understand non-coding autoimmunity risk. After graduating in 2019, Dimitre co-founded Beeline Therapeutics, a venture-backed company to develop the next-generation of targeted therapeutics for autoimmune diseases.
Senior Director, Drug Development
Amit Joshi is a Project Team Leader at Autobahn labs. In his previous role, Amit was Senior Scientist at Dorian Therapeutics, where he co-led early preclinical development programs. He has experience in drug discovery in areas of neurosciences, inflammation, fibrosis and oncology. During his 10+ years in Academia, he has published <25 papers in high-impact journals including Nature, Nature Neuroscience and Nature Immunology and is an inventor on several patents. Amit received his MSc from Abertay, Dundee and a PhD from University of Giessen, Germany. Amit completed his scientific training as a postdoctoral fellow in Daria Mochly-Rosen’s lab at Stanford University working on developing novel peptide inhibitors of protein-protein interactions.
Stephen Shuttleworth, PhD
Stephen joined Samsara BioCapital as a Venture Partner in 2019. He is a pharmaceutical scientist with over 25 years’ experience in the UK, US and Canada biotech industry, leading small molecule therapeutics research programs across multiple molecular targets, primarily in cancer, and also in immune-inflammation, metabolic disorders and infectious diseases. Prior to Samsara, Stephen was CSO and Executive Director (2008-19) and joint COO/CSO/ED (2017-19) of Karus Therapeutics, UK, where he was also the founding scientist of the company’s PI3K-beta/delta and HDAC6 programs. At Karus, he designed and directed the research and preclinical development of the two small molecule cancer therapeutics, KA2237 and KA2507, from concept to Phase I clinical trials. Prior to Karus, he was Head of New Projects Development at Cancer Research UK in London. Previously, Stephen was Director of Chemistry at Piramed Pharma, UK, where he directed the company’s pan-PI3K and PI3K-delta research programs, and where he designed and led the research and preclinical development of the pan-PI3K anti-cancer agent Pictilisib (PI-728/GDC-0941), which was partnered with Genentech; Piramed was subsequently acquired by Roche for $160M. Prior to Piramed, Stephen was Associate Director, Chemistry at Tularik, South San Francisco, and, beforehand, Research Leader, Chemistry at BioChem Pharma, Quebec. He began his industrial career at Chiroscience, UK. He has published extensively in the literature, primarily in small molecule therapeutics R&D and in medicinal and synthetic organic chemistry, and has been an invited speaker at a number of international R&D conferences. He is an inventor on 48 US patents, and on multiple patent applications. Stephen received his BSc (Hons) and PhD in Chemistry from the University of Liverpool, and in 2007 was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
Marcos Milla has experience in drug discovery across the areas of autoimmunity and inflammation, neurosciences and pain, and immuno-oncology. His training and expertise encompass the fields of biochemistry, biophysics, molecular pharmacology, cell & molecular biology, and structural biology. He has previously directed efforts focusing on multiple intracellular and extracellular target classes, including cell surface and nuclear receptors, ion channels, kinases and proteinases. He led work on the discovery of break-through series of small molecule modulators of those target classes and of cytokine-receptor (protein-protein) interactions.
Marcos graduated with a BS degree from Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (Lima, Peru) in 1985, and a PhD degree in Cell & Molecular Biology from Saint Louis University in 1990. He did post-doctoral training at MIT as a Jane Coffin Childs Fellow (1990-1993), and at Duke (1993-1995).
He was the Chief Scientific Officer of Synthorx until January of 2020, when Sanofi acquired it; then, he became the Head of Synthorx – A Sanofi Company until January of 2021. Prior to joining Synthorx in the Summer of 2017, he has held industry or faculty appointments at GlaxoSmithKline (1995-1998), the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania (1998-2005), Roche Palo Alto (2005-2009), Janssen R&D (2009-2106), and Adaptive Biotechnologies (2016-2017). Since 2018, he also holds an Adjunct Faculty appointment at the Skaags School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences of UCSD.
Marcos joined Samsara Biocapital as Venture Partner on April 1 of this year. He also started on February of 2021 Caral Consulting, a sole proprietor firm for consulting in the areas of pharma and biotech.
David Parry joined Samsara Biocapital in 2021. From 1999-2010 he worked at DNAX Research in Palo Alto where led research, drug discovery and early clinical development of small molecule efforts focused on the cell cycle, DNA damage/repair and biopharm targets in the immuno-oncology space. Following DNAX he joined Portola Pharmaceuticals, working on inflammatory disease and oncology drug discovery/development. After Portola, David joined the Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) Research Unit at GSK. Within DPAc he worked extensively with multiple US/EU academic institutions to identify and progress early-stage innovation utilizing the capabilities of pharma within a collaborative, milestone-based framework. During the last two years, he worked within the Global BD organization at GSK focusing on search, evaluation and due diligence of immunology-focused opportunities. David received his B.Sc. (Hons) in Biochemistry from The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and a Ph.D. in Molecular Oncology from The Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF).
Srinivas Akkaraju, MD, PhD
Dr. Srinivas Akkaraju is Founder and Managing General Partner of Samsara BioCapital, a biotech investment fund focused on translating cutting-edge biology into new therapies to treat patients with unmet medical needs. He serves as Director of Seattle Genetics, Intercept Pharmaceuticals, and Syros Pharmaceuticals and previously served as Director on the boards of Principia Biopharma, Barrier Therapeutics, Eyetech Pharmaceuticals, ZS Pharma, Synageva Biopharma Corp., aTyr Pharma, and Amarin. Before starting Samsara, Dr. Akkaraju was General Partner of Sofinnova Ventures and previously held managing director roles at New Leaf Venture Partners and Panorama Capital LLC., a firm he co-founded. He was a partner at JP Morgan Partners. And from 1998 to 2001, was in Business and Corporate Development at Genentech, Inc., now a wholly owned member of The Roche Group.
Dr. Akkaraju received his MD and a PhD in Immunology from Stanford University and received undergraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Computer Science from Rice University.
Thomas Hanke, PhD
Dr. Thomas Hanke is Executive Vice President and Head of Academic Partnerships at Evotec, where he is responsible for growing and guiding a portfolio of strategic academic partnerships, pre-seed incubators and investments into spin-out companies. He has more than 25 years of experience in research and drug discovery fostering innovation and continuous improvement across academia, biotech and pharma. From 2013 to 2016, Dr. Hanke oversaw Evotec’s drug discovery portfolio in inflammation and immuno-oncology, generating and building on high-value, performance-based alliances with academia and pharma. Prior to that time, he served as Sourcing Director at the Biopharmaceuticals Research Unit of Novo Nordisk where he identified, evaluated and initiated global partnering opportunities for first-in-class therapeutics within haemophilia, autoimmune/inflammatory diseases, growth disorders and protein technologies. Dr. Hanke also was co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of TeGenero, a post he held for seven years, heading the company’s R&D efforts to develop first-in-class immunomodulatory monoclonal antibodies. Before starting TeGenero, Dr. Hanke was group leader and Assistant Professor for Immunobiology at the University of Würzburg following a PostDoc at the University of California in Berkeley where he studied the immune response of lymphocytes. Dr. Hanke received his PhD in Biology from the University of Würzburg in 1995.
Jim Glasheen, PhD
Independent Board Member
Over the past 25 years, Jim led efforts to translate biomedical innovations into broader societal impact as an academic, a strategic consultant, a venture investor, and an executive. Jim is a co-founder and President / CBO of Clade Therapeutics. Previously, he was co-founder and founding President and CEO of Atalanta Therapeutics, Executive Vice Chancellor at UMASS Medical School, co-lead of Life Science Practice at Technology Partners Venture Capital, and a leader within the Pharmaceutical and Medical Products practice at McKinsey & Company. His training includes a post-doctoral fellowship at University of California, Berkeley, a PhD from Harvard University, a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Fellowship at Universität des Saarlandes and a BS from Duke University.
Mark Slack, VP Academic Partnerships, is responsible at Evotec for the establishment and execution of Evotec´s Academic BRIDGE activities. Through his EIR role Mark works closely with TTOs, leading academics and investors to identify and develop novel drug discovery opportunities, to develop these through the preclinical drug discovery cascade, through to spinout. Through his 20 years of drug discovery accrued within Evotec and Pharma, Mark provides operational guidance to help develop projects, to maximize their potential and build a sustainable investment portfolio.
Abraham Bassan, MS
Abe Bassan is a Vice President at Samsara BioCapital. Prior to Samsara, Abe was Director of Program Biology at Revolution Medicines, where he co-led the company’s 4EBP1/mTORC1 cancer program through early preclinical development. Prior to that, Abe was at bluebird bio (BLUE), where he drove project management for gene therapy programs focused on β-Thalassemia, Sickle Cell Anemia, and Childhood Cerebral ALD. Before joining bluebird, Abe was an Associate at Third Rock Ventures, where he focused on technical diligence for the firm’s investment in bluebird bio, and played a central role in developing the company concept for Blueprint Medicines (BPMC), a precision medicine oncology company. Abe was also the founder of Aurora Medical, which focused on international commercialization of molecular diagnostics testing services. Abe received an AB in Molecular Biology from Princeton University, and an MS in Developmental Biology from Stanford University.
John Curnutte, MD, PhD
Dr. Curnutte served as Executive Vice President of Research and Development at Portola Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing product candidates for thrombosis and other hematologic diseases from 2011 until his retirement in May 2019. Dr. Curnutte previously was Chief Executive Officer of 3-V Biosciences, Inc., a biotechnology company focused on host-directed antiviral medicines. Prior to that, from 2000 to 2008, he served as CEO of DNAX and President of Schering-Plough Biopharma, a biopharmaceutical subsidiary of Schering-Plough Corporation and was also Senior Vice President of Discovery Research at Schering Plough Research Institute, a pharmaceutical and healthcare company. From 1993 to 2000, Dr. Curnutte was the Head of Immunology at Genentech, Inc., a leading biotechnology company. Before joining Genentech, Dr. Curnutte was a tenured faculty member at The Scripps Research Institute, pursuing basic and clinical research in inflammation biochemistry and the molecular genetics of congenital immune deficiencies. He was an adjunct clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and a member of the medical staff from 1993 to 2013. He currently serves on the Board of Pliant Therapeutics, Inc., a human therapeutics company developing novel therapies for the treatment of fibrosis, and has served as on the boards of Orchard Therapeutics, focused on ex vivo autologous bone marrow gene therapy, and Diadexus, Inc., a cardiovascular diagnostics company.
Dr. Curnutte holds an MD and a PhD in Biological Chemistry from Harvard Medical School and an A.B. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Harvard University.
Steve Kelsey, MD
Dr. Steve Kelsey is President of Research and Development at Revolution Medicines, a precision oncology company based in Redwood City, California. Dr. Kelsey has more than 20 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry, working with conventional small molecules, beyond rule of five molecules, antibodies, antibody-drug conjugates, DNA oligonucleotides and mRNA platforms, and has driven multiple industry and industry-academia collaborations to provide better drugs for patients with cancer. Prior to joining Revolution Medicines, he was President of Onkaido Therapeutics, a Moderna Venture focused on the discovery and development of mRNA therapeutics for cancer. Dr. Kelsey is the former Head of Research and Development and Chief Medical Officer of Geron, where he led the development of imetelstat, a first-in-class telomerase inhibitor for hematologic myeloid malignancies. He previously served as Vice President of Hematology/Oncology at Genentech where he played a significant role in the development of key products including Perjeta®, Kadcyla® and Erivedge® as well as other molecules in the company’s oncology portfolio; and led clinical development for Pharmacia/SUGEN’s Sutent®.
Kelsey graduated with a bachelor of medicine and a bachelor of surgery degrees (MB ChB), as well as a doctorate of medicine (MD) from the University of Birmingham, U.K. He is a fellow of both the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP) of London and the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath), U.K. He has over 100 peer-reviewed publications spanning cell biology, drug discovery, drug development and patient care, and is a named inventor on several patents.
James Larrick, MD, PhD
Board Member and SAB Member
Dr. James Larrick is a biomedical entrepreneur with an international reputation in biotechnology, including areas in cytokines, therapeutic antibodies, molecular biology and pharmaceutical drug development. He has written or co‑authored nine books, more than 300 papers/chapters and more than 50 patents in his 25-year career. In 1991, Dr. Larrick founded the biopharmaceutical incubator Panorama Research Institute (PRI). Dr. Larrick’s PRI team has discovered and initiated development of a diverse and innovative portfolio of pharmaceutical molecules addressing major unmet needs in cancer, infectious, autoimmune, cardiovascular, neurological and metabolic diseases. PRI has incubated more than 30 life science projects/companies, which include legacy start-ups such as Kalobios Inc., NuGen Technology Inc., Adamas Inc., Absalus Inc. (now Teva), and more. Two companies were co-founded in Europe, including PanGenetics b.v. (Abbvie) and TargetQuest b.v. (Dyax). To date, PRI-initiated projects and/or companies have led to seven IPOs/exits. Recent work at PRI has focused on Applied Healthspan Engineering — the utilization of advances in molecular medicine to preserve well-being as we age. In addition, he serves as a Managing Director and Chief Medical Officer of Presidio Partners-funded Velocity Pharmaceutical Development LLC, based in San Francisco.
Dr. Larrick received his MD and PhD degrees from Duke as a Medical Scientist Training Program scholar. After medical house-staff training at Stanford, he completed a post‑doctoral fellowship in the Stanford Cancer Biology Research Labs working on therapeutic human monoclonal antibodies for cancer and infectious diseases.
Bob Stein, MD, PhD
Dr. Robert Stein has more than 35 years of experience and accomplishments in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. Over the course of his career, Dr. Stein has played a significant role in the discovery and development of eight marketed drugs, including Sustiva®, Fablyn®, Viviant®, PanRetin®, TargRetin®, Promacta®, & Eliquis®. He previously served as President of Research and Development for Agenus, Inc., and has held a number of progressively responsible senior management positions including Head of Pharmacology for Merck & Co., CSO & SVP of Research for Ligand Pharmaceuticals, EVP of Research & Preclinical Development for Dupont Merck, President and CSO for Incyte Pharmaceuticals, President of Roche Palo Alto, and CEO of KineMed.
Dr. Stein spent the early part of his career at Merck, Sharp and Dohme Research Laboratories. He holds an MD and a PhD in Physiology & Pharmacology from Duke University.
Katherine Widdowson, PhD
Dr. Katherine Widdowson is a medicinal chemistry consultant with a career spanning 30 years in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Prior to that she worked at GSK for 27 years in the academic partnership, respiratory, inflammation and infectious disease therapeutic areas. For the last 6 years at GSK she was a member of the Discovery Partnership with Academia group where she was part of a team that identified and managed academic-industrial milestone-based collaborations focused on the West Coast. During this time, she identified the oral FimH inhibitor GSK3882347 which is currently in phase I. Prior to that she led the medicinal chemistry group in the Antibacterial Discovery Performance Unit (DPU). In addition to developing the internal chemistry strategy, she was responsible for negotiating the chemistry milestone criteria and directing the chemical strategy for numerous external partnerships (Wellcome Trust, Defence Threat Reduction Agency, Mpex, Anacor and Biofocus). During her tenure the group successfully advanced four novel mechanism anti-bacterials into clinical trials, the most advanced is gepotidacin which is currently in phase III. Previously Katherine worked in the respiratory area where she was responsible for leading the chemistry group in the COPD therapeutic area. One of her group’s key accomplishments was the development of a portfolio of muscarinic receptor antagonists, with varying duration of action, including umeclidinium bromide which is currently marketed for COPD. She obtained a B.A. degree in Chemistry (Honors) from Reed College and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from California Institute of Technology. She is the co-inventor on over 40 issued patents and has published over 30 articles during her career.
Asad Lakhani, PhD
Associate, Search & Evaluation
Asad Lakhani is an Associate at Autobahn Labs. Asad obtained his BA in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, following which he joined Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s doctoral program. There, he studied aneuploidy in tumorigenesis, pioneering CRISPR-based approaches for chromosomal engineering and uncovering therapeutic vulnerabilities for which aneuploidy is a biomarker. Simultaneously, he helped found and lead Nucleate New York, a trainee-led organization facilitating founder-led biotech spinouts.