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Biocom Catalyst Awards

2020 applications now open!

Join Biocom in celebrating the future of life science by nominating a young leader who you feel is igniting innovation and fueling the growth of our industry.



“Thanks to advances like gene editing, therapies are increasingly sophisticated and targeted, patients can hopefully have access to medicines that are better targeted for their disease, their health and their biology.”

Rachel Haurwitz, Ph.D., 2019 Winner

Congratulations to our 2019 Catalyst Award Winners

Please join us in recognizing the winners of our 4th annual Catalyst Awards from San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Our industry would not be the same without young leaders like this year’s winners who help to ignite innovation and fuel the growth of our industry, and we thank all our 2019 nominees for their hard work and dedication.

Click through below to read more about each winner. Read the full press release here.

Adam Adler, Ph.D.
Adam Adler, Ph.D.

Adam Adler, Head of Laboratory Research Operations, GigaGen

Dr. Adler has more than fifteen years of research and laboratory management experience, including deep expertise in antibody sequencing. At GigaGen, he leads laboratory research operations and is responsible for the development of GigaGen’s product pipeline in oncology and immune deficiency. He has used his expertise in cutting-edge technologies including microfluidics, protein engineering and genomics to create GigaGen’s immune analysis and drug discovery technologies that have enabled rapid pipeline development. Prior to GigaGen, Dr. Adler held research management roles at LakePharma, where he was responsible for all internal and external projects including developing new antibody sequence analysis tools, and at Genentech where he worked to identify novel oncogenes and validate cancer drug targets. Dr. Adler has authored over 25 research publications in leading journals and holds a B.A. in Biological Sciences from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Stanford University School of Medicine.

Rachel Haurwitz, Ph.D.
Rachel Haurwitz, Ph.D.

Rachel Haurwitz, Ph.D., Co-founder, President and CEO, Caribou Biosciences

Rachel is co-founder, president, and CEO of Caribou Biosciences, a CRISPR gene editing company developing cellular therapies to treat cancer. In 2014, she was named by Forbes Magazine to the “30 Under 30” list in Science and Healthcare, and in 2016, Fortune Magazine named her to the “40 Under 40” list of the most influential young people in business. In 2018, the Association for Women in Science recognized Rachel with the annual Next Generation Award. Rachel earned an A.B. in Biological Sciences from Harvard College, and received a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Anitha Jayaprakash, Ph.D.
Anitha Jayaprakash, Ph.D.

Anitha Jayaprakash, Ph.D., Co-founder, Girihlet Inc.

Anitha Jayaprakash is the CEO/Co-founder of Girihlet Inc, which is focused on building a powerful immune platform to identify and target novel biomarkers for diagnosing, treating and curing autoimmune conditions. With a Ph.D. in Biomedical Genetics from Mount Sinai school of medicine, NY, she has a strong technical background (16 peer reviewed publications, 5 patents). Girihlet has extended its target identification platform from humans to multiple species (dogs, cats, monkeys, swine, mouse) with the goal of creating a best-in-class pre-clinical evaluation platform. This allows them to select the most accurate pre-clinical species to test their therapeutic assets before moving into humans. Their platform has already helped determine that a version of colitis in a mouse model is caused by diet changes leading to autoimmunity, independent of the microbiome.

Anitha recognized early on that small biotech startups face many obstacles that could be avoided by following the example of research universities. In such settings, internal collaborations are encouraged, and scientists can better advance their own research programs by sharing domain expertise and expensive equipment.

In addition to running her company, she set up the first co-sharing biotech incubator in Oakland, CA in 2017 called the Oakland Genomics Center (OGC). Since its inception, OGC has been growing, in size and occupancy. It is now self-sufficient. It has incubated more than 16 biotech startups and is currently home to 14. She is a big booster of Oakland and is proud to have contributed to creating and facilitating biotech jobs in the city.

Noga Leviner
Noga Leviner

Noga Leviner, Co-founder and CEO, PicnicHealth

Noga Leviner is the co-founder and CEO of PicnicHealth, a venture-backed digital-health startup with the mission to structure the world’s medical data to make it useful for both patients and researchers.

After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and struggling to keep track of her own health data, she was inspired to create a company to empower patients with access to their complete, digital medical history. PicnicHealth regularly works with research initiatives to provide study volunteers access to their own data, and in the process creates data sets that power some of today’s most cutting edge precision medicine research.

Noga is a vocal advocate for patient data access in the US healthcare system and has spoken widely on the subject including at the White House. She spent the early part of her career working with Ashoka to support social entrepreneurs in Latin America and then co-founded Lumni USA, where she raised and deployed the first US investment fund to help underserved students access low-risk student loan products. Noga has a B.A. from Stanford where she studied Human Biology and Economics.

Matt Davidson Ph.D.
Matt Davidson Ph.D.

Matt Davidson Ph.D., CEO and Co-founder, Azora Therapeutics and Founder, Verrica Pharmaceuticals

Matt Davidson Ph.D., CEO and Co-founder of Azora Therapeutics and Founder of Verrica Pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Davidson is a founder, executive, advisor and investor with experience successfully leading a company from idea to IPO. He is the co-founder and CEO of Azora Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company developing drugs for serious unmet needs. Azora is developing therapies for the treatment of inflammatory diseases and expects to begin treating patients in clinical trials and close its next round of financing in 2020. Dr. Davidson is the founder and former CEO of Verrica Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: VRCA), a pharmaceutical company developing novel therapies for dermatological conditions including molluscum contagiosum and common warts. At Verrica, he invented the core technology, helped raise over $100M in private and public financing and led the company as CEO from founding into pivotal Phase 3 trials, which were successfully completed in 2019.

Dr. Davidson received his B.A. in molecular and cellular biology from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. in Immunology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.

Shannon Mumenthaler, Ph.D.
Shannon Mumenthaler, Ph.D.

Shannon Mumenthaler, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, University of Southern California Lab Director, Lawrence J. Ellison Institute of Transformative Medicine, University of Southern California

Shannon Mumenthaler, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She completed her B.S. in Genetics at UC Davis and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Pathology at UCLA. Her postdoctoral training was done at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and USC. Although her primary scientific training is in cell biology, she applies a unique multidisciplinary approach toward her research program, partnering with mathematicians, clinicians and engineers to explore critical areas in cancer. Her overall research interest focuses on the importance of the tumor microenvironment in influencing tumor progression and treatment response. She is inspired by working with colleagues from diverse scientific backgrounds to think outside the box, devise new ways of approaching cancer, create new model systems and push the limits of cancer research. In addition, Dr. Mumenthaler is the Lab Director for the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC, a translational institute that bridges clinical care, research and innovation. Dr. Mumenthaler helps strategize the goals, partnerships and scientific planning for the institute.

Patrick Phelps
Patrick Phelps

Patrick Phelps, Sofie Biosciences (Sofie), Co-founder, President & CEO Director Momentum Biosciences, Board Member

In 2009, Patrick joined a group of scientists, physicians and other industry professionals to form a company named Sofie Biosciences (SOFIE) to make PET and radiopharmaceuticals more broadly available to researchers and clinicians through new generations of molecular imaging diagnostics, radio-therapeutics and devices. Patrick spends the majority of his time focusing on how to grow the business, setting the strategy, tracking execution, driving P/L growth, solving tactical issues on a daily basis, HR, capital allocation, fundraising and investor relations.

A few key accomplishments at SOFIE include:

  • Grew company from a spinout out of University of California, Los Angeles/Caltech to an operating company with ~$65M in 2018 sales a forecast of ~$70M in sales
  • Manage CGMP 21 CFR 211/212
  • Successfully led Seed, Series A, and Series B totaling $28.6M in investments
  • Raised ~$9M in non-dilutive funding in NIH and DOE grants for technology development
  • Attracted top talent and built a proud culture of great people (275 employees)
  • Products used by 600 sites around the world
  • Product launched pre-clinical PET/CT systems (in partnership with PerkinElmer) and radiopharmaceutical automated chemistry units

Patrick also spends a small amount of my time helping out on high-level issues with running a biotech incubator named Momentum Biosciences. Momentum is committed to accelerating the transfer of new technologies from academic laboratories to the commercial environments.

Prior to joining SOFIE, Patrick worked as part of a small talented team who built the pre-clinical molecular imaging business (~$40M in annual sales) at Siemens Healthcare where Patrick helped drive the adoption of two generations of small animal PET, CT and SPECT imaging systems into the life science and pharmaceutical marketplaces. Patrick also held various positions at CTI Molecular Imaging (acquired by Siemens) in clinical sales, sales support, product management (Biograph 6 PET/CT and mobile PET/CT) and marketing in the nuclear medicine and PET/CT businesses. Patrick graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Colorado. His 17 years have been spent exclusively in PET and radiopharmaceuticals.

Ranjan (Ron) Batra, Ph.D.
Ranjan (Ron) Batra, Ph.D.

Ranjan (Ron) Batra, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development

Ranjan (Ron) Batra is the vice president of research and development at Locana, Inc. where he is involved in creating and deploying RNA targeting gene therapy for various genetic diseases. Ron graduated from the Ph.D. program in molecular genetics at University of Florida, where he worked on RNA mediated disorders. Further, Ron did his postdoctoral training at Mayo Clinic and subsequently at University of California, San Diego.

Ron was awarded the myotonic dystrophy foundation (MDF) postdoctoral fellowship for his work at UC San Diego where he co-developed RNA targeting CRISPR therapeutics platform which was published in Cell in 2017. Briefly, Ron worked at Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) before joining Locana in 2018. Locana received the Venture Philanthropy (MVP) grant from the Muscular Dystrophy Association for which Ron is the principal investigator. “I’m committed to working with and training the next generation of students and biotech scientists in pursuit of therapies for incurable genetic diseases.

David Chacko, M.D.
David Chacko, M.D.

David Chacko, M.D., Chief Business Officer, Erasca

David Chacko is Chief Business Officer of Erasca, bringing deep experience in strategy, finance, business development and operations. He was previously a Principal at Versant Ventures, where he held a dual investing/operating role, helping lead investment opportunities across multiple therapeutic areas. Operationally, he was intimately involved in advancing several Versant portfolio companies through company formation, fundraising, business development and clinical and regulatory activities.

Dr. Chacko joined Versant from Alcon, where, as Chief of Staff to the CEO, he worked alongside the executive leadership team to develop and implement Alcon’s top priorities to accelerate growth and innovation. He was involved in several pivotal initiatives, including identifying the causes of sales and profit shortfalls and formulating action plans to improve performance.

Prior to Alcon, Dr. Chacko was an Engagement Manager at McKinsey, leading multiple teams serving pharmaceutical and medical device clients, across sales and marketing, R&D, finance and other functions. Previously, Dr. Chacko worked at SR One, the venture capital arm of GSK. He also worked at Amgen in commercial operations and at Morgan Stanley in investment banking.

Dr. Chacko holds an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was President of the medical student body, and an MBA from the Wharton School. He earned an M.Phil. from Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar, as well as undergraduate degrees in biology and business from the University of Southern California, where he graduated as the University Valedictorian.

Sheng Xu, Ph.D.
Sheng Xu, Ph.D.

Sheng Xu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Nanoengineering, UCSD

Sheng Xu is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Nanoengineering at University of California, San Diego. He received his B.S. in Chemistry and Molecular Engineering from Peking University in Beijing, China, and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. He worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His group focuses on biointegrated electronics for health monitoring and human-machine interfaces. His research has been highlighted as “Groundbreaking Research in 2018” by Forbes, “12 innovations that will revolutionize the future of medicine” by National Geographic, and 2018 NIH-wide end-of-year review. He has been recognized by a number of awards, including the MIT Technology Review 35 Innovators Under 35, NIH NIBIB Trailblazer Award, Wellcome Trust Innovator Award and MRS Outstanding Young Investigator Award (one of the 32 recipients of this award since its inception in 1991). He serves Nano Research as a Young Star Editor.

View previous years’ winners here.

“The convergence of scientific disciplines is transforming the way we approach human health. Data-driven personalized medicine is an exciting wave of the future.”

Shannon Mumenthaler, Ph.D., 2019 Winner


The Biocom Life Science Catalyst Awards are an annual celebration of the most inspiring and driven young minds who are sparking meaningful change to human health through their research, discovery and entrepreneurship.

Who is eligible?

The awards are open to accomplished and up-and-coming academics, entrepreneurs, investors, corporate leaders and business advisers who are making their marks on the Bay Area, San Diego and Los Angeles life science communities before reaching their 40th birthdays.


Honorees are highlighted on the cover of Biocom’s fall issue of Lifelines magazine and featured on the Biocom website. In addition, winners are recognized at the San Diego Venture Group’s Annual Luminary Dinner, held in the fall. Winners are also announced in an accompanying news release.


The Biocom Life Science Catalyst Awards were created by Biocom in conjunction with the San Diego Venture Group in 2016. The inaugural program attracted a stellar array of accomplished young professionals. A committee of executives and board members from both Biocom and the San Diego Venture Group selected 10 winners and 10 honorable mentions for the 2016 class.