November 17, 2023

Meet Our 2023 Catalyst Awards Winners

This year’s Biocom California Life Science Catalyst Award Winners. Top row, from left: Andres Bratt-Leal, co-founder and senior VP of R&D, Aspen Neuroscience; Carl Dambkowski, CMO, Apogee Therapeutics; Paul Donohue, associate director of platform discovery, Caribou Biosciences; Ryan Kellogg, co-founder and CEO, RTHM;
Pascal Krotee, senior associate, RiverVest Venture Partners. Bottom row, from left; Swathi Kumar, senior director, human identification and forensics, QIAGEN;
Maddison Masaeli, CEO and co-founder, Deepcell; Joshua Pelz, CEO, LIMBER Prosthetics & Orthotics; Raphael Townsend, founder and CEO, Atomic AI;
Courtney Young, co-founder and CEO; MyoGene Bio.

Our Life Science Catalysts

For the eighth year in a row, Biocom California recognizes and celebrates the entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers, academics, and company founders who are sparking significant change and helping ignite innovation in California’s ever-growing life science community all before their 40th birthday. This year’s Catalyst Awards winners were honored on November 17, 2023, at our annual Celebration of Life gala in San Diego.

Biocom California recognizes these ten individuals who are already making lasting marks. From integrating telehealth and advanced diagnostic technologies to helping patients managing complex chronic diseases, developing patient-specific dopamine-producing cells to treat Parkinson’s disease and applying next generation DNA sequencing technologies as a tool for justice, these talented leaders are sure to shape the future of the California life science ecosystem for years to come.

Realizing the Dream of Stem Cell-Based Therapies

Andrés Bratt-Leal, Ph.D. | Co-founder and Senior Vice President of Research and Development of Aspen Neuroscience

Andrés Bratt-Leal knows the profound potential that autologous stem cell technologies have to improve patient lives. As a postdoc in Jeanne Loring’s lab, he developed a protocol that enabled patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells to differentiate into dopamine-producing neurons. These neurons could replace those that are lost in the brains of patients living with Parkinson’s disease, providing a disease-modifying approach to treat the debilitating neurodegenerative disorder. And he has been fortunate to witness firsthand the hope this work brings, recalling the times he’s shown patients their own dopamine-producing cells and watched their awe-struck reactions.

Rapidly Growing Companies to Help Transform Ideas into Medicines

Carl Dambkowski, M.D. | Chief Medical Officer of Apogee Therapeutics

Carl Dambkowski’s goal is simple—he wants to develop therapies that improve lives. After having the opportunity to do just that by working on the core team for BridgeBio’s two drug approvals in 2021, he assumed the role of chief medical officer of Apogee Therapeutics last year to build a team of talented individuals to design and execute on the company’s clinical trial strategy. Since he joined, Apogee has made significant advancements, including growing the company from an initial 10 to approximately 70 individuals and taking their investigational drug candidate into the clinic for atopic dermatitis. Building a name for himself as a passionate, patient-focused and persistent leader within the industry, Carl balances his time outside the office by spending time with his family staying active. When he is not chasing his two kids (one and three years of age) around the house, he can be found enjoying a run or a ride—he has run a sub 6-minute mile while pushing his daughter in a stroller.

Inventing Tomorrow’s CRISPR Engineering Tools

Paul Donohoue | Associate Director of Platform Discovery at Caribou Biosciences

At Caribou Biosciences, Paul is developing next-generation CRISPR engineering tools that are more efficient and precise, and capable of more sophisticated genome editing that is the foundation of the company’s cell therapy pipeline. In addition to inventing Caribou’s chRDNA Technology Platform, he takes special pride in mentoring young scientists and helping them foster their own ideas and grow their skillset. Paul is not only a talented scientist and inventor—he is a budding entrepreneur with a vision to start and lead his own biotech company one day. When he isn’t flexing his creative problem-solving skills at work, Paul is an avid wine fan on the hunt to try new unique wines at any opportunity. In fact, the perfect pairing to end his week is a fresh hot slice of homemade bread with a nice glass of wine.

Integrating Telehealth with Advanced Molecular and Digital Measurement to Solve Complex Illnesses

Ryan Kellogg, Ph.D., Co-founder and CEO of RTHM

One of the most vexing elements of the COVID-19 pandemic was the realization that many people who recovered from the viral infection were left with long-term symptoms like brain fog, debilitating fatigue, heart palpitations and sleep problems. Long COVID and other complex illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome have puzzled the medical community for years, and Ryan Kellogg and his other co-founders of RTHM saw the potential of integrating remote clinical medicine and research with advanced molecular and digital measurement technologies to bring faster relief to patients. For Ryan, each milestone the company has achieved—including the launch of RTHM’s telehealth clinic, the development of an app for patients and the launch of the company’s first lab test—is a great source of pride. Ryan hopes that RTHM will continue to grow and enable patients with other complex diseases associated with infections to achieve meaningful relief.

Nurturing the Entrepreneurs Innovating to Solve Unmet Medical Needs

Pascal Krotee, Ph.D. | Senior Associate at RiverVest Venture Partners

Pascal may miss lab work terribly, but her work identifying promising science for RiverVest Venture Partners’ portfolio allows her to explore and continually learn about a vast array of therapeutic areas and positively impact the entrepreneurs who need strategic guidance to fully realize the potential of their biopharma and medtech innovations. Pascal fondly remembers the first deal she worked on at RiverVest that resulted in an investment: a company focused on developing functional cures for patients with viral liver diseases. From the first pitch meeting, Pascal had a great feeling about the CEO and was delighted that the due diligence on the science supported her gut instinct. And while Pascal is no longer donning the lab coat she wore while completing her Ph.D., she scratches the experimental itch by getting into the kitchen to cook and bake.

Developing Advanced DNA Technologies as a Tool for Justice

Swathi Kumar, Ph.D. | Senior Director of Human Identification and Forensics at QIAGEN

Swathi Kumar is on a mission to apply the tools of the next-generation sequencing revolution to justice. While the power of DNA technology to identify human remains in war zones, exonerate innocent people wrongly imprisoned and to solve what were once unsolvable crimes has long been recognized, human identification and forensic applications have relied on decades-old technologies. At Verogen, which was recently acquired by QIAGEN in a $150 million deal, Swathi was responsible for the launch of multiple products and the forging of key partnerships that contributed to QIAGEN’s interest in the company. Swathi is grateful for the opportunities she’s been presented with throughout her career and feels especially privileged to do the work she does because it brings hope to so many.

Empowering Scientists to See Cells in New Ways

Maddison Masaeli, Ph.D. | Co-founder and CEO of Deepcell

Passionate about innovating at the intersection of engineering and biology, Maddison Masaeli leads Deepcell, a company pushing the boundaries of cell science by blending AI-powered technology, microfluidics and high-resolution optics. Invented by Maddison with her postdoctoral advisor Euan Ashley and Deepcell co-founder Mahyar Salek, Deepcell’s technology allows scientists to assess cells one at a time in a completely new way. While applying engineering solutions to biological problems is profoundly satisfying to Maddison, outside of the office she loves traveling, cooking and singing. She is also eager to lend her experience to training the next generation of leaders through education where she can be effective.

Creating the Future of Accessible Prosthetic Care

Joshua Pelz, Ph.D. | Co-founder and CEO of LIMBER P&O

Joshua Pelz believes that everyone should be able to access high-quality prosthetic care. To that end, he applied his background in materials science and engineering to co-found and lead LIMBER Prosthetics, which uses an innovative digital design and 3-D printing approach to manufacture prosthetic devices. LIMBER’s technology removes the inefficiencies inherent in the conventional prosthetic and orthotic manufacturing process that leaves nine out of 10 people in need without these life-changing devices. LIMBER’s approach is already making a big impact for patients like Jonah, a 12-year-old in San Diego who lost his leg. With the technology developed by Joshua and his team, Jonah is now able to keep up with his brothers and is excelling in surfing, recently taking first place at a surfing competition backed by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Outside of his work, Joshua is passionate about spending time outdoors backpacking, skiing, mountain biking and surfing.

Bridging the Worlds of AI and Structure Biology to Advance RNA Science

Raphael Townshend, Ph.D. | Founder and CEO of Atomic AI

The next frontier of drug discovery is upon us thanks to cutting-edge technologies coming out of companies like Atomic AI. Raphael works at the intersection of AI and RNA by leveraging deep learning foundation models to develop new RNA-targeted small molecules, RNA-based medicines and RNA tools. This proprietary AI-driven platform originated from his Ph.D. work at Stanford, where he first applied machine learning to model biologic structures. Raphael is not only exploring new terrains of RNA drug discovery, he can also be found exploring alpine ski trails or discovering new board games and swing dancing.

Inspired by a Loved One to Cure Devastating Muscle Diseases

Courtney Young, Ph.D. | Co-founder and CEO of MyoGene Bio

Courtney has a deeply personal motivation for pursuing therapies for muscle diseases—her cousin’s diagnosis with Duchenne muscular dystrophy in 2008. In graduate school, she pursued research that would have a meaningful impact for Duchenne and that would eventually become the foundation for MyoGene. Courtney is especially proud of MyoGene’s $3.4 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which provides vital funding to gather important preclinical data to advance MyoGene’s gene editing approach for Duchenne. Importantly, the grant signaled support from scientists as well as the general public for MyoGene’s work since it required a scientific review as well as one from CIRM’s independent citizens oversight committee. When she’s not directing MyoGene’s business and scientific pursuits, Courtney can be found baking yummy treats, reading lots of books or spending time outdoors.

Recognizing the Biocom California Life Science Catalyst Award Winners at our Annual Celebration of Life Gala. From left to right: Tim Schoen, CEO, BioMed Realty (event emcee); Joshua Pelz, CEO, LIMBER Prosthetics & Orthotics; Swathi Kumar, senior director, human identification and forensics, QIAGEN; Paul Donohue, associate director of platform discovery, Caribou Biosciences; Courtney Young, co-founder and CEO, MyoGene Bio; Andres Bratt-Leal, co-founder and senior VP of R&D, Aspen Neuroscience. Photo by J.T. MacMillan