Management

Ben Yerxa, PhD

Dr. Yerxa is CEO of Opus Genetics. Dr. Yerxa has more than 25 years’ experience in biotechnology, drug development and in translating promising research discoveries into clinical milestones and treatments in the pulmonary, oral health, cardiovascular, HIV and ophthalmology fields. Prior to joining the Foundation, Dr. Yerxa served as president and co-founder of Envisia Therapeutics, a company focused on developing novel ocular sustained delivery therapies for the front and back of the eye. He also has previously held founding and executive positions in several ophthalmology-based R&D organizations, including Liquidia Technologies, Clearside Biomedical, Parion Sciences and Inspire Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Yerxa holds 60 U.S. patents. An inventor of DIQUAS™, an innovative treatment for dry eye approved in Japan, he has been involved in the discovery and development of investigational new drugs, Phase 3 clinical programs, new drug applications, and drug approvals. Dr. Yerxa earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from University of California, Irvine, and BA in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego.

Ash Jayagopal, Ph.D.

Dr. Jayagopal has more than 13 years of experience in drug development, drug delivery technology and biomarker development for retinal diseases. Prior to joining Opus as Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Jayagopal served as the Executive Director of Discovery Medicine at Kodiak Sciences, where he led the drug discovery team and shaped the strategy for leveraging Kodiak’s biopolymer technology for delivery of large and small molecules in retinal diseases. Previously, Dr. Jayagopal was Head of Molecular Pharmacology and Biomarkers in the ophthalmic drug discovery division at Roche, where he built and led a team of more than 25 scientists focused on the discovery and validation of biologics, small molecules, and gene therapies for retinal diseases, including inherited retinal diseases. Dr. Jayagopal previously served as a National Institutes of Health-funded Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, and the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Jayagopal holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University and an M.B.A. from Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. He has been awarded a Roche Key Contributor Award, Dolly Green Special Scholar Award from Research to Prevent Blindness, and a Junior Faculty Award from the American Diabetes Association. He is a Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (FARVO) and is the Vice President and President-elect of the Association for Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics (AOPT).

Jean Bennett, M.D., Ph.D

Dr. Bennett is the F.M. Kirby Emeritus Professor of Ophthalmology at the Perelman School of Medicine and previously served as director of the Center for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics (CAROT) at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to Dr. Bennett’s positions at the University of Pennsylvania, she has been an Investigator at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for more than a decade. She also co-founded life science companies Spark Therapeutics (acquired by Roche), GenSight Biologics and Limelight Bio. Dr. Bennett received her Ph.D. in Zoology and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkley, and obtained an M.D. from Harvard University. She also completed postdoctoral fellowships in Radiobiology and Environmental Health at the University of California, San Francisco, Human Genetics at Yale School of Medicine and Development Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She received her B.S. in Biology from Yale University.

Joe Schachle

Mr. Schachle brings more than 30 years of experience in life sciences to his role as Chief Operating Officer of Opus, with specific expertise in strategic and operational planning, business development, marketing and sales, and business intelligence. Before joining Opus, Mr. Schachle served as vice president of Customer Experience Enablement and vice president of global commercial services and controlling at Grifols, where he led multiple commercial departments across business units, managed key cross-divisional initiatives and directed strategic brand planning process. Previously, Mr. Schachle was the COO for Parion Sciences, and part of the team that secured partners for the company’s lead programs, which exceeded $1 billion in deal value. Mr. Schachle has also served as chief commercial officer for Inspire Pharmaceuticals, where he oversaw multiple partnering deals and promoted three eye care brands, including AzaSite®, Elestate®, and Restasis®. In addition, he’s held multiple sales and marketing leadership positions at GlaxoSmithKline, where he managed several billion-dollar brands including Advair®, Imitrex®, Wellbutrin SR®, Epivir® / Retrovir® and Combivir®.  He also served on the Board of Directors for the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) and North Carolina State University College of Management Industry Advisory Board.  Mr. Schachle earned his undergraduate degree from James Madison University and his MBA from Old Dominion University.

 

Nikki Heron

Ms. Heron is an accomplished financial executive with over 25 years of experience working for public and private companies. She has an in-depth understanding of corporate finance and expertise in equity financing, strategic planning, financial analysis, cash flow optimization, budgeting, systems management and corporate operations. Ms. Heron founded Together Consulting LLC, where her work with preclinical, pre-revenue biopharmaceutical clients has expanded her knowledge of the industry. Previous positions have included financial roles of increasing responsibility for technology and commerce platform organizations. Ms. Heron is a CPA and received her B.B.A with a concentration in Accounting from James Madison University.

Jennifer Hunt

Ms. Hunt brings over 25 years of drug development experience to Opus, with specific expertise in global clinical operations, product development and program management in biologics, small molecules, gene editing and gene therapy. Prior to joining Opus, she held key clinical and regulatory positions at several biopharmaceutical companies, including Genzyme, Voyager Therapeutics and Editas Medicine. While at Editas, she oversaw the development of CRISPR medicines across ophthalmology, hemoglobinopathies and oncology, including Editas’ gene therapy to restore vision loss in patients with LCA type 10, the first in-vivo CRISPR IND ever accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ms. Hunt earned a B.S. in Biology from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse and a M.S. in Management from Lesley University.

Brian Leising

Mr. Leising has over 20 years of gene therapy, vaccine and biopharmaceutical experience in manufacturing, quality, facility startup and process development roles across a variety of products in both the clinical and commercial stages. Mr. Leising previously served as Director of Manufacturing Quality at Novartis Gene Therapies (formerly AveXis). In this role, he was responsible for implementation and oversight of the site quality systems for AAV gene therapy for the Durham facility startup, validation and licensure for Zolgensma, as well as for multiple clinical molecules. Prior to Novartis Gene Therapies, Mr. Leising was Director of Clinical Gene Therapy Manufacturing at Pfizer’s former Bamboo facility overseeing Phase 1 manufacturing of their AAV-based gene therapies and future clinical manufacturing infrastructure. Mr. Leising holds an M.S. in biotechnology from the University of Maryland and a B.S. in biology from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Wayne Sackett

Mr. Sackett is an entrepreneurial leader with over a decade of experience building and scaling mission-driven organizations, with a focus on translating cutting-edge research for the benefit of patients. Mr. Sackett was most recently at MyoKardia / BMS, where he joined in 2015 prior to MyoKardia’s IPO, holding roles of increasing responsibility, culminating in his position as Head of Business Development and Head of Corporate Strategy at the time of MyoKardia’s sale to Bristol Myers Squibb for $13.1 billion. In this role, he led various activities including all licensing, partnering and M&A, corporate strategy and competitive intelligence, and additionally, at various points during his time at MyoKardia, led and served as a key contributor to the portfolio strategy, investor relations, corporate communications, capital markets and finance functions. He also previously held operating, investing or finance roles at Silk Road Medical, American Infrastructure Funds, RBC Capital Markets, and at Valero. Wayne holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS, with honors, in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

Ben Yerxa, Ph.D.

Dr. Yerxa is acting CEO of Opus Genetics, and CEO of the Foundation Fighting Blindness. As Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ben Yerxa is responsible for the overall management of the Foundation, the world’s leading private funder of research on potential treatments and cures for inherited retinal degenerative diseases including age-related macular degeneration. He also serves as CEO of the Retinal Degeneration Fund, a wholly owned, not-for-profit subsidiary focused on making venture philanthropy investments to further the Foundation’s mission. Dr. Yerxa has more than 25 years’ experience in biotechnology, drug development and in translating promising research discoveries into clinical milestones and treatments in the pulmonary, oral health, cardiovascular, HIV and ophthalmology fields. Prior to joining the Foundation, Dr. Yerxa served as president and co-founder of Envisia Therapeutics, a company focused on developing novel ocular sustained delivery therapies for the front and back of the eye. He also has previously held founding and executive positions in several ophthalmology-based R&D organizations, including Liquidia Technologies, Clearside Biomedical, Parion Sciences and Inspire Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Yerxa holds 60 U.S. patents. An inventor of DIQUAS™, an innovative treatment for dry eye approved in Japan, he has been involved in the discovery and development of investigational new drugs, Phase 3 clinical programs, new drug applications, and drug approvals. Dr. Yerxa earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from University of California, Irvine, and BA in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego.

Russell Kelley, Ph.D., MBA

Dr. Kelley serves as vice president, investments & alliances, for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. In this role, he is responsible for identifying, coordinating, and managing all external investment opportunities that strategically align with FFB’s mission, and leading and managing the Foundation’s partnerships and collaborations. Prior to joining the Foundation, Dr. Kelley was a senior program officer with the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, where he developed and led multiple advisory boards for identifying and funding gaps in interdisciplinary science and translational medicine, and was director and head of discovery, preclinical and translational medicine, at Tengion, where he helped develop a cell and tissue-based engineering platform for the regenerative medicine company. Dr. Kelley earned a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate in pharmacology and experimental therapeutics from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.  He was an American Heart Association postdoctoral fellow at UNC Chapel Hill in Dr. Cam Patterson’s cardiovascular biology and translational genomics lab, and recently earned an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.