Tellus Therapeutics was founded in 2018 and is translating breakthrough science spun out of Dr. Eric Benner’s laboratory at Duke University that identified compounds found in breast milk that promote myelination. Dr. Benner and collaborator Simon Gregory, PhD have tested these compounds in several animal models of myelin injury. Myelin is a fundamental component of the developing and mature nervous system, and changes in myelination is the basis for many neurological disorders.
Pre-term infants are at high risk for a variety of injuries. Tellus’s lead compound, TT-20, is being developed to repair white matter injury (WMI), an injury that is characterized by a reduction in myelin development in the brain. This type of brain injury most frequently occurs in pre-term infants that are < 32 weeks post-menstrual age (PMA) and can result in poor neurodevelopmental outcomes affecting motor and cognitive ability, including cerebral palsy.
Tellus Therapeutics is pioneering development and regulatory pathways for neonatal drug development. In addition to TT-20 for WMI, compounds targeting other indications in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are being pursued through the Tellus Therapeutics pipeline program.
Meet the Team
Eric Benner, M.D., Ph.D., Acting CSO and Co-founder
Dr. Eric Benner is the scientific co-founder of Tellus, and is a board certified neonatologist at Duke University. He earned his MD and PhD in neuroscience from the University of Nebraska Medical Center before completing his pediatric residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a neonatal perinatal medicine fellowship at Duke University. He has over 10 years of experience caring for neonates with brain injury. Eric’s laboratory made the novel discovery that oxysterols present in human maternal breast milk promote oligodendrocyte (myelinating cells) differentiation in postnatal neural stem cells. Using animal models of perinatal white matter injury, his lab has shown that these compounds can reverse white matter injury and associated motor deficits. Eric has a personal connection to premature infants that drives his desire to improve the lives of these affected children. His own twin boys were born 3 months early. Eric’s LinkedIn
Jason Kralic, Ph.D., CEO and Co-founder
Jason co-founded Tellus with Dr. Benner, and is a neuropharmacologist and life sciences business development executive with broad experience in technology innovation, neurology/psychiatry R&D, company creation and licensing. Jason was Head of Neurosciences Business Development at GlaxoSmithKline where he was responsible for setting the BD strategy, leading licensing and M&A activities and facilitating relationships with alliance partners. Jason led the Technology Innovation team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he worked with research and clinical investigators to identify, patent, develop and commercialize therapeutics, medical devices and healthcare IT solutions. He also led business development and scientific licensing activities at Opexa Therapeutics, UCB Pharma and Schwarz Biosciences and founded Innervate BD Solutions, a CNS technology and business advisory firm in 2015. Jason holds a PhD in pharmacology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed post-doctoral training at the University of Zurich. Jason’s LinkedIn
Austin Schwartz, Ph.D., MBA, VP of Operations and Finance
Austin joined Tellus shortly after the company was founded, and is a life science operations professional. He has a multifaceted skillset that bridges science and business, thus leads several activities within Tellus across these domains. Primary roles include program management of Tellus’s lead program and management of company finances. He also provides right hand support to the CEO, and is actively involved in the company’s corporate strategy, pipeline program, fundraising and investor relations, and intellectual property management. Prior to Tellus, Austin graduated with a PhD in Molecular Biophysics and a MBA from Florida State University, where his NIH and NSF funded dissertation work explored the realms of peptide synthesis, neurophysiology, olfaction and whole-body metabolism. Austin’s LinkedIn
Khadar Abdi, Ph.D., Senior Scientist
Khadar received his Ph.D. from the Department of Cell Biology at Duke University. He conducted his postdoctoral work at Duke University on postnatal neurogenesis, adult hippocampal neurogenesis, ependymal development, and hydrocephalus. Khadar brings over 12 years of experience researching neural stem cells and related progenitor cells at both the subventricular zone and dentate gyrus. He is passionate about converting basic science knowledge into translatable therapies and will be leading the pipeline development program at Tellus Therapeutics as a senior scientist. Khadar’s LinkedIn
Jaron Ballentine, MBA, VP of Clinical Operations and Business Development
Jaron is a life sciences executive with deep experience in developing new products of value. He started his career at GSK in R&D where he focused on commercial strategy and business analytics. Jaron then started and managed his own consulting firm where he partnered with small to mid-sized life science companies to determine the commercial and clinical strategy for products in their R&D portfolio, assess new and ongoing opportunities, and prioritize products and programs within their pipeline. He has a passion for seeking to understand unmet health needs and working to develop medicines to address these needs. Jaron attended the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business where he obtained an MBA. Jaron’s LinkedIn
Lilia Koza, PhD, Scientist
Lilia has over seven years of translational research expertise across academia and industry. Her doctoral dissertation focused on studying natural compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and neurotrauma. Prior to Tellus, Lilia was an associate scientist who researched gene therapies for inherited retinal diseases and also helped with patient outreach at Opus Genetics, a biotech startup. She believes strongly in supporting research at the bench and bedside. Lilia has a strong knowledge of the central nervous system, neuroinflammation/oxidative stress, experimental study design/execution, and a passion for developing treatments for patients which she brings to Tellus Therapeutics. Lilia’s LinkedIn
Simon Gregory, Ph.D., Scientific Co-Founder and Scientific Advisory Board Member
Simon is a Professor in the Department of Neurology, Duke University School of Medicine, and Research Director of the Duke Center for Research in Autoimmunity and MS at Duke University. In 2007, Simon and his collaborators identified the first multiple sclerosis gene outside of the MHC to be associated with the disease, which forms the basis of ongoing functional research whose goal is to establish the role that alternative splicing may play more broadly in the development of autoimmune disease. Simon is Principal Investigator of a ~1,000 patient multiple sclerosis cohort that is being used to identify multi-omic biomarkers to facilitate the reclassification and chart the trajectory of MS. Finally, Simon has a long standing collaboration with Dr. Eric Benner to explore the efficacy of hydroxyl-cholesterols and statins in the treatment of MS. Simon’s LinkedIn
Terrie E. Inder, M.D., M.B, MBcHB, Scientific Advisory Board Member,
Dr. Inder is the Chair of the Center of Neonatal Research at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange County, CA. She was previously Chair of the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA and was the Mary Ellen Avery Professor of Pediatrics in the Field of Newborn Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Terrie is a dual boarded newborn medicine physician and child neurologist with a research focus on the newborn brain. Her research is targeted at understanding the timing, mechanisms and impact of cerebral injury and altered cerebral development in the human infant. Her studies have focused on infants at high risk for brain injury including the prematurely-born infant, the sick term-born infant, and the infant with congenital heart disease. Terrie’s research aims to investigate means of accurate, early diagnosis of brain injury as well as developing treatments and preventive strategies to reduce subsequent neurodevelopmental disabilities. This research work has utilized technologies including near infrared spectroscopy, electroencephalography and magnetic resonance imaging. Finally, Terrie acts as a mentor and educating neonatologist in the neurology of the newborn. Terrie’s LinkedIn
Chi Hornik, PharmD, Scientific Advisory Board Member
Chi is the Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Duke University. She is a pharmacotherapy specialist, a practitioner in neonatal and pediatric critical care, and has faculty appointments in the Duke School of Medicine and the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI). In addition to her clinical service in the NICU, Chi’s neonatal clinical research responsibilities include leading multicenter clinical trials through DCRI and serving as site PI on 7 concurrent federal and industry-funded clinical trials at Duke. She also serves as Chair of the Medication Safety Alliance, Team Lead of Maestro Care Builds and coauthor of >70 clinical guidelines in the NICU. Chi received her Doctorate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she maintains a faculty appointment in clinical education. As a clinician, researcher, and mentor, she is committed to improving the health of all children. Chi’s LinkedIn
Chris Garabedian, Chairman of the Board
Chris Garabedian is Chairman and CEO of Xontogeny. He founded Xontogeny in June of 2016 to support multiple promising technologies from early development through clinical proof of concept. In 2017, Chris joined Perceptive Advisors to develop their Venture Fund strategy and is Portfolio Manager of the Perceptive Xontogeny Ventures Fund which supports early stage companies with Series A investments across biotech, medtech and healthtech.
Chris has a broad base of experience and a track record of success over his decades long experience in the biopharma industry. Chris served as the President and CEO of Sarepta Therapeutics from 2011 to 2015, overseeing the turnaround of a company that is now a commercial stage leader in the genetic technology space after leading the development of the company’s Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy program. Prior to Sarepta, Chris led Corporate Strategy for Celgene from 2007 to 2010. Prior to Celgene, Chris served in a number of global commercial and corporate development leadership roles at Gilead from 1997 to 2005.
Chris serves on a number of Boards of life sciences companies and speaks at industry conferences on a wide range of important issues. Chris is also on the Board of Directors of MassBio, served as a Senior Advisor for the Boston Consulting Group and is a member of the Corporate Relations Board for the Keck Graduate Institut
Fred Callori, Board Member
Fred joined Xontogeny in September 2017 as SVP, Corporate Development. Fred’s responsibilities include due diligence, deal structuring and negotiation, company formation, and the operational oversight and management of Xontogeny’s seed investments. He provides corporate governance, transactional and strategic advice to Xontogeny’s portfolio of companies and serves on several portfolio company boards. In 2018, Fred joined the Perceptive Xontogeny Venture Fund to help manage and oversee fund investments in portfolio companies, including continued investments in companies seeded and incubated at Xontogeny.
Prior to joining Xontogeny, Fred was a Partner in the Life Science and Emerging Companies practices of Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP, a Boston law firm ranked among the most active firms worldwide for private equity and venture capital deals. During his 20-year tenure at Choate, Fred developed deep expertise in the formation, structure, financing and overall corporate development of early stage and emerging life science companies, including representing leading venture capital and institutional investment firms focused on investing in the sector.
Eric Benner, CSO and Board Member
Jason Kralic, CEO and Board Member