karen Chen, Ph.D., Director

Karen Chen is the Chief Executive Officer of the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Foundation whose mission is to accelerate the development of a treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), the leading genetic cause of death in young children. Dr. Chen is responsible for overseeing the scientific and drug discovery programs, as well as managing the operations activities at the SMA Foundation. She has over 30 years of neuroscience drug development experience including holding director-level positions at Roche Palo Alto and Elan Pharmaceuticals working primarily on therapies for Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Dr. Chen holds an A.B. from Harvard University, obtained her Ph.D. in Neurosciences from the University of California, San Diego working with Dr. Fred Gage, followed by post-doctoral training was at Genentech investigating neurotrophic factors therapies for neurodegenerative conditions. She has over 50 scientific publications and several patents. Dr. Chen currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Bluefield Project and the N-Unem Foundation, and is an advisor to several other non-profit organizations. Dr. Chen has served on the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) National Advisory Council. She also is the Chief Executive Officer and Cofounder of Imago Pharmaceuticals. 

Sami Hussain, BS., BA., Scientist

Sami Hussain is currently developing the HTS assays for measuring the activity of the novel enzymes and the compounds that will inhibit them. After working in genomics on the Human Genome Project and DNA microarray technologies at Affymetrix, he transitioned to small molecule and antibody drug discovery at Exelixis, Renovis, iPierian, True North Therapeutics, Bioverativ, and currently at Nitrome Biosciences. His efforts in research, development, and clinical assay transfers have contributed to the successful progress of three clinical drug candidates so far: IPN007, a tau antibody for PSP and Alzheimer’s Disease; and BIVV009/BIVV020, complement C1s antibodies for Cold Agglutinin Disease and other autoimmune blood disorders. He studied genetics and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and Stanford. 


Vu Dang, ph.d., senior Scientist

At Nitrome Biosciences, Vu is isolating and characterizing enzymes. He is an innovative scientist with significant accomplishments in applying multidisciplinary approaches to develop therapeutics by establishing models for pain, aging, neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative diseases. He previously was project leader for internal research and development programs at NeuCyte. Vu developed cellular assays to identify rejuvenating and aging factors in plasma at Alkahest and developed and implemented assays to screen for therapeutic molecules for multiple sclerosis and pain management at Teva. At iPierian, he was instrumental in the development of IPN007, an antibody for which BMS acquired iPierian and is currently owned by Biogen and in pivotal clinical trials for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Phase 2 trial for Alzheimer’s disease. Vu received his Ph. D. in Physiology and Pharmacology at Oregon University and BA in Biology at University of Portland. 

Our champions

Ephraim Helller, MBA, Chairman

Ephraim Heller is the Founding CEO of SynAgile, a startup developing novel drug delivery systems for Parkinson’s and other diseases. Before that, he was Founding CEO and later VP of Marketing and VP of Business Development at TheraSense Inc., a maker of blood glucose monitoring systems for people with diabetes. TheraSense went public in 2001, sales grew to $270 million in 2003, and the company was acquired by Abbott for $1.2 billion in 2004. Ephraim holds over 100 issued US patents. He received a BA in Physics from Harvard and an MBA from Yale.

Nitrome Biosciences Halting Parkinson's Disease

Zach Hall, Ph.D., Director

Zach Hall is a retired neuroscientist whose laboratory studied the molecular structure and development of the neuromuscular junction. He received his Ph.D. with Ed Kravitz at Harvard University in 1966. Following two years of post-doctoral work in the Department of Biochemistry at Stanford, Hall returned to Harvard to join the new Department of Neurobiology as an Assistant Professor. In 1976 he moved to UCSF where he started the Neuroscience Graduate Program. From 1994-97 he was director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke before returning to UCSF as Executive Vice Chancellor, with responsibility for developing the campus at Mission Bay. He then held a series of administrative positions, including the CEO of EnVivo Pharmaceuticals and later Associate Dean for Research at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. His last position was as the first president of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, a new state agency to fund stem cell research in California. Hall was one of the founding editors of Neuron, and is the author and editor of a textbook, An Introduction to Molecular Neurobiology. He has received a number of honors, including the Purkynje Medal from the Czech Academy of Sciences. Hall, who now lives in Wilson, WY, currently serves as an advisor and board member for Target ALS, a privately-funded research project to develop therapies for ALS.

Our Team

Bill McDowell, Director

Bill McDowell is retired from Royal Bank of Canada's Wealth Management division after 35 years with it and predecessor companies. His brokerage career occurred in Denver and Casper, Wyoming. His employment allowed him to be active in local government in which he held a number of elected partisan and non-partisan positions. He serves as the designated director for Breakthrough 307, the lead funding agent for Nitrome Biosciences convertible debt offering. He resides most of the year in Casper.

Regis B. Kelly, Ph.D., Director

Dr. Regis B. Kelly is the Director of QB3, one of the four California Institutes for Science and Innovation. Scientists on the three QB3 campuses (UCB, UCSC & UCSF) work at the interface of the physical and biological sciences. The QB3 innovation team converts discoveries into practical benefits for society. As Director, Dr. Kelly helped launch two QB3-associated companies, QB3@953, a Life Sciences Startup incubator and Mission Bay Capital, a venture fund. As a result of his experiences, Dr. Kelly was appointed as Senior Advisor on Innovation and Entrepreneurship to the President of the University, Janet Napolitano. Prior to joining QB3 in 2004, Regis Kelly served as executive vice-chancellor at UCSF and Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. He holds the inaugural Byers Family Distinguished Professorship. His academic research was in the field of molecular and cellular neurobiology. His training was at Harvard, Stanford, Caltech and the University of Edinburgh. He has served on many national and international boards. In 2014 he was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to science, innovation, and global health. 

Irene Griswold-Prenner, Ph.D., CEO/CSO  

Irene Griswold-Prenner was previously a Cofounder and the CSO of Imago Pharmaceuticals. Imago, a privately held pharmaceutical company, engaged in development of drug candidates directed against JNK for fibrosis and neurodegenerative disease treatment. Imago acquired Elan Pharmaceuticals’ preclinical assets, including JNK, from which all assets were developed and partnered or sold to biotech or pharmaceuticals to continue their development. Dr. Griswold-Prenner previously led iPierian’s research efforts when value creation was realized for up to $725 million from the BMS acquisition of iPierian for IPN007, the first tau therapeutic antibody to begin human testing. IPN007 has now been purchased by Biogen for up to $1.4 billion and is progressing in Phase 2 studies for both PSP and AD. IPN007 is also the first drug candidate in to clinical trials where the discovery originated from an iPSC approach. Previously Irene worked at Elan Pharmaceuticals, contributed to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis Programs.  She received her BA from Colorado University in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Ph. D. from University of Chicago in Physiology and Cellular Pharmacology.

halting Parkinson's Disease