ABOUT US

Synthekine

[sinˈTHeˈkīn] noun

A company applying distinct protein engineering platforms to develop immunotherapies designed to unlock the full efficacy potential of cytokines while avoiding toxicities associated with their pleiotropy.

Our Mission

At Synthekine, our mission is to utilize our world-class team’s expertise in cytokine biology, immunology and drug development to become a leader in developing selective immunotherapies. Through our multi-platform approach, we are striving to harness the potential of cytokine therapeutics and avoid cytokine-mediated toxicities for patients in need.

Why Cytokines?

Cytokines allow immune cells to communicate with one another and are central to the body’s response to diseases, such as cancer, and to the maintenance of immune homeostasis. Naturally occurring, or wild-type, cytokines can exert many types of responses on different or even the same cell types. This pleiotropy makes harnessing their therapeutic potential difficult due to limited efficacy, dose-limiting toxicities and narrow therapeutic windows.

Our Story

Synthekine was founded by K. Christopher Garcia, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology and Structural Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. Dr. Garcia has resolved the structure and elucidated the structure-function relationships of multiple cytokines and their receptors.

Leveraging Dr. Garcia’s foundational research and our team’s decades of cytokine discovery and drug development experience, we have built a differentiated pipeline of specific, selective and potent cytokine therapeutics against a wide range of high-value targets.

Leadership

Synthekine’s leadership has significant experience in decoding cytokine biology and advancing meaningful therapeutic pipelines. We are a team of experienced drug developers and biotechnology company operators who are united in our mission to build a leading immunotherapy company by harnessing the potential of cytokine therapeutics.

Debanjan Ray

Debanjan has served as Synthekine’s President and Chief Executive Officer since the company’s formation in 2019. Before joining Synthekine, he served as Chief Financial Officer and head of corporate development at CytomX Therapeutics, capping an eight-year tenure in roles of increasing responsibility. Debanjan helped advance CytomX from an early stage platform technology to multi-asset clinical stage company, led financing efforts and closed multiple collaborations with Bristol Myers Squibb, AbbVie, Amgen, Pfizer and Immunogen that generated over $500 million in upfront payments and up to $5 billion in milestones. Prior to joining CytomX in 2011, he was VP of Business Development at Itero Biopharmaceuticals. Earlier in his career, Debanjan held positions in business development at Portola Pharmaceuticals, in the life sciences venture practice at J.P. Morgan Partners and as a business analyst in the healthcare practice at McKinsey & Company. Debanjan received his MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and his BS in chemical engineering and biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Martin Oft, M.D.

Martin has served as Synthekine’s Chief Development Officer since the company’s formation in 2019. He is an expert in immuno-oncology, with in-depth experience in preclinical, translational, and clinical research and development of immuno-oncology and cytokine therapies. Prior to Synthekine, Martin co-founded ARMO Biosciences, where he oversaw pipeline development including pegilodecakin (pegylated IL-10) from early-target discovery through clinical development, and was the architect of its multicohort Phase 1 design for expedited Phase 1 to Phase 3 development. Martin identified integrated immune-modulating strategies for the treatment of cancer, including the invigoration of tumor-specific T-cell immunity concomitant with inhibition of tumor-promoting inflammation. Prior to ARMO, he developed immune therapies for the treatment of cancer at DNAX Research in Palo Alto, now Merck Research Labs, and held positions at Onyx Pharmaceuticals, the UCSF Cancer Center and Boehringer Ingelheim. Martin earned his M.D. and medical license from the University of Erlangen, Germany. He performed his postdoctoral research at the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna, Austria.

Naiyer Rizvi, M.D.

Naiyer has served as Synthekine’s Chief Medical Officer since May of 2021. He is an internationally recognized leader in cancer immunotherapy drug development whose clinical research has helped deliver FDA approvals of several landmark immunotherapies, including nivolumab in squamous lung cancer and pembrolizumab in non-small cell lung cancer. As a medical oncologist and expert in clinical immuno-oncology, Naiyer’s research into mechanisms of sensitivity and resistance to immunotherapy has laid the foundation to the understanding of clinical responses to immune checkpoint inhibitors. He conducted clinical studies of novel immunotherapy drugs and immunotherapy combinations, including the landmark study to demonstrate a correlation between mutations and neoantigens with durable benefit to immune-checkpoint blockade. His work has been published in leading journals including ScienceNature, and the New England Journal of Medicine. Naiyer most recently served as the Price Family Professor of Medicine, Director of Thoracic Oncology and Co-Director of Cancer Immunotherapy at Columbia University Medical Center. In addition, he was recently Research Director of the Price Family Comprehensive Center for Chest Care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Naiyer received his M.D. from the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine and completed his residency training at the University of Manitoba Affiliated Hospital and fellowship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School. He is a co-founder of Gritstone bio (previously known as Gritstone Oncology) and serves on its board of directors and scientific advisory board.

Robin Knifsend

Robin has served as Synthekine’s Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations since April 2021. She has more than 25 years of industry experience spanning equity financings, research and development collaborations, acquisitions and commercial product launches. Prior to joining Synthekine, Robin was senior vice president of finance and principal accounting officer at CytomX Therapeutics and responsible for finance, tax and planning. Previously, she had several roles of increasing responsibility at Actelion Pharmaceuticals US where she oversaw the finance and corporate services functions, helped launch three pharmaceutical products and led the finance integration into Janssen Pharmaceuticals as a result of the acquisition by Johnson & Johnson. She has also held financial leadership roles at life science and high technology companies including Maxygen, Inc., Chiron Corporation, SNOWBALL.com and Vividence Corporation. She began her career in public accounting at Arthur Andersen in the advisory and tax practice. Robin holds a bachelor of science degree in agricultural and managerial economics from the University of California, Davis, and is a certified public accountant in the state of California.

Gregory Yedinak

Gregory has served as Synthekine’s Senior Vice President of Technical Operations since joining the company in 2020. He has more than 30 years of experience in pharmaceutical, biologics and medical device process development, manufacturing and operations. Prior to joining Synthekine, Gregory was Sr. VP of Manufacturing and Supply Chain Operations at PACT Pharma, where he was responsible for building the internal and CMO manufacturing operations for the PACT Pharma immunotherapy projects. Prior to PACT Pharma, he held various executive and leadership positions at Versartis, Zosano, Nuvelo, Abgenix/Amgen and Genentech, where he was integral to the strategic production planning, process development, implementation and production of numerous clinical and commercial products and devices. Gregory earned a B.S. in biological sciences from the University of California-Irvine.

Alex Azrilevich, PharmD

Alex has served as Synthekine’s Vice President of Clinical Development since December 2021. Alex joined Synthekine following 13 years at Bristol Myers Squibb, where he most recently led the development of next generation CTLA-4 assets as Executive Director, Early Development Program Lead. During his time at Bristol Myers Squibb, Alex oversaw the development of over 10 oncology assets at various stages of development, including Ph1/2/3, health authority filings and approvals and medical affairs. Among his accomplishments, Alex led programs through successful IND submission, guided early-phase study teams through multiple Go/No Go decisions, and built a successful bladder cancer program in late development, resulting in meaningful practice changes in advanced and adjuvant bladder cancer. Alex completed a Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship at Rutgers University and received his PharmD at Temple University School of Pharmacy.

Lily Cheung

Lily has served as Synthekine’s Vice President of Human Resources since December 2021. She brings over 25 years of HR experience across the technology and biopharmaceutical industries and has more than 15 years of commercial stage biopharma experience. Previously, she served as Vice President of Human Resources at Rigel Pharmaceuticals where she partnered with the CEO and Executive Committee to support an integrated research, development and commercial organization. Prior to joining Rigel, she was with Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (now Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson Company), where she held positions of increasing responsibilities. Before Actelion, Ms. Cheung served six years at Covad Communications leading the HR Operations team. Ms. Cheung also held positions at National Semiconductor and UnitedHealthcare. She received her B.S. in management from San Francisco State University.

Shoba Gopalan, Ph.D.

Shoba Gopalan has served as Vice President, Head of Program Management and Alliance Management at Synthekine since August 2021. Shoba brings a wealth of experience and a track record of excellence working in similar roles. Prior to joining Synthekine, Shoba was most recently at ChemoCentryx, where she was instrumental in clinical study closeout, NDA preparation and file submission. She also led commercial launch readiness preparation for the company’s first approved product for treating auto-immune diseases and cancer. Additionally, Shoba has held senior program management roles at Portola Pharmaceuticals, Actelion Pharmaceuticals and Genomic Health, where she fostered collaboration and successfully led product development and launch teams for multiple programs. Earlier in her career, Shoba worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of California, Irvine after receiving her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the University of Southern California.

Rob Kastelein, Ph.D.

Rob has served as Synthekine’s Head of Therapeutic Discovery since the company’s formation in 2019 and is a long-time collaborator of Synthekine founder, Christopher Garcia, Ph.D. Prior to Synthekine, Rob led a team at Merck that was responsible for building the company’s discovery portfolio of cancer immunotherapies. He joined Merck when it merged with his prior company, DNAX Research Institute. While there, Rob’s research interests in the area of cytokine structural biology led him and his teams to the discovery and functional characterization of many novel cytokines, including IL-23, IL-27, TSLP and IL-33. Discovery of these novel cytokines has led to fundamental insights into functioning of the human immune system in disease, and it has yielded major human disease targets such as IL-23 in psoriasis and Crohn’s disease, as well as TSLP in asthma and atopic dermatitis. Rob holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Leiden University, the Netherlands, and he completed his postdoctoral work at Genentech in South San Francisco.

Patrick Lupardus, Ph.D.

Patrick is Vice President of Research at Synthekine and has served as head of the Protein Sciences department since the company’s formation in 2019. He joined Synthekine after nine years at Genentech, where he was a Senior Scientist and led a group focused on protein structure, production and design that supported both antibody and small molecule drug discovery programs. Patrick is an expert in JAK kinase structural biology, and prior to Genentech was a postdoctoral fellow with Synthekine founder Chris Garcia at Stanford, where he published a number of biochemical and structural studies of cytokine and receptor complexes, including IL-6, IL-13, and IL-23. Patrick obtained his Ph.D. from the Stanford University School of Medicine and a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Richard Murphy, J.D.

Rich is Vice President of Intellectual Property at Synthekine and has more than 20 years of experience in biotechnology patent prosecution, litigation and licensing. Prior to joining Synthekine, he was in private practice providing strategic patent guidance for a number of biotechnology companies in the San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles areas. His experience includes management of intellectual property portfolios for major pharmaceutical companies. As associate vice president of intellectual property for Sanofi-Pasteur, he was responsible for oversight of the Fluzone® influenza vaccine franchise. At Schering-Plough (now Merck), he was the Chief Patent Counsel for their gene therapy subsidiary, Canji, and responsible for due diligence and in-licensing for Schering-Plough Research Institute. He began his career in intellectual property at Eli Lilly and Company where, in addition to patent prosecution, he was extensively involved in due diligence and licensing and oversight of complex patent litigation matters. Rich received his B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his law degree from DePaul University. He is a member of the State Bar of California, the Indiana State Bar, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and he is a registered patent attorney with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Kunal Patel

Kunal has served as Synthekine’s Head of Business Development since October 2020. He has over 13 years of experience, serving as both an operator in and an advisor to life sciences companies at all stages, guiding strategic decisions and investments for licenses and acquisitions, internal R&D pipelines, commercial launches, and product lifecycle management. Prior to joining Synthekine, Kunal worked in business development and strategic planning roles at Harpoon Therapeutics and Genentech/Roche. He started his career as a management consultant with Deloitte Consulting’s life sciences practice. Kunal holds a B.S. and M.S. in Bioengineering from University of California, Berkeley and University of Pennsylvania, respectively, and also received an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Srinivas Akkaraju, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Akkaraju is a managing member of Samsara BioCapital GP, LLC, the general partner of Samsara BioCapital LP. Previously, Dr. Akkaraju was a Senior Advisor of Sofinnova Ventures, as well as a Managing General Partner at Sofinnova Ventures. Prior to joining Sofinnova, Dr. Akkaraju was a Managing Director at New Leaf Venture Partners, or New Leaf. Before this, Dr. Akkaraju served as a managing director at Panorama Capital, LLC, a private equity firm founded by the former venture capital investment team of J.P. Morgan Partners, LLC, or JPMP, a private equity division of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Dr. Akkaraju was a part of the health care investment team at JPMP, most recently as Partner. Dr. Akkaraju has served on the boards of directors of numerous public and private companies, including Synageva BioPharma Corp., Barrier Therapeutics, Inc. aTyr Pharma, Inc., ZS Pharma, Inc. and EyeTech Pharmaceuticals Inc., all of which are or were publicly traded biotechnology companies, and Amarin Corporation plc, a foreign publicly traded biotechnology company. He currently serves on the boards of directors of Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Syros Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Principia Biopharma Inc. and Seattle Genetics, Inc, all of which are publicly traded companies. Dr. Akkaraju holds a B.A. in Biochemistry and Computer Science from Rice University and an M.D. and Ph.D. in immunology from Stanford University School of Medicine.

Pablo Cagnoni, M.D.

Pablo Cagnoni, M.D., has led the development, approval, and/or commercialization of more than twenty approved medicines. He is currently the CEO of Rubius Therapeutics, a clinical stage biotech company developing genetically engineered red blood cells to treat various cancers and autoimmune diseases. Prior to Rubius, Dr. Cagnoni served as the President and CEO of Tizona Therapeutics. Previously, he was President of Onyx Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Amgen), where he led efforts from early product development to commercialization of the full portfolio. Dr. Cagnoni has had several clinical development leadership roles in his past, including Global Head of Clinical Development at Novartis Oncology, CMO at Allos Therapeutics and CMO at OSI Pharmaceuticals.

Mardi Dier

Mardi Dier is the CFO and executive vice president of Ultragenyx Pharmaceuticals. She previously served as CFO and CBO of Portola Pharmaceuticals until its acquisition by Alexion Pharmaceuticals in 2020. Before this, Ms. Dier served as vice president of investor relations at Chiron Corporation from 2003 to 2006. Earlier in her career, she worked as an investment banker at Prudential Securities, and prior to that she worked in the audit department at KPMG Peat Marwick. Ms. Dier received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University and a master’s of business administration from the Anderson School at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Julie Grant, MBA, MPHIL

Julie Grant is a General Partner at Canaan, a tech and healthcare venture capital fund with $5B assets under management. She primarily leads investments and company formation efforts in biopharmaceuticals. Since joining Canaan in 2013, Julie has incubated, financed and supported investments in multiple new ventures including Day One, Nocion, Synthekine, Protagonist (PTGX), Cellular Research (Acquired by Becton Dickinson), Dermira (DERM), Labrys Biologics, CytomX (CTMX), Unchained Labs, Chrono Therapeutics, Genome Medical, Glooko, Vineti and Truveris. Prior to joining Canaan, Julie worked at Genentech in multiple capacities across development and commercial. She earned a B.S. in molecular biophysics and chemistry from Yale, an M.Phil. in bioscience enterprise from Cambridge, and an MBA from Stanford.

Tim Kutzkey, Ph.D.

Dr. Kutzkey joined The Column Group in 2007 shortly after the firm’s inception. He has since played an active role in the launch of more than a dozen of the firm’s portfolio companies. His primary focus is company creation, often taking interim management roles at new start-ups until the recruitment of a permanent leadership team. Thus far he served as the acting CEO of Nurix Therapeutics, Peloton Therapeutics, Neurona Therapeutics, Surrozen and Proneurotech (now Nura Bio). Dr. Kutzkey was formerly a scientist at KAI Pharmaceuticals, focused on the discovery and development of selective protein kinase C inhibitors. Prior to KAI, he attended UC Berkeley as a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Robert Tjian, completing his Ph.D. in 2005. Dr. Kutzkey was previously educated at Stanford University.

Nils Lonberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Lonberg has 30 years of operational experience in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, focusing on platform innovation, drug discovery and drug development. Most recently, he was Senior Vice President, Oncology Discovery Biology at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he led drug discovery efforts for both targeted and immuno-oncology agents, including the checkpoint blockade therapies ipilimumab and nivolumab. Nils also has experience in startup and midsize biotech, serving as Scientific Director at GenPharm and Medarex. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University, and he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2015.

Christopher Garcia, Ph.D.

Dr. Garcia developed the founding principles upon which Synthekine is based, and the company was formed around intellectual property in-licensed from his laboratory. Dr. Garcia is currently a Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology and of Structural Biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He is also an Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He received his B.S. in biochemistry from Tulane University, and his Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University. After two years of post-doctoral work at Genentech, Inc. under Dr. David Goeddel in the Dept. of Molecular Biology, where he learned the emerging technologies of protein engineering and recombinant protein expression, Dr. Garcia moved to a second post-doctoral fellowship at The Scripps Research Institute in the laboratory of Prof. Ian Wilson, where he succeeded in determining the first crystal structures of the T-cell receptor and then its complex with peptide-MHC. In 1999, Dr. Garcia started his lab at Stanford University School of Medicine where he has progressed to Full Professor. Dr. Garcia was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and the National Academy of Medicine in 2016. Dr. Garcia’s laboratory continues the investigation of structural and functional aspects of cell surface receptor recognition and activation, in receptor-ligand systems with relevance to human health and disease. The Garcia Lab uses structural information on receptor-ligand complexes to engineer variant proteins and/or surrogates to manipulate receptor signaling and cellular function, with an eye towards therapeutic applications. The receptor systems studied derive principally from the immune system (TCR/MHC, cytokines, chemokine GPCR). Their focus is on “shared” pleiotropic cytokine receptors to understand the biophysical basis by which different ligands are able to elicit unique intracellular responses and functional outcomes, as well as to exploit this information to engineer receptor-specific ligands. Dr. Garcia has founded or co-founded several biotech companies, including Synthekine, Surrozen (Wnt agonists), 3T (TCR antigen discovery) and ALX Oncology (SIRP/CD7 antagonist).

Christopher A. Hunter, Ph.D.

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Nils Lonberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Lonberg has 30 years of operational experience in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, focusing on platform innovation, drug discovery and drug development. Most recently, he was Senior Vice President, Oncology Discovery Biology at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he led drug discovery efforts for both targeted and immuno-oncology agents, including the checkpoint blockade therapies ipilimumab and nivolumab. Nils also has experience in startup and midsize biotech, serving as Scientific Director at GenPharm and Medarex. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University, and he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2015.

Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D.

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Casey Weaver, M.D.

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E. John Wherry, Ph.D.

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Our Partners

In October 2021, we entered into a worldwide research collaboration and licensing agreement with Merck that leverages Synthekine’s proprietary surrogate cytokine agonist platform to discover, develop and commercialize novel cytokine therapeutics. Under the terms of the agreement, Synthekine is responsible for initial research efforts in collaboration with Merck, and Merck will have exclusive rights to develop, manufacture and commercialize surrogate cytokine agonists for up to two cytokine targets.

Interested in partnering with us? We welcome discussion on strategic partnering and collaboration opportunities with companies that share our mission to change the treatment paradigms for patients with cancer and inflammatory disease. For additional information, please contact us at bd@synthekine.com.