Biocom - Life Sciences Association of California
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The Biocom Catalyst Awards turn the spotlight to the next generation of life science trailblazers in San Diego. Biocom in conjunction with the San Diego Venture Group, launched the Catalyst Awards to identify accomplished and up-and-coming academics, entrepreneurs, investors, corporate leaders and business advisers who are making their mark on San Diego’s life science industry before reaching their 40th birthday. These trailblazers in the community are individuals who are igniting innovation and fueling the growth of our vibrant industry.

  • Winners
  • Honorable Mentions

Phil Baran 

Darlene Shirley Chemistry Chair & Professor
The Scripps Research Institute 

Phil Baran Darlene Shirley Chemistry Chair & Professor

Phil Baran was born in 1977 in Denville, New Jersey. He received his B.S. in chemistry from NYU in 1997, his Ph.D. at The Scripps Research Institute in 2001, and from 2001-2003 he was an NIH-postdoctoral fellow at Harvard. His independent career began at Scripps in the summer of 2003. He currently holds the Darlene Shiley Chair in Chemistry. Phil has published over 150 scientific articles and has been the recipient of several ACS awards such as the Corey (2015), Pure Chemistry (2010), Fresenius (2006), and Nobel Laureate Signature (2003), and several international distinctions such as the Hirata Gold Medal and Mukaiyama Prize (Japan), the RSC award in Synthesis (UK), and the Sackler Prize (Israel). In 2013 he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, in 2015 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2016 he was awarded the Blavatnik National Award. He has delivered hundreds of lectures around the world and consults for numerous companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb (since late 2005), Boehringer-Ingelheim, AstraZeneca, DuPont and TEVA, and is a scientific advisory board member for Eisai, Abide, KemXtree, and AsymChem. In 2016 he was appointed as an Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society. He co-founded Sirenas Marine Discovery (2012) and Vividion Therapeutics (2016) and in 2013 he co-authored The Portable Chemist’s Consultant, an interactive book published on the iBooks store along with his graduate class in Heterocyclic Chemistry (viewable for free by anyone on iTunes University). Outside of the lab, Phil enjoys spending time with his wife Ana and three young children (Lucia, Leah, and Manuel).


Martyn Gross

Founder; Vice President, Innovation 
Clarify Medical

Martyn Gross Founder and Vice President of Innovation

Martyn Gross is Founder of Clarify Medical, formerly Skylit Medical. Martyn is passionate to change the lives of patients with psoriasis, eczema and vitiligo by creating an innovative light therapy platform connected to telemedicine and mobile device software. Martyn recruited experienced luminaries to join Clarify leadership, including David F. Hale as Chairman of the Board, as well as Jim Sweeney as Clarify CEO. After founding the company, Clarify Medical has won San Diego Venture Group Cool Company, Biocom DeviceFest Coolest Device, CTO Forum Top 21 Disruptive Companies and Xconomy’s 2017 San Diego Tech Startups to Watch. Martyn was named one of the 2016 San Diego Innovators of the Year by OurCity San Diego. Previously, he led a successful corporate subsidiary spinout of a marketplace website company. Martyn holds his MBA from Rady School of Management, University of California San Diego.


Tony Grover

Vice President, Business Development
Banyan Biomarkers

Tony Grover Vice President, Business Development

Tony Grover is the Vice President of Business Development for Banyan Biomarkers, a company developing a rapid blood test to quickly and objectively diagnose concussions and traumatic brain injuries. In this capacity, he is responsible for fostering new business initiatives, reimbursement, marketing, and investor relations. Tony has over 15 years of diversified experience in the life science industry. Previously, he was the Director of Marketing and Reimbursement at PhotoThera, Inc., a privately held medical device company that raised approximately $100mm for the treatment of acute stroke. Prior to joining PhotoThera, Mr. Grover was a management consultant for Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath (PRTM), now PwC, where he worked with a variety of Fortune 500 companies to increase operational efficiency. Tony currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Global Brain Health Coalition to bring brain health awareness to patients, athletes, veterans, and caregivers. He previously served on the Board of Directors for the American Heart Association, San Diego from 2010-2012, as Chairman from 2012-2014, and as Past Chair in 2015. He is currently a member of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry and the American Academy of Neurology where he served on the Corporate Roundtable Executive Committee from 2009-2013. Mr. Grover is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar from Michigan State University with a B.S. in Biochemistry. He also has a M.B.A. from Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business and completed the Harvard School of Public Health Summer Program.


Susie Harborth

General Partner, BioInnovation Capital
Managing Director, BioLabs San Diego

Susie Harborth General Partner; Managing Director

Susie is currently General Partner and CFO at BioInnovation Capital and Managing Director/Co-Founder of BioLabs San Diego. From 2010-2014, Susie was Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at GnuBIO which was acquired by Bio-Rad Laboratories (NYSE: BIO) in 2014. In 2013, she was named a "Women to Watch" by Boston Business Journal and Mass High Tech. Prior to joining GnuBIO, Susie was Vice President, Business Operations at Cequent Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Marina Biotech in 2010) and Boston Heart Diagnostics (BHDx), a diagnostic company acquired by Eurofins SA in 2015. Susie is on the Advisory Board at LabCentral, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing biotech co-working spaces in Massachusetts. She is focused on emerging areas of biotechnology, including orphan and rare disease, genomics, diagnostics, women's health and personalized/precision medicine.


Michael Heltzen 

President and CEO
AllSeq Inc. & EXO Incubator Inc. 

Michael HeltzenPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Michael Heltzen is a very active tech entrepreneur, innovation initiator and investor. Since 2005, he has co-founded, supported and worked for more than ten successful growth companies in the DNA tech and Genomics industry. Currently, Michael holds management positions at both AllSeq Inc. and EXO Incubator Inc., and is involved with several new startups. Michael has specialized in helping Life Science innovators and technology developers to create businesses in the space of Genomics and Personalized Medicine.


Rob Knight

Faculty Director, Center for Microbiome Innovation Pediatrics, Computer Science and Engineering, University of California, San Diego

Rob Knight Faculty Director

Rob Knight, PhD, is professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Computer Science & Engineering at the University of California San Diego, and author of “Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes.” He received a B.Sc. in Biochemistry in 1996 from the University of Otago in his native New Zealand, a PhD in 2001 from Princeton University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and performed postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado, Boulder before becoming a faculty member in the interdisciplinary BioFrontiers Institute there in 2004. He moved to UC San Diego in 2015 to launch and direct the UC San Diego Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative, which is now part of the White House’s National Microbiome Initiative. Knight’s work focuses on using readout technologies such as next-generation sequencing to improve our understanding of the structure, function and dynamics of the human microbiome, contributing to the main data analysis in the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project. He is co-founder of the Earth Microbiome Project and the American Gut Project. Current research interests include relating the human microbiome to diseases ranging from obesity to mental illness, spatial and temporal mapping of microbial communities on different scales ranging from our bodies to our planet, and developing new data visualization methods that assist in resolving the challenge of microbial “Big Data.”


Dena Marrinucci

Vice President, Research  
Salveo Dx

Dena MarrinucciVice President, Research

Dr. Dena Marrinucci has been part of the blood diagnostics space for over 10 years. In early 2016 she joined the founding team for Salveo Dx, a consumer based diagnostic company. At Salveo, she oversees research and development of new blood diagnostic tests. Prior to Salveo, in 2008 she founded Epic Sciences, a cancer diagnostic company. At Epic, she acted as Chief Scientific Officer and oversaw all pharma partnering diagnostic collaborations including strategy, agreements, and execution of biomarker development ensuring alignment with drug development launch. Within this role, she established partnerships with over 35 pharmaceutical and biotech companies, integrating Epic’s liquid biopsy technology into more than 60 clinical trials worldwide. She also oversaw assay development and research groups. In recognition of her work at Epic, she was awarded MIT Technology Review’s Top 35 Innovators under 35 and Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Leading Global Thinkers in 2015. Dr. Marrinucci has a B.S in Chemistry from the University of Vermont and a Ph.D. from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in chemical biology.


Mike Milligan 

Principal, Life Science Department
Barney & Barney

Mike Milligan Principal, Life Science Department

Mike Milligan joined Barney & Barney in 2000 and became a Principal of the firm in 2008. As the Life Science Practice Group leader, Mike is responsible for building client relationships for Barney & Barney in the life science industry. Under his leadership, the Life Science Practice has grown from 7 to over 550 life science clients. He works with life science clients from new venture formation through the IPO process and is extensively involved with the Executive Liability Practice, addressing the Directors and Officers Liability needs of public companies. Mike leads his practice in providing risk management strategies and placement solutions for clinical trials and product liability. The Life Science Practice Group has placed over 1,000 clinical trial policies in over 80 countries. He was named a national “Power Broker” by Risk & Insurance Magazine. He was included in the “40 Under 40” and ranked as one of the youngest recipients. Mike serves Biocom, is on the board of Hanna Fenichel and the Cardiff 5K. A native of Southern California, Mike earned his bachelor’s degree in communications with two business minors from the University of San Diego. He holds the designations of Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and Accredited Advisor of Insurance (AAI). He lives in Del Mar with his wife Beth and their 3 kids, Reghan, Hank and Brecken.


Edward R. Truitt, III

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer
Lubris BioPharma

Edward R. Truitt, III Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Edward R. Truitt, III, JD – Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Lubris BioPharma – is a biotech entrepreneur and former corporate attorney. In addition to Lubris BioPharma, Mr. Truitt is a co-founder of Biological Dynamics, Inc., a molecular diagnostics company focusing on the early detection of cancer. In 2007, Mr. Truitt, along with his wife, co-founded the UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge, a business plan competition that has gone on to award over $1M and help start 15+ technology companies. Mr. Truitt received his JD from the University of San Diego and his B.A. from UC Santa Barbara. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Mr. Truitt had an active practice in corporate law, focusing on business formation and technology licensing.


Ashley Van Zeeland

Chief Technology Officer 
Human Longevity

Ashley Van ZeelandChief Technology Officer

Dr. Van Zeeland is the Chief Technology Officer for Human Longevity, Inc. and joined as part of the acquisition of Cypher Genomics, a leading cloud-based genome interpretation company, where she was co-founder and CEO. Prior to founding Cypher Genomics, she served as Director, Strategic Partnerships at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) where she focused on novel public-private partnerships to accelerate translational research. Before transitioning to her role as Director, Strategic Partnerships she was a research fellow in bioinformatics and statistical genetics at (STSI). She received a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles and MBA from the University of California, San Diego.


Francie Barron

Vice President, Biology & Regulatory Affairs
Nanomedical Diagnostics

Francie Barron Vice President, Biology & Regulatory Affairs

Spearheading biology research and regulatory affairs at Nanomed, Dr. Barron earned her PhD in Cell Biology, Stem Cells and Development at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. Dr. Barron brings 19 years of research experience in academic, pharmaceutical, and regulatory settings to her role optimizing biological systems and directing regulatory strategies for clinical products. At the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Dr. Barron produced over 50 novel antibodies for C. elegans. In her graduate work, Dr. Barron elucidated the signaling pathway by which Hand2 influences lower jaw and tongue development in mice. As a postdoc at Stanford with a NIH training grant award, she worked to develop a new in vitro drug screening process to assess the safety of novel compounds on iPSC-derived human cardiomyocytes. Dr. Barron was a contributing writer for the Pacific Southwest chapter of the American Medical Writers Association and is excited to bring Nanomed’s clinical products through the FDA to market.


Sanjeev Bhavnani

Scripps Clinic and Research Institute

Sanjeev Bhavnani Cardiologist and Physician-Investigator

Dr. Bhavnani is a cardiologist and physician-investigator in the field of wireless medicine and mobile health at Scripps Clinic and Research Institute. In this position, he has received funding and grants focused on the design of mobile health and telemedicine clinical trials and is involved in the design of new methodologies in bioinformatics, big data analytics, clinical trial design, and trial coordination. As a principle investigator on several studies he has designed programs using nanosensors, various wireless mHealth and smartphone-connected devices, handheld ultrasound and cloud-based platforms in new telemedicine studies across various patient populations. These trials have employed new methodologies including community engagement, cluster-randomization, and the N-of-1 clinical trial design to assess the impact on health care quality, outcomes, and healthcare costs. A significant development within these programs has been the design of international and global mobile health initiatives to assess the impact of these technologies in resource-limited areas and where Dr. Bhavnani and his team have designed the first smartphone-connected mHealth clinics in Uganda, India, and in Mexico to engage communities with technology-enabled care. To date these clinics have engaged thousands of patients. These experiences are being translated to design population-based digital health programs for underserved areas in San Diego and across the United States to empower and enable these communities through education, design thinking, and entrepreneurship. He works with teams of clinicians, researchers, biomedical engineers, and biostatisticians and has developed STEM programs for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, and as a practicing cardiologist and clinical-technologist is involved in teaching a wide range of students in medicine, nursing, and engineering. Dr. Bhavnani has been recipient of awards from national medical organizations including the American College of Cardiology and the American Society of Hypertension as well as Young Investigator Awards from the American Society of Echocardiography and the Heart Rhythm Society. He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular diseases, nuclear cardiology, echocardiography, and informatics. He serves on the technology task forces of several medical societies to develop digital health strategies and policy. His work with community mobile health has been featured in several articles and publications and he has been named a ‘Top Doc’ in San Diego Magazine for these efforts.


Brendan Eckelman

Chief Operating Officer; Vice President, Biotherapeutics

Brendan Eckelman Chief Operating Officer; Vice President, Biotherapeutics

Brendan Eckelman Ph.D. is the Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Biotherapeutics at Inhibrx LP, a company he co-founded in 2010. He is a protein biochemist with a passion for entrepreneurship, technology generation and therapeutically addressing unmet medical needs. The creation of Inhibrx was driven by the desire to build a differentiated science-first, self-sustaining biotherapeutics company that efficiently developed transformative therapeutics. Brendan’s vision to put science first has created a culture of innovation leading to the development of an expansive pipeline focused on oncology, infectious disease and inflammatory conditions. The unique structure at Inhibrx has eliminated many bureaucratic barriers that misalign proper experimentation and creativity from corporate operations. Inhibrx is targeting to file 4-5 INDs over the next 18 months on its wholly owned and partnered therapeutic programs. At Inhibrx, Brendan leads therapeutic development and scientific operations, overseeing multiple groups, including antibody discovery, biological assays and protein sciences. He has pioneered multiple innovative antibody discovery and optimization platforms. In addition, Brendan has critical responsibilities in corporate strategy execution and business development. Prior to founding Inhibrx, Brendan was a Research Investigator at Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF). Brendan received his Ph.D. in molecular pathology from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, conducting his graduate research at the Sanford-Burnham-Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. Brendan holds an MS in biology and BS in molecular biology also from UCSD.


Thomas Hitchcock

Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Thomas Hitchcock Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Thomas Hitchcock, Ph.D. is the Founder and CEO of Xycrobe Therapeutics, Inc. Thomas has been at the helm of several biotech startups and has worked closely with the medical and marketing teams for industry leaders such as Boehringer Ingelheim and Bayer. He was the Director of Medical Affairs for Ulthera, Inc., where he was part of the team that brought their platform technology to acquisition in July 2014 by Merz pharmaceuticals. He also currently is the acting VP of Clinical and Medical Affairs for Bellus Medical and travels the country lecturing to medical professionals about skincare and aesthetics in dermatology. Thomas holds a doctorate in molecular genetics from Clemson University where he did his research on DNA damage and repair. He has completed postdoctoral training at both Duke University in the Biomedical Engineering Department and Yale University in the Program in Vascular Biology and Therapeutics where he was involved in ground-breaking research and development of in vitro engineered human cardiovascular and pulmonary tissues. He has also performed research at Weill Cornell Medical College in the Department of Oncology and Hematology where he studied multiple myeloma genetics. His findings have been both presented to the scientific community and published in noteworthy scientific journals, such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.


Jonathan Kabakoff

Senior Principal, Science and Technology
Alexandria Venture Investments/ Alexandria Real Estate Equities 

Jonathan Kabakoff Senior Principal, Science and Technology

Jonathan Kabakoff is a Senior Principal - Science and Technology at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. and Alexandria Venture Investments. In his role, Mr. Kabakoff is responsible for strategic venture capital investments, business development, and tenant underwriting in Alexandria’s San Diego and Seattle cluster locations through the company’s strategic venture investment arm, Alexandria Venture Investments. While at Alexandria, he has led venture capital investments in more than 30 life science companies primarily in the areas of therapeutics, diagnostics, and life science research tools. Mr. Kabakoff represents Alexandria as a Board Observer of Metacrine, Inc. He is on the board of SparkBio, an invitation-only networking group that brings together up-and-coming life science professionals in San Diego, and is a member of the Biocom Capital Development Committee. Prior to joining Alexandria, Mr. Kabakoff held research positions at Gen-Probe, Genoptix, and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. Jonathan holds a BS in Chemistry from Stanford University.


Prashant Mali

Assistant Professor of Bioengineering 
University of California, San Diego

Prashant MaliAssistant Professor of Bioengineering

Mali received a bachelor’s and master’s in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and a doctorate in Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. During his postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School, he pioneered the development of the CRISPR/Cas systems for eukaryotic genome engineering. For his graduate work he received the Siebel Scholar Award in 2011, in 2014 he received the Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface, and in 2016 he received the Basil O'Connor Scholar and Kimmel Scholar Awards. Mali joined the University of California, San Diego faculty in 2014 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering. His lab works in the fields of synthetic biology & regenerative medicine with a focus on developing technologies for enabling gene & cell based human therapeutics.


David Puerta

Chief Operating Officer 
Forge Therapeutics

David PuertaChief Operating Officer

David Puerta is a co-founder and COO of Forge Therapeutics – a start-up spun out of UCSD armed with a novel fragment-based chemistry platform for the discovery of metalloenzyme therapeutics. Forge is applying its technology to drug LpxC, an essential target for the treatment of multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacterial infections. Prior to Forge, David was VP of Discovery at Living Proof – a Cambridge MA start-up aimed to disrupt the personal care industry by using technologies inspired by biomedical applications. During his tenure at Living Proof, David and his team developed two new technologies that are currently found in a number of award winning products. David received his PhD in Chemistry/Biochemistry from UCSD and his undergraduate degree from CSU Dominguez Hills.


Travis Stiles

Chief Executive Officer
Novoron Bioscience

Travis Stiles Chief Executive Officer

Dr. Travis Stiles is founder and CEO of Novoron Bioscience, a San Diego based startup which spun out of UCSD. Dr. Stiles completed his Ph.D. in the Biomedical Sciences Program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where his work on novel mechanisms of nerve regeneration became the foundation for Novoron’s R&D pipeline. Novoron is developing novel therapeutics for the repair of damage to the brain and spinal cord that occurs after trauma or disease. While such damage has long been thought to be irreversible, Novoron has developed technology that shows promise to reverse the damage that leads to permanent disability or death with its primary programs currently directed toward spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis lesions. In addition to his Ph.D., Dr. Stiles holds an M.A. in Exercise Physiology from the University of the Pacific and a B.A in Exercise Science from Willamette University.


Ryan J. Taft

Senior Director, Scientific Research

Ryan J. Taft Senior Director, Scientific Research

Ryan J. Taft, PhD, is Senior Director of Scientific Research at Illumina, with a focus on the development and deployment of diagnostic whole genome sequencing worldwide for children with rare and undiagnosed genetic disease. He leads a team within Population and Medical Genomics that includes the Illumina Clinical Services Laboratory. Previously, Dr. Taft was a Group Leader & Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, where he still holds a partial appointment, and he is Adjunct Associate Professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles in a variety of well-regarded journals, and has led or contributed to teams responsible for the discovery of six genetic conditions. Dr. Taft holds various positions within industry organizations. He is a founding member of the Global Leukodystrophy Initiative; scientific advisor to the Mission Massimo Foundation; and, co-chair of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of Global Genes. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of California, Davis on a Regent’s Scholarship, and his PhD in Genomics and Computational Biology from the University of Queensland on a US National Science Graduate Foundation Research Fellowship.


Dina Uzri

R&D and Business Development
Abreos Biosciences 

Dina Uzri Research and Development; Business Development

Dr. Dina Uzri has sixteen years of research experience in both academic and industry settings and is an inventor on five patent applications. She earned her PhD in virology from Harvard University and carried out her postdoctoral studies in microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. Dr. Uzri also completed a certificate program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she acquired skills in business, management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. While in the Bay Area, she also consulted part-time at a molecular diagnostics start-up. Dr. Uzri moved to San Diego in late 2012 and joined a small biotech firm as Senior Scientist, where she focused on vaccine formulation to reduce cold chain dependence and helped develop novel needle-free vaccine delivery methods. Dr. Uzri joined Abreos Biosciences in 2014 as the first employee and has helped build the company to its current stage. She plays an active role in both the scientific and business sides of the company, which has developed a novel technology to enable personalized dosing of biologic drugs. Dr. Uzri is also continuing her business education as a FlexEvening MBA student at Rady School of Management at UC San Diego.