About

about nkarta

Nkarta seeks to improve upon the efficacy of cell therapy, making it more potent, better tolerated and more rapidly available to a broad population of patients with a variety of hematologic and solid tumor malignancies.

While T-cell therapy, often known as CAR-T, has proven successful in certain cancer indications, its promise has been limited to a few hematologic malignancies and the side effects can be severe. Natural Killer cells are the immune system’s first responders against diseases and pathogens. Unlike T cells, they have an inherent ability to target tumor cells without genetic alteration, and therefore hold significant promise in the development of potent therapies that can be used more readily for diverse tumor types. Nkarta’s differentiated cell therapy approach is designed to boost and enhance the inherent power of Natural Killer cells to target and destroy tumor cells, while also offering a better tolerated safety profile.

Leadership

Paul Hastings

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Paul Hastings photo

Mr. Hastings was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Nkarta in February 2018. Mr. Hastings was recently the Chairman and CEO of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals. Prior to joining OncoMed in 2006, Mr. Hastings was President and Chief Executive Officer of QLT, Inc. Previous to that, Mr. Hastings served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Axys Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Celera Corporation in 2001. From 1999 to 2001, Mr. Hastings served as the President of Chiron BioPharmaceuticals, a division of Chiron Corporation. Prior to that, he was President and Chief Executive Officer of LXR Biotechnology. Mr. Hastings also held a series of management positions of increasing responsibility at Genzyme Corporation, including serving as President of Genzyme Therapeutics Europe as well as President, Genzyme Therapeutics. Mr. Hastings also served as Vice President, Marketing and Sales and General Manager, Europe for Synergen, Inc., and previously held a series of marketing and sales management positions with Hoffmann-La Roche.

He is currently Lead Independent Director of Pacira Biosciences, Inc., and Director at ViaCyte. He also serves as Chair of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). Mr. Hastings was recently the Chairman of the Board of Proteon Therapeutics, was on the Board of Directors of Relypsa, Inc. (acquired by Galenica), was Chairman of the Board of Proteolix (sold to Onyx Pharmaceuticals in 2010) and served on the board of ViaCell (sold to Perkin-Elmer in 2007).

Mr. Hastings received a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from the University of Rhode Island.

Ralph Brandenberger, PhD

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, TECHNICAL OPERATIONS

Ralph Brandenberger photoDr. Brandenberger joined Nkarta in 2018 and oversees the company’s cell therapy manufacturing operations. He has broad experience in process development, technical operations and manufacturing of cellular therapeutics and biologics. He was previously at Neurona Therapeutics, where he developed the manufacturing strategy for Neurona’s novel cell therapy platform. Prior to that, Dr. Brandenberger oversaw manufacturing sciences, analytical sciences and GMP cell banking as Head of Technical Operations at Baxalta Hayward, a GMP manufacturing plant of clinical stage biologics and reagents used in commercial drug substance manufacturing. Prior to joining Baxalta, Dr. Brandenberger served as Director of Process Sciences for Cellular Therapeutics at Geron Corporation where he had responsibilities for process and technology development of Geron’s pluripotent stem cell platform.

Dr. Brandenberger received a MS and PhD in Cell Biology from the Biocenter of the University of Basel, Switzerland. He completed postdoctoral training at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of California, San Francisco.

Alicia Hager, JD, PhD

CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER

Dr. Hager joined Nkarta as Chief Legal Officer in 2020 and is responsible for directing the company’s legal affairs. She was previously at OncoMed Pharmaceuticals for nearly eleven years, where she held multiple roles of increasing responsibility, serving most recently as Senior Vice President and General Counsel. During her tenure at OncoMed, she negotiated major strategic partnerships, helped lead the company through its IPO, and oversaw a cross-border merger. Prior to joining OncoMed, Dr. Hager was an attorney at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP, where she served as intellectual property counsel to biotech and pharmaceutical clients. Early in her career, Dr. Hager was a patent agent at the law firm of Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP.

Dr. Hager received a JD from Stanford Law School, a PhD in Chemistry from Harvard University, and an AB in Chemistry from Occidental College.

Nadir Mahmood, PhD

CHIEF FINANCIAL AND BUSINESS OFFICER

Nadir Mahmood photoDr. Mahmood was named Chief Financial and Business Officer in 2020. He joined Nkarta in 2018 to lead corporate and business development activities. Prior to that, he headed corporate development at Second Genome where he was responsible for establishing strategy and partnerships across the company’s portfolio of programs and oversaw all intellectual property matters. Earlier in his career, Dr. Mahmood was Staff Scientist at Kythera Biopharmaceuticals (acquired by Allergan), overseeing preclinical research for the company’s lead molecule, Kybella®. He has also worked in equity research at Goldman Sachs and consulted for early stage companies in the life sciences and clean energy sectors.

He has a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin and received his doctoral degree from the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Dr. Mahmood completed postdoctoral research at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.

Kanya Rajangam, MD, PhD

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER

Kanya Rajangam photoDr. Rajangam joined Nkarta as Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer in 2018 to lead all clinical development activities. Dr. Rajangam most recently served as Chief Medical Officer at Atara Biotherapeutics where she was responsible for the development of allogeneic and autologous T-cell therapies for oncology, neurology and infectious disease. Prior to Atara, she was Chief Medical Officer of Cleave Biosciences, where she led clinical development of the company’s oncology pipeline. Dr. Rajangam also served in roles with increasing responsibilities at Onyx and Exelixis, during which time she contributed to various stages of development and/or approval of multiple oncology drugs including Kyprolis®, Cotellic® and Cometriq®/Cabometyx®. Dr. Rajangam, a general surgeon, received a medical degree from St. Johns’ Medical College in India. She also received a PhD in biomedical cell and tissue engineering from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

James Trager, PhD

CHIEF SCIENTIFIC OFFICER

James Trager photoDr. Trager joined Nkarta in 2016 and leads all new product discovery efforts. Dr. Trager is deeply versed in the development and application of cellular therapies for cancer. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Development at Dendreon, where he was responsible for product development, clinical immunology, analytical development, and process automation, supporting the late stage development of sipuleucel-T through clinical study, approval, and commercialization. Prior to Dendreon, Dr. Trager was a Senior Scientist at Geron, where he was part of the team that cloned human telomerase, and later established a Quality Control function to enable the manufacture and clinical development of a telomerase inhibitor.

Dr. Trager is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe New Mexico; and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic. He received his doctorate in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley, where he performed mechanistic studies on the src oncogene.

Board of Directors

Tiba Aynechi, PhD

Tiba Aynechi photoDr. Aynechi joined Novo Ventures in 2010. Dr. Aynechi has more than 15 years of combined research and banking experience in life sciences that spans various therapeutic areas and technology platforms. Prior to joining Novo Ventures (US) Inc., Dr. Aynechi was a Director with Burrill & Company where she has completed regional and cross-border M&A, licensing, and financing transactions for biotech and large pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Aynechi received her PhD from the Graduate Group in Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco where her research involved developing computational methods for drug discovery. She has an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Aynechi is also a published author of scientific articles and book chapters in the area of rational drug design.

Fouad Azzam, PhD, MBA

Fouad Azzam photoDr. Azzam joined LSP in 2007. He became a General Partner of the firm in that same year. Dr. Azzam’s prime focus and responsibility within LSP is to invest in unlisted securities and manage the firm’s North American operations. Prior to joining LSP, Dr. Azzam was the Managing Director of Eastman Ventures, the investment arm of Eastman Chemical Company, where he built-up its Healthcare and Advanced Materials practice. In his role as Managing Director, he was responsible for numerous early- and late-stage investments across the US & Europe. Dr. Azzam brings a wealth of investment expertise to the LSP team. Prior to his role at Eastman Ventures, Dr. Azzam held senior leadership positions at Eastman Chemical including roles in Innovation, Corporate Strategy, Corporate Development (M&A) and New Business Development. His career also includes business, operating, and technology roles at Occidental Chemical and BFGoodrich.

Dr. Azzam’s academic credentials include a Master’s degree and PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Akron in Ohio. In addition, Dr. Azzam obtained an MBA in Finance & Strategy from the University at Buffalo in New York.

Ali Behbahani, MD, MBA

Ali Behbahani photoDr. Behbahani, MD, MBA, joined NEA in 2007 and is a Partner on the healthcare team. He is a co-founder of Nkarta and specializes in investments in the biopharmaceutical, medical device, specialty pharmaceutical and healthcare services sectors. Prior to joining NEA, Dr. Behbahani worked as an intern and later as a consultant in business development at The Medicines Company, a specialty pharmaceutical company developing acute care cardiovascular products. He previously held positions as a Venture Associate at Morgan Stanley Venture Partners and as a Healthcare Investment Banking Analyst at Lehman Brothers. He conducted basic science research in the fields of viral fusion inhibition and structural proteomics at the National Institutes of Health and at Duke University.

Dr. Behbahani concurrently earned his MD degree from The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and his MBA degree from The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, where he graduated with Honors and was a Palmer Scholar. He graduated summa cum laude and received his bachelor’s degrees with distinction in Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Chemistry from Duke University.

Mike Dybbs, PhD

Mike Dybbs photo Dr. Dybbs has over 15 years of investment and consulting experience in the life science sector. Dr. Dybbs is currently a Partner at Samsara BioCapital. Prior to joining Samsara, Dr. Dybbs was a Partner at New Leaf Venture Partners, which he joined in 2009. Before New Leaf, Dr. Dybbs was a Principal at The Boston Consulting Group, where he was a core member of their Health Care practice. Dr. Dybbs currently serves as a director of Levo Therapeutics, Sutro BioPharma and IONpath. Previously, he served on the boards of Versartis, Dimension Therapeutics, Principia and Advanced Cell Diagnostics.

Dr. Dybbs earned a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Genetics from University of California, Berkeley, where he was awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship; and received an A.B. in Biomedical Sciences from Harvard University. His research had been published in peer-reviewed journals, including Science, Nature and Neuron.

Simeon George, MD, MBA 

Simeon George photoDr. George joined SR One in 2007 and is CEO of the fund. He earned his MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine / Wharton School and BA from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, Dr. George worked in management consulting (Bain & Co.) and investment banking (Goldman Sachs). Simeon led SR One’s investments in several deals including CRISPR Therapeutics (CRSP), Principia Biopharma (PRNB, recently acquired by Sanofi for $3.7bn), Turning Point Therapeutics (TPTX), Progyny (PGNY), and Nkarta Therapeutics (NKTX), which he co-founded.

Paul Hastings

Paul Hastings photoMr. Hastings was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Nkarta in February 2018. Mr. Hastings was recently the Chairman and CEO of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals. Prior to joining OncoMed in 2006, Mr. Hastings was President and Chief Executive Officer of QLT, Inc. Previous to that, Mr. Hastings served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Axys Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Celera Corporation in 2001. From 1999 to 2001, Mr. Hastings served as the President of Chiron BioPharmaceuticals, a division of Chiron Corporation. Prior to that, he was President and Chief Executive Officer of LXR Biotechnology. Mr. Hastings also held a series of management positions of increasing responsibility at Genzyme Corporation, including serving as President of Genzyme Therapeutics Europe as well as President, Genzyme Therapeutics. Mr. Hastings also served as Vice President, Marketing and Sales and General Manager, Europe for Synergen, Inc., and previously held a series of marketing and sales management positions with Hoffmann-La Roche.

He is currently Lead Independent Director of Pacira Biosciences, Inc., and Director at ViaCyte. He also serves as Vice Chair and member of the Executive Committee of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). Mr. Hastings was recently the Chairman of the Board of Proteon Therapeutics, was on the Board of Directors of Relypsa, Inc. (acquired by Galenica), was Chairman of the Board of Proteolix (sold to Onyx Pharmaceuticals in 2010) and served on the board of ViaCell (sold to Perkin-Elmer in 2007).

Mr. Hastings received a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from the University of Rhode Island.

Leone Patterson, MBA

Leone Patterson photo

Ms. Patterson is Chief Financial and Business Officer of Tenaya Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on cardiovascular disease.

Prior to Tenaya, Ms. Patterson served as the President and Chief Financial Officer of Adverum Biotechnologies, Inc. Previously, Ms. Patterson was Chief Financial Officer of Transcept Pharmaceuticals, Inc. until its acquisition by Paratek Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and then Chief Financial Officer of Diadexus, Inc. Earlier in her career, she served in financial leadership roles at NetApp, Inc., Exelixis, Inc., Novartis AG and Chiron.

Ms. Patterson earned a B.S. in Business Administration and Accounting from Chapman University and an Executive M.B.A. from St. Mary’s College. Ms. Patterson is also a Certified Public Accountant (inactive status).

Zach Scheiner, PhD

Zach Scheiner photoDr. Scheiner joined RA Capital Management, LLC in 2015 where he is a Principal on the Investment Team. Prior to joining RA Capital, Dr. Scheiner was a Science Officer at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Scheiner works on both public and private investments and serves as a board director for two other privately-held companies. Dr. Scheiner holds a BS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University, and a PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior from the University of Washington.

Laura Shawver, PhD

Laura Shawver photo

Dr. Shawver is President, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Silverback Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company advancing a pipeline of therapies that are systemically delivered, but locally active and target fundamental disease pathways in cancer, fibrosis and virology.

Prior to Silverback, Dr. Shawver was President and CEO of Synthorx, Inc., a company developing engineered cytokines for cancer and autoimmune disorders, from 2017 through its acquisition by Sanofi in 2020 for $2.5B. Previously, she was CEO of Cleave Biosciences since 2011 and Entrepreneur in Residence for 5AM Ventures from 2010 – 2011. From 2002 – 2010, Dr. Shawver was the CEO and Director of Phenomix Corporation and President of SUGEN, Inc. from 2000 – 2002 after holding various positions since 1992.

She is the founder of the non-profit organization, The Clearity Foundation, which helps women with ovarian cancer improve their treatment options. Dr. Shawver currently serves on the board of Relay and Cleave Therapeutics. She received her Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Iowa.

Scientific Advisory Board

Dario Campana, MD, PhD

Dario Campana photoDr. Campana is the scientific founder of Nkarta and is a leader in the field of cell therapy. Dr. Campana discovered Nkarta’s underlying NK expansion technology in the course of his research at the St. Jude Research Hospital; at St. Jude he also created the CD19-41BB-CD3zeta chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that was subsequently shown to be highly effective in treating patients with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), an aggressive form of the disease. Other achievements include the development of effective methods for monitoring residual disease in acute leukemia leading to high cure rates in childhood ALL and acute myeloid leukemia.

Dr. Campana is also the Scientific Founder of Unum Therapeutics, Inc. and the Chairman of Advisory Board and was a Member of Medical Advisory Board at Cellectis S.A. Dr. Campana currently holds the Mrs. Lee Kong Chian Chair in Advanced Cellular Therapy at the National University of Singapore where he is the Director of the Division of Immunopathology and Cell Therapy. He holds an MD from the University of Torino and PhD from the University of Milan.

Lewis Lanier, PhD

Lewis Lanier photoDr. Lanier is Chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Co-Leader of the Cancer, Immunity, and Microenvironment Program, and Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of California San Francisco.

Dr. Lanier received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, and was a Damon Runyon – Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fellow at the University of New Mexico. He went on to hold leadership roles at the Becton Dickinson Monoclonal Center and at the DNAX Research Institute prior to joining the UCSF faculty.

Dr. Lanier is a recognized expert on natural killer (NK) cell biology, making seminal contributions to the understanding of NK cell recognition and targeting of virus infected tissue. He has discovered and characterized multiple activating and inhibiting NK receptors, and demonstrated their interaction with cancer cells. For his contributions, he received the 2002 William B. Coley Award, and earned membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He continues to explore the mechanisms that enable NK cells to distinguish between healthy cells and infected or cancerous cells.

Our Vision and Mission

OUR VISION | To be the leading company delivering innovative, accessible cell therapies for cancer patients, their caregivers and families

 

OUR MISSION | We strive to discover, develop and deliver novel off-the-shelf NK cell therapy product candidates that have a profound impact on cancer patients