The Executive Team

The Board

Mercaptor has been fortunate in the composition of its Board of Directors. Relying initially on two hapless founders, Mercaptor was mercifully introduced by friends to our board members. Possessed of extraordinary and fortuitously-apt skills for an endeavor like Mercaptor their accession to the Board provided encouragement to a team in need of a little validation and added decades of applicable experience to Mercaptor’s managerial team.

The Executive Advisory Board

A tiny company, a remarkable discovery, and a lot to do.  Mercaptor presented some interesting problems.  And not the kind familiar to scientists.  One such problem was in engaging the world and communicating our story; another, related, but a more existential problem, was in finding money.  We needed help.  People to show us a way, without ignoring some founding principles:  Avoid reliance on the sclerotic, inefficient approach to drug development common in the modern pharmaceutical industry and, similarly, avoid venture capital and its desire for profits tomorrow.

In short, we weren’t keen on solutions that devalued science in favor of marketing, that made patients and taxpayers foot the bill for the corporate jet. The first step was putting together an Executive Advisory Board (EAB).

Board Member

Erich Sager, MBA

Erich Sager is an international private banking executive and has been a strong supporter of biopharma companies over the past 20 years. Currently Chairman at Coupolino AG, Sager previously served on the boards of Holding TwentyOne AG, Calltrade Carrier Services AG, BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. and Raptor Pharmaceuticals Inc. An influential advocate for emerging technologies, Sager also serves on the boards of several companies including Zecotek Photonics Inc.

Mr. Sager received an undergraduate degree and an MBA from the School of Economics and Business Administration in Zurich, Switzerland.

Board Member

James Kovach, MD, JD

James Kovach was introduced to Mercaptor in late 2016 and has since been a key advisor from a medical, R&D and business perspective.  Dr. Kovach serves as Vice President of Business Development for CrowdOptic, a venture-backed company using real-time sensor data from electronic devices and its own patented CrowdOptic algorithms to identify and track where devices are aimed (focus) and to identify groups of people with the same focus (clusters). Dr. Kovach also directs a program in entrepreneurship and innovation at UC Davis Health.

Dr. Kovach is also founder of Beneufit, a start-up company providing a personalized exercise system for people fighting chronic disease, tapping into the body’s natural ability to self-heal through exercise. He received his medical degree with distinction from the University of Kentucky while simultaneously playing in the National Football League.  After playing for seven seasons in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers, he attended law school at Stanford University and practiced corporate law in Palo Alto California.

Dr. Kovach has served as Chief Operating Officer of Athersys, Inc., a leading public biotechnology company developing stem cell therapeutics.  Two stem cell products initiated under his tenure now are in Phase II clinical development for inflammatory bowel disease and ischemic stroke. He has also served as President of the Buck Institute for Age Research.  Named by the National Institutes of Health as a national center of excellence, the Buck Institute is an independent research institute dedicated exclusively to research on aging and age-associated disease.  Dr. Kovach also previously served as a member of the NFL Concussion Committee.

Board Member

Ralph O’Rear

Ralph O’Rear provides Mercaptor strategic advice with regards to general business strategy, facilities, and operations.  After 18 years at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and nearly 10 years at Lucasfilm Ltd. and its subsidiaries and affiliates (Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts Entertainment, THX), Mr. O’Rear began to independently consult with the goal of doing interesting work with good people working together for noble causes.

His expertise is in the areas of real estate and facility planning, organizational strategic planning, change management, budgeting, development and implementation of corporate facility initiatives and energy efficiency/sustainability measures.  At the Buck Institute, Mr. O’Rear was responsible for the facilities and operations of a research campus comprised of 3 buildings totaling 255,000sf on 417 acres of land.  During his time at the Buck Institute, he initiated and/or was a key player in the acquisition of more than $50,000,000 in grant funding and strategic partnerships to support the research conducted at the Buck Institute.

Scientific Advisory Board (SAB)

Dr. Adriano Aguzzi, MD, PhD

Dr. Adriano Aguzzi, MD, PhD, is heading up the formation of Mercaptor’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Dr. Aguzzi is a world-renowned neuropathologist, whose research has garnered numerous accolades including the Marcel-Benoist Prize, the Robert-Koch Prize, the Antonio-Feltrinelli Award and the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences, which are among the highest recognitions in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and United Arab Emirates respectively. He is also Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pathology at University of Zurich, Director of the Institute of Neuropathology at the University Hospital of Zurich and a Founder and Director of the Swiss National Center for Prion Diseases.

Dr. Aguzzi invented the first in vivo model of microglia depletion (Nature Medicine, 2005), which helped establishing that microglia possess a vigorous antiprion activity (Nature Neuroscience, 2008, Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2016). In a series of groundbreaking papers between 1997 and 2005, Aguzzi identified the cell types and molecules that enable invasion of the brain by prions (Nature, 1997, Nature Medicine, 2001; Neuron, 2001, Nature, 1997, Nature Medicine, 1998; Science, 2000 Nature, 2003, Nature Medicine, 2001). The discovery that follicular dendritic cells are the “prion factories” in extracerebral tissue led him to identify their function as providers of the “eat-me” factor Mfge8 (Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2008). He found that FDCs are derived from ubiquitous perivascular cells (Cell, 2012).

Dr. Aguzzi identified plasminogen as a prion carrier in blood (Nature, 2000, Lancet 2001). Also, Aguzzi improved the process for the differentiation of prion strains by fluorescence spectros- copy with polythiophenes (Nature methods, 2007). The affinity of polythiophenes for prions was the basis for preclinical therapeutic efforts, which proved that structural design can help finding anti-aggregation compounds (Science Translational Medicine, 2015). The Aguzzi lab found that PrP made by neurons prevents Schwann cells from developing chronic demyelination (Nature Neuroscience, 2010) by activating the G protein-coupled receptor Gpr126 (Nature, 2016). In addition to clarifying a question that had remained open for 30 years (“What is the normal function of PrPC?”), this finding could be important for the therapies of chronic neuropathies, common debilitating diseased with limited treatment options.

Impact of research: Aguzzi published >400 scientific articles, >30 of which appeared in Nature/Science/Cell. These papers were referenced >47,000 times. Aguzzi’s “h-index” (Google Scholar) is 114. Labor-Journal reported twice that Aguzzi was the most cited neuropathologist and third-most cited neuroscientist in German speaking countries.

Executive Advisory Board Member

Dr. Michael Schwartz

Dr. Michael Schwartz is a Board Certified physician specializing in Internal Medicine with a private practice in Darien, Connecticut.

In 1991, Schwartz was appointed as a ringside physician for the State of Connecticut and was named to the Medical Advisory Board in 1995. Two years later, he was named Chief Ringside Physician for the State of Connecticut. Schwartz also serves as the Chief Ringside Physician and Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board for both Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

As Chief Ringside Physician for Professional Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts, he was responsible for creating many of the medical protocols utilized in boxing today. In 1997, he founded the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians (AAPRP), the first Medical Association for Professional Ringside Physicians.

In 2000, after the passage of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, he testified on boxing safety at the National Association of Attorneys General Boxing Task Force (NAAG) hearings in New York City and in 2001 for the New York State Assembly on Boxing Reform. In 2005, his Congressional Testimony at the Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearings in Washington, DC, helped introduce bill H.R. 1065, the United States Boxing Commission Act, which was designed to establish more national uniformity of safety standards throughout the United States.

Dr. Schwartz has lectured around the world on ringside medicine and has been published extensively in all aspects of ringside care including traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). As such, in 2011, Dr. Schwartz was inducted into the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame.

Dr. Schwartz serves as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Frank Netter School of Medicine and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College. He also authors a bimonthly health column “House Calls”, which is published in several Hearst Media Newspapers.



Executive Advisory Board Member

Murat Akgun

Murat has worked in the capital markets business for twenty-seven years in a variety of areas and roles. He has also played several roles in a number of start-up firms either as a co-founder, adviser or investor, including, formulating business strategy, raising/structuring capital.

Prior to New Tech Haven, he was a senior member of the structured finance business at XL Financial Solutions. He spent six years as a founding member CMET Finance Inc., prior to joining XL. As the lead structured finance professional, he coordinated the launch of two innovative AAA rated broker-dealers, including raising the firm’s capital and securing its AAA rating. From 1994 to 1999, he was with Citicorp Securities Inc. as a senior financial engineer/marketer. He performed a variety of roles in capital markets and derivatives at UBS, Drexel Burnham Lambert, and E.F. Hutton, prior to joining Citicorp.