About Us

Imagine Pharma is a drug discovery and development company that focuses on innovative regenerative approaches to therapeutic drugs for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Our agile, creative and efficient approach to drug discovery is designed to find therapeutics that significantly improve on the efficacy and safety of existing treatments.

Leadership

Ngoc L Thai, MD, PhD

Founder, Chief Medical Officer

Ngoc L Thai, MD, PhD

Founder, Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Thai is currently the Chief of Transplantation Surgery and Interim System Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also a founder of Imagine Pharma, an innovative start-up utilizing regenerative medicine in the comprehensive treatment of diabetes and all of its complications.

After completing his fellowship, Dr. Thai assumed the Directorship of Pancreas Transplant at UPMC and built the program into one of the busiest and best in the world – establishing steroid-free immunosuppression in pancreas transplant and introducing novel induction therapy in transplants. He was the inaugural holder of the John Fung Chair for Transplant Surgery at UPMC. Observing the reversal of diabetic symptoms in brittle diabetic patients with functioning grafts, Dr. Thai came to understand that diabetes is not merely a disease of insulin but that there may other factors at play. He developed an enduring commitment to the treatment of diabetes at that time.

Dr. Thai later joined Allegheny General Hospital where he successfully started a liver transplant program, which has since grown in the last ten years. He was a critical clinical leader in the development of the Allegheny Health Network, a consortium of eight hospitals formed in the merger between Allegheny General Hospital (and others) with Highmark Health three years ago.

Dr. Thai is a graduate of Cornell University (AB Biology) and completed his MD/PhD at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. His PhD was in Transplant Immunology in the lab of Thomas E. Starzl, MD, PhD, who was known as the Father of Transplantation and was his close mentor. After completing his residency at Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester under Seymour Schwartz MD, he returned to Pittsburgh to complete a Transplantation Surgery Fellowship at the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute.

Jonathan Pollett, PhD

Chief Research Officer

Jonathan Pollett, PhD

Chief Research Officer

Dr. Jonathan Pollett is the Chief Scientific Officer of Imagine Pharma, where he uses his knowledge of cell biology and tissue regeneration to help develop IMG-1, a novel biologic for the treatment of various cardiovascular and endothelial-based diseases.

In 2004, Dr. Pollett moved to Pittsburgh, where he dedicated the majority of his post-doctoral studies to understanding how cells differentiate and to improve tissue regeneration by combining a cell and molecular approach to tissue regeneration. In 2007, Dr. Pollett became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Pittsburgh in association with the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), and the Director of the Stem Cell Ecology and Cancer Lab at the Stem Cell Research Center, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he furthered his studies in stem cells, differentation and tissue regeneration.

In 2011, Dr. Pollett moved to the Allegheny-Singer Research Institue (ASRI), and became an Associate Professor at the Allegheny Health Network (AHN), and the Gerald McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute Center for Research and Innovation. He later developed a novel method for obtaining, recovering, and culturing pulmonary arterial endothelial cells from an individual patient.This work was since patented and is currently being used for the diagnosis of Pulmonary Hypertension patients.

In 1995, Pollett completed his undergraduate degree in Biology from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and his Master’s degree in Pathology from Queen’s under Dr. Chris Mueller. He then recieved his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1998, under the guidance of Dr. Keith Stewart. where he focused on gene transfer and viral vectorology. He was instructed on adenovirus generation and design in Dr. Frank Graham’s lab at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) and retroviral vectorology by Dr. Robert Hawley (now at George Washington University, Washington, DC). While at Dr. Stewart’s lab, he was instructed to generate a treatment for Multiple Myeloma (MM), an incurable B-cell neoplasia. Dr. Pollett generated both an anti-sense oligonucleotide/chemotherapy approach and a novel RU486-inducible retrovirus to overexpress caspase-3 for the treatment of this disease. He won a junior investigator award from Berlex Inc. and multiple graduate student scholarships for his work.

Rita Bottino, PhD

Director of Islet Programs

Rita Bottino, PhD

Director of Islet Programs

At the Allegheny Health Network Institute of Cellular Therapeutics Rita Bottino, Ph.D., headed up a team that was one of the first to successfully process pancreatic islets for hospitals, including the Cleveland Clinic. The team also is a reference laboratory for the isolation and distribution of islets of Langerhans obtained from the pancreas of deceased organ donors for research purposes. That research is in collaboration with Stanford University, Vanderbilt University, University of Massachusetts, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York and the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes.

The team’s expertise includes the isolation of insulin-producing cells from juvenile, diabetic and marginal donors, which allows researchers to optimize organ donations.

Working with Dr. Massimo Trucco, Dr. Bottino has developed the first gene-engineered pigs whose organs and tissues could avoid immune rejection. This discovery could allow researchers to bring organs from these animals into the clinic, rather than needing human donors.

Dr. Bottino is a an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, and an associate professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology at Drexel University College of Medicine. She received a diploma of science from the Scientific Lyceum in Genova, Italy, in 1984, and a doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Genova in 1990.

Santiago Pujadas, MBA

Chief Executive Officer

Santiago Pujadas, MBA

Chief Executive Officer

Santiago has led Imagine Pharma since its inception in 2016, and brings over 30 years of entrepreneurial and executive management experience to the position. At Imagine Pharma, Santiago oversees the strategic direction of the firm, as well as the day-to-day operations.

As the co-chief executive officer at Zer0 to 5ive, a strategic marketing and communications firm, Santiago is responsible for the growth and strategic direction of the Company and its offices in New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, as well as providing strategic counsel to key clients.

At Zer0 to 5ive, Santiago has worked with notable industry leaders, including Apple, Pearson, OraSure Technologies, Omnyx/GE Healthcare, and Optimum Lightpath/Cablevision, as well as biopharmaceutical startups, including Stat3, Logical Therapeutics, Egalet, and Corridor, among others, to help define and implement their communications and go-to-market strategies.

Prior to Zer0 to 5ive, Santiago served as president of Wesdyne International, a wholly owned subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric Company and the largest worldwide robotics inspection company in the industry. At Wesdyne, he grew the business to over $100 million in revenue and established the company’s strategic direction, resulting in significant increases in both market share and profitability. Before Wesdyne, Santiago was President of CATCO, a software development joint venture between Westinghouse and Electricite de France, where under his leadership, the company attained over 90% market share in its segment.

Santiago is also active in the community, serving on the boards of Flite, Council on Relationships and the Suburban Seahawks Club. In 2011, along with his wife, The Devon Horse Show named him Volunteer of the Year. He also serves on the board of The National Museum of Bermuda and the Leadership Committee of the Institute for Student Achievement.

Santiago has a BS in Industrial Management and Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University and an MS in Industrial Administration from CMU’s Tepper School of Business.

Kristin Nevins, MS, JD

General Counsel

Kristin Nevins, MS, JD

General Counsel

Kristin brings nearly 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, from both a scientific and legal perspective, to her role as General Counsel. At Imagine Pharma, Kristin provides strategic legal advice to management, oversees the development of Imagine’s IP portfolio, and sets internal standards and compliance policies for the company.

Prior to joining Imagine, Kristin was a partner at Offit Kurman, a regional full-service law firm, where her practice encompassed all aspects of intellectual property law, commercial agreements and business transactions, with a primary focus on the life sciences, technology and renewable energy industries.

Kristin began her academic and scientific career at the University of Michigan and Parke-Davis (later acquired by Pfizer) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During her many years as a research scientist, she focused on developing therapies for the treatment of atherosclerosis and was a member of a start-up biotech company focused on developing early-stage cancer detection and diagnostic tools.

Her scientific achievements include:

  • Investigated the ability of liposomes to restore endothelial function and facilitate reverse cholesterol transport in an Apo E knock-out mouse model.
  • Determined the metabolic effects of liposomes on hepatic enzymes and cholesterol homeostasis in both a rabbit and mouse model.
  • Independently cloned the human enzyme chondroitin 6-sulfotransferase.

Kristin is active in her community, serving on the Boards of Brandon’s Voice and the Wayne Wildcats Football Association, as well as the PTO of her son’s school. She is an active member of Women in Bio, AIPLA and LES.

Kristin has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biochemistry. She received her J.D. in 2004 and is currently admitted in Pennsylvania and the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Kristin is also a Registered patent attorney.

Advisory Board

Robert Cawthorn

Robert Cawthorn

Mr. Robert Cawthorn has 50 years of experience in the management and board oversight of pharmaceutical and biotech companies. He was Chairman and CEO of Rhône Poulenc Rorer, now part of Sanofi, having previously been the first President of Biogen. He also held senior management positions in Pfizer International and was Managing Director of Global Health Care Partners, advisors to DLJ Merchant Banking’s buy out funds. Latterly he founded several start-ups and was on the board of several health care companies, including Chairman of Actelion. He is currently Chairman of Biodesix and of Heartland Water Technologies.

Rob holds a BA degree in Agriculture from Cambridge University and lives in Bermuda and France.

Philip J. Larsen, MD, PhD

Philip J. Larsen, MD, PhD

Philip J. Larsen is the Chief Scientific Officer at Grünenthal GmbH. Previously, he served for six years as Sanofi’s Global Head of Diabetes Research and the Chief Scientific Officer for the German Hub. Philip is an MD PhD from the University of Copenhagen. In addition, Philip holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Copenhagen. After four years of medical practice (internal medicine, neurology) he went from academic medicine to life sciences industry. Philip has 20 years of pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry experience primarily gained in the field of diabetes and obesity. After few years of work at NovoNordisk and Zealand Pharma, Philip co-founded the Danish biotechnology company Rheoscience in 2001 also concentrating on obesity and diabetes. In 2008, Philip took up a position as chief scientific officer for diabetes research at Eli Lilly. In this role, he continued and expanded his involvement in diabetes discovery projects.

Philip has served in his current role at Grünenthal since July 2018, where he is directing the R&D organization. At Sanofi, Philip was accountable for Sanofi’s discovery and early clinical strategy for diabetes (type 1 as well type 2) and related metabolic disorders (obesity, diabetes complications – predominantly macrovascular, NASH, and nephropathy).

Massimo Trucco, MD

Massimo Trucco, MD

Dr. Massimo Trucco, M.D., Director of the Allegheny Health Network Institute of Cellular Therapeutics, is an internationally known diabetes and immune system expert and has been a pediatrician for more than 26 years. Dr. Trucco and members of his team came to the Allegheny Health Network in 2014 from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, where he was the Hillman Professor of Pediatric Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Director of the Division of Immunogenetics, Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Trucco has earned international acclaim for research pinpointing genetic predisposition to diabetes, identifying early indicators of diabetes onset, and investigating new therapeutic treatments. Dr. Trucco was also the director of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation’s Center for Gene Therapy Approaches to Type 1 Diabetes, one of the National Institute of Health’s Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence, and founded and directed the Pediatric Research Section at the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Institute.

Dr. Trucco directed the Histocompatibility Center at Children’s Hospital, a program affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program. As an integral member of transplant surgery pioneer Dr. Thomas E. Starzl’s team in the 1980s, Dr. Trucco provided seminal insights into the immunology of organ and pancreatic islet transplantation as well as the phenomenon of cellular immune chimerism. More recently, he and co-researchers developed the first gene-engineered pigs whose organs and tissues could avoid immune rejection, enabling researchers to bring organs from these animals into the clinic in place of human donors. In 1994, Dr. Trucco’s research yielded the first evidence that some patients with genetic susceptibility to Type 1 diabetes may have the onset triggered by viruses. In 2007, he led a team that performed the first clinical trial in history using a patient’s own genetically engineered white blood cells as a potential treatment to reverse and prevent Type 1 diabetes. Today, Trucco and his colleagues are manufacturing the world’s first biosynthetic thymus mini-organ, the training center of the body’s immune system, which removes harmful immune cells responsible for many autoimmune diseases, especially Type 1 diabetes.

Dr. Trucco is a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University and in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Drexel University College of Medicine. His research has received financial support over the past 30 years by prestigious institutions including the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. He has published more than 360 scientific papers and has been cited in more than 12,000 scholarly articles.

A native of Savona, Italy, Dr. Trucco earned his medical degree from the University of Torino School of Medicine. During his medical residency at the Regina Margherita Children’s Hospital in Torino, he conducted research in tissue compatibility that sparked an interest in bone marrow transplantation and other immunologic disease processes. His later research produced an improved typing process for matching bone marrow donors and recipients.

Nick Giannoukakis, PhD

Nick Giannoukakis, PhD

Nick Giannoukakis, Ph.D., is a pioneer in the field of tolerogenic dendritic cell therapy for autoimmunity. At the Allegheny Health Network’s Institute of Cellular Therapeutics, Giannoukakis conducts translational medicine research in areas including: immunomodulation approaches for the treatment of autoimmune disease and transplantation tolerance, regulatory immune cells, and immunomodulation-based clinical trials for Type 1 (juvenile) and Type 2 (adult) diabetes. Dr. Giannoukakis, along with Dr. Massimo Trucco, MD., director of the Institute of Cellular Therapeutics. The two were the first to demonstrate the safety and potential results of these cells in preserving the function of the residual insulin-producing cells of the pancreas in Type 1 diabetic patients.

Dr. Giannoukakis is a primary inventor on a number of patents related to gene, cell, and nanoparticle vaccine therapy for autoimmunity. He is one of the founders of DiaVacs, a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on the goal of disrupting the immune processes responsible for the development of autoimmune diseases.

Dr. Giannoukakis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University and an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology Drexel University College of Medicine. Previously, he held the position of Associate Professor of pathology and immunology in the Division of Immunogenetics, Department of Pediatrics, and was also a member of the Division of Experimental Pathology and the Cellular and Molecular Pathology Graduate Training Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Dr. Giannoukakis received a B.S. from McGill University in Montreal in 1992, and his doctorate in 1997. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the fields of gene and cell therapy for autoimmune disease and transplantation tolerance.

 

Jason K. Kim, PhD

Jason K. Kim, PhD

Prof. Jason K. Kim, Ph.D. is a leading expert in diabetes research and mouse metabolism, and he is the Program Director of National Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center at UMass, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (www.mmpc.org). His research program has investigated more than 400 transgenic mouse models of human diseases and has collaborated with numerous academic researchers and pharmaceutical industries worldwide in a joint effort to understand the etiology of diabetes and its complications, and to identify potential therapeutic targets. Dr. Kim’s research has advanced our understanding of important biological events and continues to contribute toward finding a cure for diabetes.

Dr. Kim has conducted research for more than 25 years, specifically focussing on obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. To date, he has contributed 148 peer-reviewed publications to the field, mostly in high-impact journals such as Science, Nature, and Cell. Over the past decade, he has largely explored the molecular link between inflammation and insulin resistance as well as cytokine regulation of glucose metabolism using sophisticated in vivo experiments and molecular approaches.

Dr. Kim is currently a Professor of Molecular Medicine and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Also, Dr. Kim is an Adjunct Professor at Seoul National University in South Korea and on the Advisory Board for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, and Hong Kong University. He received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of California Irvine and his Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

Zung Thai, MD, PhD

Zung Thai, MD, PhD

Dr. Thai, M.D., Ph.D., has been the Chief Medical Officer at REMD Biotherapeutics since June 2016. Prior to REMD, he held leadership roles at different companies including, Atara, Arresto, Anza Biotherapeutics, and Gilead Sciences, where he led the development of protein therapeutics in metabolism, oncology, infectious diseases, and fibrotic diseases. He began his industry career at Amgen where he worked in early clinical development and metabolic disorder and initiated the first in human study of REMD-477.

Zung is Board Certified in Internal Medicine. He earned an A.B. from Cornell University and his M.D. and Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He was a fellow and clinical instructor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco. Zung was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University.

Charles Bisgaier, PhD

Charles Bisgaier, PhD

Dr. Bisgaier, Ph.D., serves as Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer of Gemphire. From 1990 to 1998, Dr. Bisgaier was an Associate Research Fellow in the Department of Vascular and Cardiac Disease at Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis. There, he participated in the discovery and/or development of gemfibrozil (LOPID®), atorvastatin (LIPITOR®) and gemcabene (AKA CI-1027 and PD 72953). Subsequently, Dr. Bisgaier co-founded the first Esperion Therapeutics (1998- 2004), which was then acquired by Pfizer. At Pfizer, he served as the Senior Director of Pharmacology of the Esperion Division of Pfizer Global Research and Development. Notably, he was a major influence in the discovery, research and/or development of many small molecules with potential utility for metabolic syndrome including ETC-1002 (AKA ESP 55016), which was licensed by the new Esperion (NASDAQ: ESPR) from Pfizer, as well as HDL-therapy product candidates, such as ApoA-I Milano (ETC-216), which was licensed by The Medicines Company (NASDAQ: MDCO) from Pfizer.

After Pfizer, he served as a Company Director, Board Member, and President of Pipex Pharmaceuticals (2006-2008, currently known as Synthetic Biologics, NYSE: SYN). Pipex Pharmaceuticals was a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on developing fibrotic and neurological disease therapies, including a treatment for Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. Both Pipex Pharmaceuticals and the first Esperion Therapeutics became public companies through a reverse-merger and an initial public offering (IPO), respectively during Dr. Bisgaier’s tenure.

He is also a co-founder of Michigan Life Therapeutics (predecessor to Gemphire) and Michigan Life Ventures. Additionally, he is on the Board at Hygieia, Inc., a company that has developed a novel handheld medical device to assist diabetics in determining their appropriate dosage when self-administering insulin, and a Board member at BioSavita Inc., a company that has developed a novel platform technology for protein expression in yeast. Previously, he served as a Board member (2009-2014) and President and CEO (2010-2011) of ProNAi Therapeutics (NASDAQ: DNAI).

Currently, Dr. Bisgaier is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan. He received a B.A. in Biology from the State University College at Oneonta, NY (1974), and a M.S. (1977) and Ph.D. (1981) in biochemistry from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. After receiving his doctorate, he studied lipoprotein metabolism within the Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) for atherosclerosis at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, NY.