Scientific Founders

Ronald Evans, PhD

Independent Director, Founder

Ronald Evans is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute. He is known for his discoveries of nuclear receptors and the mechanism of hormone signaling. Hormone receptors help to control sugar, salt, calcium and fat metabolism as well as reproductive physiology. These receptors are primary targets in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia, as well as osteoporosis, inflammation and asthma. His initial isolation of steroid receptors uncovered a hidden ‘superfamily’ of hormone receptors whose characterization revealed the existence of previously unknown signaling pathways for cholesterol, bile acids and fatty acids, fundamentally changing our views of both physiology and the treatment of disease such as obesity, diabetes and cancer. His work led to the development of Panretin, Targretin in leukemia (Ligand Pharmaceuticals) as well as Lasofoxifene and Bazedoxifene (Pfizer) (for osteoporosis and hormone replacement therapy). He was a cofounder of X-Ceptor Therapeutics, a company that developed compounds targeting orphan nuclear receptors for the treatment of metabolic diseases, which was acquired by Exelixis in 2004. He was a consultant for the development of Aragon ARN-509 and Seragon ARN-810 for prostate and breast cancer respectively. He is a founder of MitoBridge in Boston developing drugs to boost mitochondrial function and Xtuit (building drugs to target the tumor microenvironment). His current work focuses on energy metabolism in muscle (exercise in a pill), along with new insights into obesity, insulin resistance and cancer. He is a Professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and holds the March of Dimes Chair in Developmental and Molecular Biology at the Salk Institute and a Research Scholar of the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer. He is the recipient of the Albert Lasker Award (2004), the Wolf Prize, Israel (2012) and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

Rich Heyman

Executive Chairman of the Board, Founder

Richard Heyman, PhD, served as CEO of Seragon Pharmaceuticals until March 2015; Seragon was a San Diego based biotech company that that focused on the development of Selective Estrogen Receptor Degraders (SERDs) targeting estrogen dependent cancers. In August 2014, Genentech/Roche acquired Seragon. Prior to Seragon, he cofounded and was CEO of Aragon Pharmaceuticals, which developed next generation therapeutics for hormone dependent cancers based on new insights into molecular mechanisms of resistance. Johnson & Johnson purchased Aragon in August 2013 and simultaneous with this acquisition, Seragon Pharmaceuticals was spun out and created. Previously, he cofounded and served as chief scientific officer of X-Ceptor Therapeutics, a company that developed compounds targeting nuclear receptors for the treatment of metabolic diseases, which was acquired by Exelixis in 2004. Prior to X-Ceptor, he held various roles at Ligand Pharmaceuticals, including vice president of research, where he served as project leader leading to the successful identification and development of Panretin® and Targretin®, retinoids approved by the FDA for the treatment of cancer. He is the author or inventor on more than 120 publications and patents. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and is a board member of Receptos Inc., Organovo Inc., and BIOCOM. He is also a member of the Therapeutic Advisory Board for aTyr Pharma and serves on the Executive Committee of the UCSD Moores Cancer Center. He was an NIH postdoctoral fellow and staff scientist at the Salk Institute, working with Dr. Ronald Evans. He received a PhD in pharmacology from the University of Minnesota and a BS in chemistry from the University of Connecticut.

Michael Downes

Founder

Michael Downs is a Senior Staff Scientist in the Gene Expression Laboratory at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He joined the lab in 1997, working with Dr. Ron Evans. He is founder of Syndax, formed in 2005, and has served as a consultant for Mitobridge and Xtuit. He is the recipient of the Sandoz Junior Scientist Award (1995), the National Health and Medical Research Council C.J. Martin Research Fellowship (1998-2000) and the National Health and Medical Research Council R.D. Wright Fellowship (2001). He is a member of the Nuclear Signaling Atlas Hub (NURSA), the Stand Up 2 Cancer Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team, the Endocrine Society and has authored numerous publications.