Renato Skerlj, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer and President
Dr. Skerlj was most recently Chief Scientific Officer of X4 Pharmaceuticals, Inc., where he also was one of the company’s scientific founders and co-inventor of its lead drug candidate, mavorixafor. Prior to joining X4, Dr. Skerlj held leadership roles in drug discovery and development at Lysosomal Therapeutics where he co-invented LTI-291, a CNS drug in clinical development for Parkinson’s disease. Previous to that, he was interim Head of Small Molecule Discovery at Genzyme and part of the executive team at AnorMED, a publicly traded company that was acquired by Genzyme in 2006. Dr. Skerlj is an accomplished drug developer with two approved drugs; plerixafor, a CXCR4-targeted stem cell mobilizer approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008, and ertapenem, an anti-bacterial approved by the FDA in 2001. Dr. Skerlj received his Ph.D. in synthetic organic chemistry from the University of British Columbia, and completed postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Oxford and Ohio State University.
Matthew D. Disney, Ph.D., Scientific Founder
Dr. Disney is currently a full professor in the bi-coastal Department of Chemistry and the Department of Neuroscience at The Scripps Research Institute. His laboratory is focused on understanding RNA-ligand interactions and exploiting this information to rationally design small molecules that modulate RNA function or toxicity from sequence. He has received numerous awards including the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, Blavatnik Young Investigator Award in Chemistry National Finalist, The Tetrahedron Young Investigator Award, Camille & Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award, The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, the Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar Award, The University at Buffalo Exceptional Scholar Young Investigator Award, the Eli Lily Award in Biological Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, the David W. Robertson Award for Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, and the David Y. Gin New Investigator Award in Carbohydrate Chemistry from the American Chemical Society. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Disney received his early schooling in the Baltimore Catholic School System, his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Maryland, College Park, and his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Rochester. As a graduate student, under the guidance of Professor Douglas H. Turner, he studied catalysis of group I introns and developed approaches to determine RNA secondary structure in cells by using a combination of experiment and prediction. Dr. Disney completed postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH; Zürich, Switzerland) in Professor Peter H. Seeberger’s lab, he studied organic synthesis and glycobiology, developing the broadly used carbohydrate microarray platform.
Joseph P. Vacca, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Drug Discovery
Dr. Vacca earned his B.S. in chemistry in 1977 from St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, and obtained his Ph.D. degree in Organic Chemistry under Professor Peter T. Lansbury Sr. at the State University of New York at Buffalo (New York). He joined Merck Research Laboratories in 1981 and has made major contributions to several approved drugs including the HIV protease inhibitor CRIXIVAN™ (indinavir sulfate), the HIV integrase inhibitor Isentress™ (raltegravir); HCV protease Inhibitors (Vanihep™, vaniprevir), the combination product Zepatier™ which is a combination of the second generation HCV protease inhibitor grazoprevir and the NS5A protein Inhibitor elbasvir and the recently approved second generation NNRTI inhibitor doravirine. Dr. Vacca retired from Merck in 2011 and took a role as Senior Vice President of Early Success Sharing Partnerships at WuXi AppTec Limited. He left WuXi in Sept. 2015 to work with small companies as a Medicinal Chemistry consultant. Dr. Vacca has over 100 publications and patents and is the holder of many awards including a Merck Directors Award (1998); PhRMA Discoverers Award (1999); Intellectual Property Owners “National Inventor of the year Award” (1997); European Inventor of the Year (non-EU nation) (2007); ACS “Award for Creative Invention” (1999); and was a named a Merck Research Laboratories Presidential Fellow in 2008. He was inducted into to the American Chemical Society Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame (Aug. 2012) and was also named a “Hero of Chemistry” (along with the research team) for his role in the discovery and development of the HIV integrase inhibitor Isentress™.
Tim Blizzard, Ph.D., Vice President, Chemistry
Dr. Blizzard graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.S. in Chemistry and went on to earn his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at MIT (thesis title: Synthesis of Verrucarins) in the laboratory of Professor Bill Roush. After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Blizzard conducted post-doctoral research in natural products chemistry and organic synthesis with Professor Koji Nakanishi at Columbia University. He then joined the Merck Research Laboratories where he worked as a medicinal chemistry group leader for over 28 years. Dr. Blizzard led the chemistry team that discovered relebactam (MK-7655), a beta-lactamase inhibitor that is currently in Phase III clinical trials in combination with Primaxin™ for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infections. He also led the chemistry group that discovered L-786,392, a carbapenem antibiotic with excellent activity against MRSA that advanced to a Phase I multi-dose clinical trial. After leaving Merck in 2013, Dr. Blizzard founded Xpharma Consulting and has consulted for venture capital and law firms in addition to multiple pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Blizzard has authored or co-authored 65 publications in peer-reviewed journals and is an inventor on 22 issued U.S. patents.