Medical Excellence Research Innovation Trust (MERIT)

WHAT IS MERIT?

We are a philanthropic fund with the mission to advance translational biomedical research for the benefit of humanity. Our focus is to support longevity and chronic disease research themes. We support biomedical scientists to accelerate research with the potential for transformative impact.

BENEFIT OVER PROFIT

Life sciences research has become increasingly complex, with a widening gulf between traditional academic research – which aims at uncovering fundamental insights – and industry, which is focused on developing drugs and other marketable products. Medical philanthropy is needed to support preclinical and early clinical work to determine scientific and clinical proof of concept.

Transformative research is often overlooked due to long commercialization timeframes and early-stage risk. Charitable funding will be a catalyst for discovery and development, putting dollars behind early-stage research to de-risk the science and then hopefully accelerate the path to commercialization via traditional venture capital.

EXPERT-GUIDED GIVING

MERIT will deploy research funds with the same discipline typically used in venture investing by conducting diligence on the proposed science/technology, researchers, and lab. MERIT will also conduct ongoing monitoring of project progress. We will also ensure donations are directed to scientific research areas aligned with MEC investment sectors, as these are the areas of particular expertise of the board of directors. We intend for our active oversight to yield measurable outcomes.

MEASURED BY OUR MERITS

We will measure the success of our charitable giving via the following standards:

  • The number of publications directly attributable to funded research
  • The number of patents filed that are directly attributable to funded research
  • The amount of additional funding that is independently contributed to advance funded research
  • The number of companies formed as a result of funded research
  • The number of drugs that are approved directly attributable to funded research

OUR GOAL

MERIT is designed and built to advance medical research directed to extending healthy life and positively impact humanity

John Prufeta, MBA
Chairman and Director
John Prufeta, MBA

John Prufeta founded Medical Excellence Capital (MEC) in 2020 and serves as Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner.

Over the past 30 years, John has served as an operator and consultant to academic medical centers internationally. He serves concurrently as Chairman of The Medical Excellence Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to providing grants to support America’s most promising health care research at U.S. academic medical centers and research institutes.

In 2007, John co-founded the Medical Excellence Group, a global private health advisory firm with offices in New York, Moscow, London, and Shanghai, and has served as Chairman since its inception. The company operates as a virtual “Family Office for Health Care” offering comprehensive, state of the science programs in preventative medicine, complex case management, telemedicine, and longevity. From 2000-2003, John served as president and CEO of Medix Resources, a publicly-held (NYSE:MXR) health care technology company. Prevously, John served as Managing Partner of Agilence Health Advisors and OnPoint Partners, consulting companies advising academic medical centers, managed care organizations, and health care technology firms.

He is a founding Board member of Veterans Moving Forward, a 501(c)(3) charity that serves Veterans with physical and mental challenges. Additionally, Prufeta is a founding board member of CuraLeaf, a publicly held medical cannabis company that is now the largest integrated provider in the United States. One of his most treasured experiences was as a board member of America’s Huey 091, a project that fully restored a Vietnam-era helicopter and donated the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institute. The helicopter is now the largest artifact in the “America at War” exhibit.

John is a graduate of the Harvard Executive Program, OPM 28 at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business. He holds a B.S. degree in Management from St. John’s University.

 

 

Kim Kamdar, PhD
President and Director
Kim Kamdar, PhD

Kim Kamdar Bio

Kim Kamdar, Ph.D. is a Managing Partner with Medical Excellence Capital. Kim has been involved in cutting edge therapeutic start-ups and companies with promising molecular and companion diagnostics to support personalized medicine for over 17 years. Kim has helped to create and served on the board of over a dozen companies. She was founding CEO for Truvian Sciences where she remains Chair. Kim has also helped to create Seraphina Therapeutics and currently serves as Chair. She was the Founding CEO for Obalon Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OBLN) and Aspen Neuroscience. Kim was an early investor and helped to create companies including Syndax Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SNDX), Singular Genomics (NASDAQ: OMIC) and Pleno. Additional investments and BOD memberships include Alume Biosciences, EPIC Sciences, Evofem Biosciences (NASDAQ: EVFM) and Sera Prognostics (NASDAQ: SERA).

Kim was involved with Ariosa Diagnostics until the company was sold to Roche in January 2015 for $625MM, Omniome until the company was sold to Pacific Bioscience (NASDAQ: PACB) in September 2021 for $800M, Corthera until the company was sold to Novartis in February 2010 for $620MM and BiPar Sciences until that company was sold to Sanofi in April 2009 for $500MM.

Kim has been part of Domain Associates since 2005 and a Partner since 2010. Prior to Domain, Kim was a Kauffman Fellow at MPM Capital where she participated in the firm’s investments in Transform Pharmaceuticals, Portola Pharmaceuticals and Affymax. Previous to that, she was a research director at Novartis, where she built and led a research team that focused on the biology, genetics and genomics of model organisms. Kim is the author of ten papers as well as the inventor on seven patents. She received her B.A. from Northwestern University and her Ph.D. in biochemistry and genetics from Emory University.

Kim is currently an Advisory Board Member for Dr. Eric Topol’s NIH supported Clinical and Translational Science Award for Scripps Medicine and an advisor and on the Investment Committee for Adjuvant Capital, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored venture fund focused on global health. Kim also serves as a BOD member for Connect San Diego and Access Youth Academy, a non-profit helping to transform the lives of underserved youth through academic enrichment, health and wellness, social responsibility, and leadership through squash.

Joni Mancini, CPA
Treasurer and Secretary
Joni Mancini, CPA

Joni Mancini has served as Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and Managing Partner for Medical Excellence Capital (MEC) since its inception. She has over 25 years of experience in private equity, venture capital, hedge funds, and family wealth management. She focuses on strategy and oversight of the financial operations for the fund, management company and early-stage portfolio companies.

Joni has extensive company creation experience, enabling new investment firms to quickly establish a strong operational and financial foundation. Joni takes considerable pride in creating a best-in-class organization, where the firm and investments are managed in line with best practices from both a regulatory and governance perspective.

Previously, Joni was CFO for Artemis Wealth Advisors, an independent RIA providing investment & wealth advisory services to high-net-worth families and foundations managing $1.5B and its affiliate Orion Capital Management, a fund of hedge funds managing $250M. From 1996 to 2006, she was Controller and the Financial & Operations Principal for The Bridgford Group, a mergers and acquisitions subsidiary of Mizuho Corporate Bank managing $50M and was a financial consultant for Mizuho Corporate Bank’s Private equity group managing $160M. Early in her career, Joni was a senior accountant within the financial services industry at Deloitte.

She earned a B.S. in accounting from Bernard Baruch College and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Olga Prufeta
Director
Olga Prufeta

Olga Prufeta has served as Limited Partner (LP) Liaison for Medical Excellence Capital (MEC) since its inception.

Olga is also a founding member of Medical Excellence Group (MedEx) and currently serves as Senior Managing Director and Vice Chairman of MedEx. While with MedEx, she co-developed the Russia and Eastern Europe markets, and has been instrumental in developing key industry, private bank and family office relationships in China for MedEx. Prior, from 1995-2009, Olga was a pioneering member of Russia’s emerging private sector finance industry, beginning as an Analyst at Pioneer Securities – a Russian unit of Pioneer First Boston Mutual Fund and rising to Managing Director and Head of Strategy for Fleming Family & Partners Asset Management (Russia). In 2009 she was elected by her industry peers and honored by RBC Media Group as Russia’s top Strategist.

Olga is a graduate of the Financial University under Russian Federation Government and has a graduate degree from the Moscow Pedagogical State University. She also held the position of Adjunct Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Russia (MGIMO).

Eric Heil, MBA
Board of Advisors
Eric Heil, MBA

Eric Heil joined Medical Excellence Capital (MEC) as Managing Partner in 2021.

Prior to joining MEC, Eric served as an SVP/Advisor to Health Quality Partners, a non-profit organization committed to care delivery design and value-based care. He additionally served as an adjunct professor at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania teaching healthcare entrepreneurship from 2016-2020. In 2017, Eric co-founded and helped launch Upward Health with the BCBS Venture Fund, a technology-enabled care delivery service for complex patients with mental health challenges. Prior to co-founding Upward Health, Eric served as SVP, Chief Commercial Officer of Software Solutions at naviHealth Inc., a UnitedHealthcare Company, serving over 850 hospitals and 11,000 post-acute care providers nationwide. In 2012, Eric co-founded and served as president and CEO of RightCare Solutions, an evidence-based venture-backed health care IT company specializing in care transitions and discharge planning. In December 2015, RightCare Solutions, Inc. was successfully acquired by naviHealth, Inc.

Early in his career, Eric was an investment professional at Domain Associates, LLC, a leading life-science venture capital fund with over $2.5 billion under management, and was promoted to Entrepreneur-in-Residence in 2012 when launching RightCare. During his tenure there, Eric also led business development at Corthera (acquired by Novartis) and Celator Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Jazz Pharmaceuticals). Before joining Domain Associates, he was an Equity Research Analyst at Bear Stearns covering the Managed Care sector and a consultant with Easton Associates (now Navigant Consulting), a management consultancy dedicated to the medical industry.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering with a focus in healthcare systems from the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Heil also completed his MBA from Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012.

Brian Halak, PhD
Board of Advisors
Brian Halak, PhD

Brian Halak joined Medical Excellence Capital (MEC) in 2021 as Managing Partner.

As part of Domain Associates since 2001, and a Partner since 2006, Brian has invested in over a dozen companies, several of which he helped create. He and partner, Eckard Weber, licensed assets from a Japanese pharmaceutical company to create Tobira Therapeutics, which was eventually acquired by Allergan in 2016, for up to $1.7 billion. Brian also established and directed Domain’s prior initiatives in China including its collaboration with Beijing Elite to create new medical device companies in China based on technology licensed from US and European markets. One such company, Elite Neurovascular, was successfully sold to Terumo Corporation in 2017. Additionally, Brian joined with two scientific founders at Johns Hopkins University to create WindMIL Therapeutics, which is developing a novel cell therapy to treat a variety of cancers. Brian served as President and CEO of WindMIL from 2015 to early 2019, during which time he raised $43.5MM in two rounds of financing. Most recently, Brian formed Nobias Therapeutics alongside co-founders from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to develop drugs to treat rare pediatric disease. Other investments where Brian has served on the Board of Directors include: Esprit Pharma (acquired by Allergan), Dicerna Therapeutics (Nasdaq: DRNA), Alimera Sciences (Nasdaq: ALIM), and Vanda Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: VNDA). Brian remains involved as a Partner managing all existing Domain funds.

Prior to Domain, Brian was an associate with Advanced Technology Ventures where he participated in the firm’s investments in Plexxikon, Percardia and Emphasys. Previously, he was a consultant at the Wilkerson Group, where he developed strategies for pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Brian received his B.S.E. in bioengineering from University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. in immunology from Thomas Jefferson University.

Brian is currently a member of the Advisory Board for the Department of Bioengineering of the University of Pennsylvania and an advisor to Elm Street Ventures, an early-stage venture fund with close ties to Yale University. He also teaches a course on entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania to undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Engineering.

 

Euan Ashley, MB CHB, PHD
Board of Advisors
Euan Ashley, MB CHB, PHD

Born in Scotland, Dr. Ashley graduated with 1st class Honors in Physiology and Medicine from the University of Glasgow. He completed medical residency and a PhD at the University of Oxford before moving to Stanford University where he trained in cardiology and advanced heart failure, joining the faculty in 2006. His group is focused on the science of precision medicine. In 2010, he led the team that carried out the first clinical interpretation of a human genome. The article became one of the most cited in clinical medicine that year and was later featured in the Genome Exhibition at the Smithsonian in DC. Over the following 3 years, the team extended the approach to the first whole genome molecular autopsy, to a family of four, and to a case series of patients in primary care. They now routinely apply genome sequencing to the diagnosis of patients at Stanford hospital where Dr Ashley directs the Clinical Genome Program and the Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease. Dr Ashley has a passion for rare genetic disease and was the first co-chair of the steering committee of the Undiagnosed Diseases Network. He was a recipient of the National Innovation Award from the American Heart Association and the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. He is part of the winning team of the $75m One Brave Idea competition and co-founder of three companies: Personalis Inc ($PSNL), Deepcell Inc, and SVExa Inc. He was recognized by the Obama White House for his contributions to Personalized Medicine and in 2018 was awarded the American Heart Association Medal of Honor for Genomic and Precision Medicine. He was appointed Stanford Associate Dean in 2019. In 2021, his first book The Genome Odyssey – Medical Mysteries and the Incredible Quest to Solve Them was released. Father to three young Americans, in his ‘spare’ time, he tries to understand American football, plays jazz saxophone, and conducts research on the health benefits of single malt Scotch whisky.

Juan Carlos Belmonte, PHD
Board of Advisors
Juan Carlos Belmonte, PHD

Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, PhD serves as Director of the Development and Stem Cells Biology Laboratories at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies at La Jolla, California, USA. Prof. Belmonte is a Research Professor of the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) and the American Heart Association. He has been President of Scientific Advisiory Board at BIOBIDE,S.L since 2004. Since 2004, he has been the Director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona. He served as a Member of the Scientific Advisory Board at Genetrix SL. He has been a Scientific Journal Editorial Board Member several journals, as BMC Developmental Biology, Development, Developmental Biology, Development Genes & Evolution, Development Growth and Differentiation, International Journal of Developmental Biology and Mechanisms of Development.

He went to The Salk Institute of California (San Diego) as an assistant professor in 1993 and nowadays is a Professor in the research center, where he directs a laboratory working with the zebra fish as a model organism. During his professional life he has received several honors/awards such as the National Science Foundation Creativity Award in 1999, American Heart Association Established Investigator Award in 2000 and the Medal from the Spanish College of Pharmacy in 2006. He holds MSc. (with Honors) in Pharmacology and PhD in Biochemistry and Pharmacology, with a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Marburg, Germany and another postdoctoral fellow in the European Molecular Biology Laboratories (EMBL), Germany.

Gregg Semenza, MD, PHD
Board of Advisors
Gregg Semenza, MD, PHD

Dr. Gregg L. Semenza is a professor of genetic medicine, pediatrics, radiation oncology, and molecular radiation sciences, biological chemistry, medicine, and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Semenza is the C. Michael Armstrong Professor and serves as the director of the vascular program at the Institute for Cell Engineering.

One of today’s preeminent researchers on the molecular mechanisms of oxygen regulation, Dr. Semenza has led the field in uncovering how cells adapt to changing oxygen levels. He is best known for his ground-breaking discovery of the HIF-1 (hypoxia-inducible factor 1) protein, which controls changes in gene expression in response to changes in oxygen availability. The discovery of HIF-1 has far-reaching implications for understanding and treating conditions, such as cancer and ischemic cardiovascular disease, in which hypoxia plays an important role in disease pathogenesis.

Dr. Semenza was recognized for this groundbreaking research in 2019, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with William G. Kaelin, Jr., M.D. of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Peter J. Ratcliffe of Oxford University.

Dr. Semenza received his A.B. from Harvard University. He earned M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, completed residency training in pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center, and postdoctoral training in medical genetics at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Semenza joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1990.

Stephen Tsang, MD, PHD
Board of Advisors
Stephen Tsang, MD, PHD

Stephen H. Tsang, M.D, Ph.D. is an acclaimed clinical geneticist in the care of individuals with retinal degenerations, and is known worldwide for his pivotal research in reprogramming the metabolome as a therapeutic avenue. His team successfully treated preclinical models of Pde6a, Pde6b, Mfrp, Rho, Cngb1 and autosomal recessive bestrophin retinopathies.

His contributions were recognized by the 2005 Bernard Becker-Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology-Research to Prevent Blindness Award. He is an elected member of several honorary societies including the American Society for Clinical Investigation, Alcon Research Institute and American Ophthalmological Society. He is consistently named to various NIH study sections (DPVS standing member 2014-8) and serves on the Scientific Advisory Panel of Research to Prevent Blindness. Dr. Tsang received 2008 resident teaching award and was the Columbia ophthalmology basic science course director (2006-2018).

Dr. Tsang has been a pioneer in genome surgery in stem cells. Most recently, he has been invited to lecture at CRISPR genome surgery workshop during the annual Association for Research in Vision & Ophthalmology (ARVO) 2015, 16, 18, 19 & 20 Annual Meetings; and as a Moderator for Gene Editing/Rewriting the Genome: Moving from Association to Biology and Therapeutics session during the 65th American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) Annual Meeting, and a lecturer at 2015 & 2016 CRISPR Revolution conference and 2020 “Progress toward Meaningful Disease Modification in Proteinopathies and Neurodegenerative Disorders” at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He delivered a keynote address for a Gordon Research Conference on Feb 16th, 2020. He serves as a consultant for Cellular Tissue and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee (CTGTAC) at the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), FDA {2020-4 and 2011-9}.

In his New York State supported stem cell program (N09G-302), Dr Tsang is examining embryonic stem (ES) cells to model and replace diseased human retinal cells. He is one of a handful of clinicians who can direct the full spectrum of bench-to-bedside research. PI’s research on cGMP-phosphodiesterase (PDE6) is a case in point. PDE6 defects lead to blindness in 72,000 people worldwide. PI generated the world’s first gene-targeted model of retinitis pigmentosa (a PDE6 mutant), and then used these mice to dissect the underlying pathophysiology. These studies led to novel and fundamental discoveries on PDE6 regulation of G-protein-coupled-receptor signaling and, eventually, preclinical testing in the same mice; of the different therapies tested, viral-gene therapy is slated for clinical trials. Many of his publications are in widely-read general interest journals such as Science, NEJM, Lancet, Cell Stem Cell, Nature Genetics, and Journal of Clinical Investigation, which attests to the broad impact that his work has had.

Dr. Tsang graduated from Johns Hopkins University, where he began his medical genetics training under the tutelage of Professor Victor A. McKusick. He received his M.D.-Ph.D. degrees from the NIH-National Institute of General Medical Sciences Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at Columbia University. Dr. Tsang then completed his residency at Jules Stein Eye Institute/UCLA, followed by studies with Professors Alan C. Bird and Graham E. Holder on improving the care of individuals with macular degenerations.

Douglas Wallace, PHD
Board of Advisors
Douglas Wallace, PHD

Douglas C Wallace, PhD, is Director of the Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He holds the Michael and Charles Barnett Endowed Chair in Pediatric Mitochondrial Medicine and Metabolic Diseases.

More than 35 years ago, Dr. Wallace and his colleagues founded the field of human mitochondrial genetics. The mitochondria are the cellular power plants, organelles that generate most of the cell’s energy. The mitochondria also contain their own DNA, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which encodes the wiring diagram for the cell’s power plants. Dr. Wallace showed that the mtDNA is inherited exclusively from the mother and that genetic alterations in the mtDNA can result is a wide range of metabolic and degenerative diseases as well as being important in cancer and aging.

One of his seminal contributions has been to use mtDNA variation to reconstruct the origin and ancient migrations of women. These studies revealed that humans arose in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago, that women left Africa about 65,000 years ago to colonize Eurasia, and from Siberia, they crossed the Bering land bridge to populate the Americas. Studies on the paternally-inherited Y chromosome showed that men went along too.

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