The Verismo Team
From Kymriah™ to SynKIR™
Verismo was founded by the inventors of Kymriah™, the first-ever FDA-approved CAR-T cell therapy. This same team saw an opportunity to overcome the limitations found in first-generation CAR-T therapies through the use of killer immunoglobulin-like (KIR) receptors in a multi-chain KIR-CAR platform.
Dr. Kim is a co-founder and CEO/President for Verismo Therapeutics. He has over 17 years of experience in building and operating biopharmaceutical companies from start-up to publicly traded biopharmaceutical and revenue generating CMO companies.
Dr. Kim was one of the starting members at VGX Pharmaceuticals, a spinout from University of Pennsylvania in 2005. He headed the corporate development and brought in Needham & Co. to complete a merger with Inovio Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: INO) in 2009. He led a series of funding that resulted in more than $20M and led to Phase I and II clinical trials for 4 DNA-vaccine pipelines in the U.S. In 2013, Inovio signed a global licensing deal with Roche for its DNA-vaccine-based pipelines. Dr. Kim was a co-founder/CEO for GeneOne Life Sciences (former VGX International), a KOSPI-listed biopharmaceutical company in Korea. He orchestrated the public company acquisition and initiated a new drug development division within the company in 2005. As a global leader in DNA vaccine, the company completed the first-ever preventive DNA vaccine Phase 1 clinical trials in Asia. He led a series of public fundings in a total of $38M and structured numerous transactions, including in- and out-licensing of pipelines with the U.S., E.U., and Asian companies. In 2008, GeneOne acquired a DNA vaccine CMO company in Houston, and as a new CEO, Dr. Kim led the company’s restructuring and expansions, successfully built new marketing teams, and implemented strategies. The company doubled its manufacturing capacity with a series of investments from the partners. In 2010, the revenues were quadrupled (4x) and achieved its first profit. Inovio and GeneOne were at $3.41B combined in market capitalization as of 12/01/2020. Dr. Kim was named Forbes Korea’s CEO of the year in 2010 and Fortunes Korea’s Best CEOs in 2011. He placed GeneOne in the KOSPI 200 index in 2008. Prior to joining Inovio, Dr. Kim was a clinical associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine. He received a DMD from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine.
Dr. Laura Johnson joined Verismo Therapeutics as Chief Scientific Officer, overseeing the company’s research and development. Dr. Johnson brings over 20 years of experience in molecular and cellular immunology, including 16 years of gene-engineered T cell immunotherapy translational expertise. Following her Master’s degree in Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Doctorate in Immunology, Dr. Johnson did a four-year postdoctoral fellowship under Dr. Steven Rosenberg at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda MD. Throughout this fellowship, she pioneered some of the first successful gene-engineered T cell therapy clinical trials for patients with advanced cancers (metastatic melanoma and synovial sarcoma). Her experience covered the full span of translational science from beginning to end, from target selection and bench research through manufacture and testing of the clinical cell product, to formation and implementation of biomarker strategy and conducting clinical analyses. Following her fellowship at the NCI and as an Assistant Professor at Duke University Medical Center, Dr. Johnson shifted her focus to patients with brain tumors, with funding from multiple awards, including from the American Brain Tumor Association. While at Duke, she developed both syngeneic and immune-deficient preclinical models to investigate chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies on glioblastoma (GBM). From Duke, Dr. Johnson was recruited to the University of Pennsylvania to work with Prof. Carl June. Dr. June is an inventor of the CD19 CAR T technology that became Kymriah ®, the first global registered gene-engineered immunotherapy for patients with hematologic malignancies. As a director, she built the solid tumor immunotherapy lab, one of the founding groups in the Penn Center for Cellular Immunotherapies. Her laboratory provided translational research for multiple solid tumor targets and data to enable clinical trials using EGFRvIII CAR T for GBM. Dr. Johnson’s work resulted in 3 patents for advances in gene-engineered cell therapies. While at the University of Pennsylvania, she received an NIH New Innovator award, and her laboratory research was funded by the NIH, Novartis, Internal awards, and GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Johnson made the move from academia to industry by joining GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as a Senior Director and the first Head of Translational Medicine for their nascent Oncology Cell Therapy Research Unit. At GSK, she created subdivisions for preclinical research and clinical development. From as a Head of Preclinical Translational Research to Head of Clinical Biomarkers in the newly formed Experimental Medicine Unit, Dr. Johnson successfully established strategy and implementation for global clinical cell therapy trials, including NY-ESO-1 T cell receptor (TCR), ranging from first in human through pivotal trials across multiple indications (lung, synovial sarcoma, MRCLS, myeloma). Dr. Johnson received a BSc in Biology/Biological Sciences from Simon Fraser University and a MSc and a PhD in cellular and molecular immunology from the University of British Columbia.
Gene joined Verismo Therapeutics as the Chief Financial Officer. He brings over 25 years of experience in financial management, M&A, and strategy. His experience includes preparing private companies for public filings, structuring M&A deals of both publicly traded and private companies, investor relations, and developing and implementing strategic business plans. At Verismo, Gene is responsible for the company’s financial management functions, including accounting and internal control, financial planning and analysis, funding, and investor relations.
Gene holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from UCLA and an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Sara Weiss joined Verismo as Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations. She brings with her 27 years of experience advancing drugs and biologics through all stages of clinical development to FDA approval. Prior to Verismo, Sara served as Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations for Kadmon and ran her own clinical consulting organization that has supported over a dozen biotech and pharmaceutical companies through Phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical trials. Sara has focused on oncology therapeutics throughout her career.
As a clinical operations leader, Sara has built clinical groups to enable companies to advance from R&D into clinical testing. She has experience designing and executing clinical trials at both domestic and international sites, working with adverse event management, overseeing data analysis, and advancing products through FDA approval.
Sara’s oncology focus also extends to her volunteer work. She was a co-founder of Thrive, a support organization for young cancer survivors (now part of Young Survivor Coalition), and a peer mentor-volunteer in DFCI’s soulmates program with the American Cancer Society. She is a patient advocate at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, supporting newly diagnosed patients. She was also a patient advocate on the breast and gynecological team that received a grant from SU2C (Stand Up to Cancer) and on multiple DFCI SPORE grants. Sara holds a Master’s Degree in Biology and Neurobiology from Boston University and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts.
Dr. Mala Talekar, MBBS, DNB, DABP, joined Verismo Therapeutics as the Vice President of Clinical Development. She is board-certified in both General Pediatrics and Pediatric Hematology/Oncology with more than 20 years of experience in the field.
Prior to Verismo, Mala was a medical director and clinical lead for multiple Phase I through Phase III immuno-oncology and cell therapy trials at GSK where she received several Innovation Awards. Before joining industry, Mala was an attending physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Cancer Immunotherapy Program where she managed, along with Dr. Stephan Grupp, inpatient and outpatient care for children receiving tisagenlecleucel.
Mala holds an MBBS from Grant Medical College at the University of Mumbai, a DNB in Pediatrics from the National Board of Pediatrics in India and DABP in both General Pediatrics and Pediatric Hematology Oncology from the American Board of Pediatrics.
Dr. Jun Xu joined Verismo Therapeutics as Senior Director of Translational Science. She has extensive experience from process development, drug product characterization to translational studies in T cell immunotherapy. After earning her Ph.D in Microbiology and Immunology from Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, she joined as a translational researcher in Product Development Laboratory, Center for Cellular Immunotherapies, at the University of Pennsylvania, in which she focused on understanding of the resistance and response to CAR T therapy in patients with hematological malignancies. In addition, she led development of a novel T cell activation strategy to augment the potency of T cell therapy products and later resulted in co-inventorship. Dr. Xu was then promoted to Associate Director at the same laboratory. In this role, she supervised process development and product characterization of both autologous and allogenic T cell therapy products in IND-enabling studies, contributing to successful IND submission. Moreover, she oversaw research activities of characterizing drug products derived from patients and investigation into development of predictive T cell biomarkers from starting materials and/or drug products in T cell immunotherapy trials. More recently, she served as VP of Process Development and Clinical Studies at UTC Therapeutics where she created the department and established bioanalytical platforms for correlative studies including evaluating the efficacy and safety of cell therapy products in patients. Dr. Xu first- or co-authored several manuscripts on the top journals including Nature Medicine, Nature, Blood and Seminars in Cancer Biology. She received a BS in Applied Biology from Zhejiang University (China) and a MS in Biology from New York University.
Jacqueline has 13 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and cell therapy industry with deep expertise in quality management, including experience in building a quality and compliance program for an autologous cell therapy product from the ground up. Throughout her career, Jacqueline has managed site quality assurance and quality control under a variety of regulatory environments including the US and EU.
In her previous role as Sr. Director of Quality Operations at Adaptimmune, Jacqueline was responsible for the oversight of Quality Batch Release Operations for US/EU, Quality Control Analytical testing, and Quality Control Microbiology. She was also responsible for developing the Quality modules of the GxP quality system and implementing the Quality policies, and standard operating procedures to establish a compliant manufacturing site at the Philadelphia location. Prior to this role, Jacqueline worked at MedImmune, a subsidiary of AstraZeneca, in the quality unit responsible for maintaining compliance for vaccine manufacturing.
Jacqueline has her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Aprelev is a start-up member and a Director of Corporate Development for Verismo Therapeutics. Prior to joining Verismo, Dr. Aprelev spent two years as a postdoc in the translational research lab at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he led a project on targeted drug delivery using mural and human red blood cell hitchhiking. He organized and managed the workflow of cross-functional teams of scientists, engineers, and medical doctors to achieve unprecedented drug delivery efficacy to the pulmonary endothelium, which resulted in two federal grants, an NIH fellowship, a provisional patent, and several peer-reviewed publications. During this time, Dr. Aprelev also completed a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania technology transfer office, where he analyzed the patentability and the marketability of new inventions. Dr. Aprelev obtained his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from Clemson University in 2018. During his PhD, he developed a new technology to probe the physical properties of blood at nano- and micro- scales and led teams of PhD and undergraduate students to understand the molecular origins of interfacial interaction and nano-rheology of clotting insect blood, as results of which, he received a 2-year NASA Graduate Fellowship, authored nine publications, presented seven oral and six poster presentations, and helped jump-start numerous successful scientific careers. He received his BS with honors in Physics with minors in Economics and Mathematics from Union College in 2013.
Raymond Luke joined Verismo Therapeutics as Director of Manufacturing Science and Technology and brings more than 10 years of experience in CMC. Prior to joining Verismo Therapeutics, Mr. Luke spent six years at Adaptimmune developing TCR-T and next generation cell therapies targeting NY-ESO-1, MAGE-A4, MAGE-A10 and AFP against solid tumor indications He held leadership roles within CMC and was responsible for GMP manufacturing and technical oversight at CDMOs, technology transfer (sending and receiving) into cGMP manufacturing and technical oversight of manufacturing operations. He also led teams responsible for developing automated processing solutions, analytical development of commercial-ready assays and late-stage process characterization for afamitresgene autoleucel. Raymond worked in a variety of roles at WuXi AppTec, University of Pennsylvania, Cancer Institute of New Jersey, LifeCell and Chromocell. Mr. Luke holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Genetics from Rutgers University.
Dr. Milone is a Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for Verismo Therapeutics. He is currently an Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and founding member of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania. He has over 25 years of experience in immunology and close to 20 years of experience in the development of genetically engineered T cell therapies for therapeutic applications. He is a co-inventor of CTL019, the first chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-based T cell therapy to reach regulatory approval in the U.S. and Europe. He has also led or contributed to the development of several new CAR-T cell therapies for multiple myeloma, solid tumors and non-malignant disease such as the autoimmune disease, pemphigus vulgaris being developed by Cabaletta Bio, another company co-founded by Dr. Milone. He currently leads a team of translational researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania that are developing novel immunoreceptor and engineered T cell designs for effective T cell-based immunotherapy, including the KIR-based CAR design that forms a foundation for the approach being developed by Verismo Therapeutics. Dr. Milone has received several honors recognizing his research including the Clinical Research Forum’s Top Ten Clinical Research Achievement Award in 2017 for work on CAR T cell-based immunotherapy of multiple myeloma and an Agilent Thought Leader Award in 2020 with Carl June, MD recognizing their contributions to the field of CAR T-cell mediated cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Milone is a graduate of the accelerated BS-MD program between Stevens Institute of Technology and New Jersey Medical School. He holds a B.S. in Chemical Biology from the Stevens and received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees in experimental pathology in 1999 from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now a part of Rutgers). He is a board-certified clinical pathologist, completing an internship in Internal Medicine, residency in Clinical Pathology and fellowship training in Clinical Pathology and Transfusion Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He continues to maintain a clinical practice as the Associate Director of the Toxicology Laboratory at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, receiving several awards for his excellence in teaching and research.
Dr. Siegel is a co-founder and Co-Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for Verismo Therapeutics. He is currently a Professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and founding director of the Division of Transfusion Medicine & Therapeutic Pathology at UPenn. He is medical director of the blood bank, apheresis unit, and stem cell lab, and he directs the Clinical Cell and Vaccine Production facility in Penn’s Center for Advanced Cellular Therapies which has manufactured over 3000 cell products for over 1200 patients including the first genetically modified cell therapy product approved by the FDA and first-in-human use of CRISPR-edited cells in the U.S. Dr. Siegel’s translational research laboratory has been funded by the NIH in the areas of immunohematology, hemostasis/thrombosis, autoimmunity, and oncology since 1992. His laboratory focuses on the development of phage display technologies for the discovery of recombinant human and non-human antibodies relevant to transfusion medicine, benign hematology, infectious diseases, and oncology, particularly for use in the design of targeted therapies such as chimeric antigen receptor T-cells. For his contributions to clinical care, in 2013 Dr. Siegel was elected to the first class of Penn Medicine’s Academy of Master Clinicians. Since 2017, his investigative work in autoimmunity and cellular therapy has been recognized with receipt of the Research Innovation in Scientific Excellence Award, the Dale E. Smith Memorial Award, and the Tibor Greenwalt Memorial Award and Lectureship from the American Association of Blood Banks; the Francis S. Morrison Award and the Lecturer Award from the American Society of Apheresis; and the Gift of Life Award from the Ree Wynn Foundation. For his contributions specifically to the development of chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, Dr. Siegel shares the 2020 Robert de Villiers Spiral of Life Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the 2020 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer Team Science Award. Dr. Siegel received an undergraduate degree in Biophysics from Brown University, a Ph.D. in Biophysics from Harvard University, and an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency in Clinical Pathology and Fellowship in Blood Banking/Transfusion Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania before joining Penn as a member of the faculty in 1992.
Dr. June is a founding advisor for Verismo Therapeutics. Professor June maintains a research laboratory that studies various mechanisms of lymphocyte activation that relate to immune tolerance and adoptive immunotherapy for cancer and chronic infection. In 2011, his research team published findings detailing a new therapy in which patients with refractory and relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia were treated with genetically engineered versions of their own T cells. The June laboratory has published more than 500 publications and has a google scholar h-index of 155 with more than 100,000 citations. He currently serves as the Richard W. Vague Professor in immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and as the Director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the Perelman School of Medicine, as well as the Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including his election into the National Academies of Medicine and Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Albelda is on the Scientific Advisory Board for Verismo Therapeutics. He is the William Maul Measey Endowed Professor of Medicine, Director of the Thoracic Oncology Research Laboratory, and co-Director of the Translational Center of Excellence for Lung Cancer at Penn. Dr. Albelda has over 30 years of experience in cancer gene and immunotherapy. His research interests focused on developing novel approaches for the treatment of mesothelioma, lung cancers, and other thoracic malignancies. In 1992, he founded a translational “Thoracic Oncology Research Laboratory” aimed at moving research from “bench to bedside”. He has led an NCI-funded Program Project aimed at developing new treatments for mesothelioma and thoracic malignancies for the past 26 years. He has been involved with more than a dozen “bench to bedside” projects. These include the development of a world-wide, randomized Phase 3 trial to test the use of an adenoviral vector expressing type 1 interferon. He has also helped develop clinical trials of CAR T-cell therapies targeting mesothelin and fibroblast activation protein. Dr. Albelda is a co-founder of a recently formed company (Capstan) focusing on the use of CAR T-cells to treat fibrosis. The major areas of recent interest in his lab have been augmentation of anti-tumor immune effects, the tumor microenvironment, mechanisms of T cell dysfunction, and adoptive T cell transfer targeting tumors and stroma. His lab has developed a wide variety of animal models of lung cancer and mesothelioma that can be used to evaluate new therapies and T cell function. He has also analyzed human samples from many clinical trials. The lab has extensive experience in lentiviral transduction of human T cells and retroviral transduction of mouse T cells for use in adoptive T cell transfer.
Dr. Albelda graduated from Williams College and from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He received his clinical post-graduate training at Penn and was boarded in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, and Critical Care Medicine. He has won the American Thoracic Society Recognition Award for Scientific Accomplishment Award and was the 2010 recipient of the Wagner Award from the International Mesothelioma Interest Group honoring the top researcher in the field.