Meet the team

Jake Becraft, Ph.D.

CEO, Co-founder
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Jake Becraft is a synthetic biologist and entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and CEO of Strand Therapeutics, and serves on its Board of Directors. Together with colleagues at MIT’s renowned Synthetic Biology Center, he led the development of the world’s first synthetic biology programming language for mRNA. Jake has been featured in Fierce Biotech, Bloomberg, the Boston Business Journal, and BioCentury, among others, for his vision and mission at Strand of applying this unique platform for real world disease applications. He has also been the recipient of prestigious national and international awards for his scientific and entrepreneurial achievements, including the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Award, the Andrew Viterbi Fellowship of MIT, Amgen Fellowship, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb 2018 Golden Ticket for recognition of Strand as an innovative startup. Beyond his work at Strand, Jake’s broader interests span synthetic biology, biologically engineered organism-machine interfaces, and the intersection of tech and biotech methodologies. He is an advocate among the life science entrepreneurial ecosystem for supporting young founders in biotech entrepreneurship. Currently, he serves on the advisory board of Starlight Ventures, an early stage venture firm, and also serves on the Executive Board of Public Health United, a non-profit focused on helping scientists better communicate their research for maximum impact. Previously, he served as a Science and Technology advisor to legislators in the Massachusetts State Legislature. Jake received his Ph.D. in Biological Engineering and Synthetic Biology from MIT and his B.S. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, graduating Magna cum Laude with distinction. He is an author or inventor on numerous high profile publications, patents and white papers, including in top tier journals such as Nature Chemical Biology and PNAS.

Tasuku Kitada, Ph.D.

President, Head of R&D, Co-founder
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Tasuku Kitada is President and Head of R&D of Strand Therapeutics. He co-founded Strand and serves on its Board of Directors. Prior to Strand, Tasuku was Senior Biotechnology Analyst at Candriam Investors Group, where he conducted due diligence for the company’s multi-billion-dollar biopharma public equity investment strategy. At Candriam, he focused on cell and gene therapy companies, and also covered numerous oncology companies. Currently, Tasuku continues to serve Candriam Investors Group as an advisor. Prior to Candriam, Tasuku was a researcher at the Synthetic Biology Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he became the first scientist to create synthetic gene circuits using synthetic mRNA. This was the first demonstration of post-transcriptional circuits that can be “wired” to create a variety of networks of increasing complexity, which enabled cell type specific expression as well as small-molecule based control of gene expression from synthetic mRNA. This important research led to publications in Science, Nature Biotechnology, and Nature Chemical Biology. The mRNA synthetic biology platform developed from this research has been exclusively licensed to Strand. Tasuku holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from University of California, Los Angeles and a B.S. in Biophysics and Biochemistry from University of Tokyo.

Samta Kundu, MBA

Chief Operating Officer
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Samta Kundu is the Chief Operating Officer of Strand Therapeutics. She has nearly three decades of business strategy and operations experience spanning pharma and biotech. She spent over a decade at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), and was a member of the leadership team of Molecular Discovery Technologies, a department within BMS’ Discovery organization. During her tenure at BMS, she also led initiatives to increase the company’s visibility in the Cambridge/Boston life science community to support the opening of BMS' Cambridge R&D site. A key initiative she launched and executed was the company’s “Golden Ticket” contest to award lab space to innovative local startups, of which Strand was a 2018 winner. Previously, Samta was in business development at Adnexus Therapeutics, acquired by BMS in 2007, where she supported deal execution, management of the IP portfolio, and diligence operations. Post BMS acquisition, Samta led business operations for the newly acquired Adnexus-BMS site and executed a number of research transactions on behalf of the site. Earlier in her career, Samta held business development roles at Dyax and Consensus Pharmaceuticals, and was a project manager at Genzyme Tissue Repair. Samta began her career at LEK Consulting, providing strategic analysis to a number of healthcare and biotech clients. She received her MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Business and a B.A. from Princeton University.‍

Jean Balch, B.S.

Executive Administrator
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Jean Balch is the Executive Administrator for Strand Therapeutics where she assists the leadership team and research staff members. She has decades of experience in startup, academic, and corporate environments, during which time she has facilitated productivity efforts to meet a wide range of targeted objectives. Jean spent over a decade with Bristol-Myers Squibb in support of research group projects and compliance activities, as well as group travel arrangements and events. Prior to her time with BMS, she handled a variety of administrative activities such as operations, HR, legal, and technical relations for several other startup companies, including: Advanced Inhalation Research, Pulmatrix, and Molten Metal Technology. Earlier in Jean’s career, she managed the Student Office for MIT’s Graduate Department of Chemical Engineering overseeing admissions, registration, recruiting, and financial support. Jean received her Bachelor’s Degree from Michigan State University. In the years since, she has studied management and earned professional certifications in both HR and paralegal activities.

Joe Barberio, B.A.

Director, mRNA Process Development
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Joseph Barberio is a biochemist and molecular biologist with a proven track record of solving complex problems with innovative solutions. He is the Director of mRNA Process Development at Strand Therapeutics and oversees Strand’s manufacturing strategy to support clinical development. With over fifteen years of industry experience, Joe specializes in process and analytical development and has extensive expertise in manufacturing of both viral and RNA based gene therapy medicinal products. The majority of Joseph’s career has been focused on building platforms for small biotech organizations. Most recently at bluebird bio, he constructed and led the mRNA process development team, a group designed to enable gene editing programs. Earlier in his career, Joe held process development roles at Moderna, Percivia, and Acceleron Pharma. In addition to his work at Strand, Joseph also serves on the Board of Directors of Sophie’s Hope Foundation, a non-profit charity supporting research for Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD). He received his B.A. in Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology at Connecticut College, graduating Cum Laude with distinction.

Kavya Borde, B.S.

Associate Scientist I, Molecular Biology
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Kavya Borde is an Associate Scientist for the Molecular Biology Department at Strand Therapeutics. She started out as an intern in the department and became part of the team in early 2021. She has previously worked as an undergraduate researcher in the regenerative cellular biology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and food microbiology department at Mahidol University, Thailand. She is currently supporting cell culture and molecular biology experiments as part of the in vitro molecular biology platform development efforts at Strand Therapeutics. She received her B.S. in Microbiology with a certificate in the science of fermented foods and beverages at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Tyler Cabral, B.S.

Talent Acquisition Manager
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Tyler Cabral is the Talent Acquisition Manager at Strand Therapeutics. Tyler is an outgoing professional who is passionate about identifying and placing talent into functions that support the design, development and commercialization of novel therapeutics. After completing his undergraduate studies, Tyler worked in manufacturing at Organogenesis, a regenerative medicine biotech, where he supported the development and scale up of Organogenesis’ commercial products. He ultimately made the decision to transition into recruiting at Pharmalogics Recruiting, a retained recruiting agency that focused on providing recruitment services to life science organizations across the globe. He supported multiple clients ranging from small startup organizations to multinational biopharmaceutical corporations, and placed individuals in all areas of R&D, commercial, and corporate G&A. With his scientific background, recruiting skill set, and passion for helping others, Tyler oversees talent acquisition at Strand and streamlines hiring processes as the organization continues to grow. Tyler holds a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences from Quinnipiac University.

Aidan Coia, B.S.

Associate Scientist, pDNA Process Development
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Aidan Coia is an Associate Scientist conducting mRNA/pDNA process development. He is working to scale mRNA production by optimizing processes related to both synthetic biology and mRNA development. Prior to joining Strand, Aidan worked in pharmaceutical drug development and, most recently, worked to develop high-throughput COVID-19 testing processes. He received his B.S. degree in cell and molecular biology/genetics from Boston University.

Stephanie Esonwune, B.A., M.A.

Associate Scientist, Molecular Biology
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Stephanie Esonwune is an Associate Scientist II for the Molecular Biology Department at Strand Therapeutics. She has previously worked for the Functional Genomics Platform at Whitehead Institute optimizing lentiviral transduction conditions in patient derived ovarian cell lines. She received her BA in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and her MA in Biotechnology at Boston University.

Danny Gately, B.S.

Associate Scientist II, mRNA Process Development
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Danny Gately is an Associate Scientist in Strand’s mRNA Process Development team. He is currently working to build Strand’s mRNA analytical and process development platforms and supporting process automation efforts. Danny is experienced in working with mRNA therapeutics. Before joining Strand in December 2020, he worked in mRNA analytical development at bluebird bio, where he helped to build the mRNA process and analytical platforms to a point of clinical readiness. Danny is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he received his B.S. degree in Microbiology.

Moez Ghumman, B.S., M.S.

Associate Scientist, LNP Formulations Development
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Moez Ghumman is currently an Associate Scientist in the mRNA Nanoparticle Formulation Development group at Strand Therapeutics. Moez completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Pharmaceutical Sciences with a concentration in Pharmaceutics and Pharmacokinetics from the University of Rhode Island. Moez had an interest in drug development and dosage form design and worked for several months as an intern in the Formulation Laboratory at Rhodes Pharmaceuticals. Moez’s prior research experience was focused on developing a novel nanoparticle drug delivery system for treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Along with publishing his research in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, Moez has been a presenting author at several conferences held by the Biomedical Engineering Society and American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists.

Michelle Kerns, B.S.

Associate Scientist, In Vivo Discovery
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Michelle Kerns is an Associate Scientist, In Vivo Discovery at Strand Therapeutics. She has experience working as a biochemist and assisting with in vivo pharmacology studies, supporting academia and industry alike. Previously, she was at Agios Pharmaceuticals and UMass Medical Center. Michelle joined Strand to continue her passion of exploring novel therapeutics. She received her B.S. in Biochemistry from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Jaspreet Khurana, Ph.D.

Associate Director, Molecular Biology
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Jaspreet Khurana is a molecular biologist with over 15 years of combined academia and industry research experience in target discovery and validation. He is skilled at mRNA therapeutics, genome engineering as well as next-generation sequencing. At Strand Therapeutics, he is leading the in vitro molecular biology platform, which encompasses vector development, mRNA production and in vitro POC studies for target validation. Previously, he was at Omega Therapeutics as the Senior Scientist in the Biology team. During his academic career, he elucidated novel functions for various epigenetic pathways including non-coding RNAs using cutting edge genomics. He received his Ph.D in Biomedical Sciences from University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, followed by a postdoc focused on RNA biology and genomics at Princeton and Columbia Universities. He also holds a Masters in Biotechnology from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), India. He has published several high profile peer- reviewed publications in journals such as Cell, Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, PLoS Biology, PLoS Genetics and has been cited more than 1200 times.

Alexander Lemaire, B.S.

Scientist, mRNA Process Development
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Alexander Lemaire is an experienced process and analytical development associate in Strand’s Process Development group. He’s tasked with building Strand’s mRNA production and analytical platform. Alexander has experience in developing robust analytical assays and release strategies for regulatory interactions and IND enabling activities. Additionally, Alexander prides himself on making processes and analytics higher throughput and scalable through the use of automation and robotics. Previously, Alexander was at bluebird bio, where he developed, qualified and implemented novel release assays to evaluate clinical grade mRNA. Alexander graduated with a B.S. in Biology.

Ashoka Madduri, M.B.A., Ph.D.

Senior Director, Business Development
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Ashoka Madduri is the Sr Director, Business Development at Strand Therapeutics. He is a biotech strategist with a demonstrated passion and success in building strategic alliances and investment opportunities across the biotech and pharma world. Prior to Strand, Ashoka was a Sr. Director of Corporate Strategy and BD at Aviceda Therapeutics where he worked with the executive team on corporate positioning for investment and strategic partnership opportunities. As a partner at Vestra Associates, he advised senior executives of start-ups on strategy, analysis for disease/drug development platforms, forging strategic alliances, and raising capital. At Wave Life Sciences, Ashoka was a Director of Strategy & Partnerships where he sought and established B2B collaborations to further the companies’ innovation and operations capabilities. Earlier, as VP of Innovation at Integrity Biochem, Ashoka led the integration of operations and research platforms acquired from HPPE, and advised on scientific innovations and strategies to drive sustainability. At HPPE, as the Director/Head of R&D, Ashoka set the scientific strategy of HPPE, developed the IP portfolio and oversaw the development across all of the company’s product platforms. He regularly participated in board meetings communicating technical updates to the board and investors. He worked in close conjunction with the business development teams and shared responsibility for all strategic partnership decisions. Ashoka received his Executive MBA from MIT Sloan, and has a PhD in Bio-organic Chemistry from the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, followed by post-doctoral research at Harvard Medical School.

Jacob Moginot, M.S.

Scientist, mRNA Nanoparticle Formulation Development
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Jacob is a Scientist working in the mRNA nanoparticle formulation development group at Strand Therapeutics. With 10 years’ experience within the pharmaceutical industry, Jacob has focused on lipid nanoparticle formulation, process development, and GMP manufacturing initiatives. He is tasked with scale-up activities for Strand’s lead LNP programs heading toward the clinic. Jacob previously worked at Beam Therapeutics & Intellia Therapeutics where he played crucial roles in formulation development, screening activities, and process scale-up for IND enabling studies, advancing non-viral delivery for lead CRISPR/cas9 and base editing programs. He has also worked within the oncology therapeutic space at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals where he focused on optimization and characterization of lead liposome delivery formulation and process development through late-stage clinical manufacturing. Jacob studied his M.S. at the University of Massachusetts.

Ashley Njiru, B.S.

Associate Scientist II, Molecular Biology
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Ashley Njiru is an Associate Scientist for the Molecular Biology Department at Strand Therapeutics. She has previously worked in developing gene editing constructs and dermatological cancer models at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She received her B.S. in Molecular Biology at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University in Boston, MA.

Ryan Patenaude, B.S.

Associate Scientist, In Vivo Discovery
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Ryan Patenaude is an Associate Scientist, In Vivo Discovery at Strand Therapeutics. He joined in late 2021. He has previously worked in developing various animal models, cellular assays, and molecular biology assays as a research assistant at Boston Children’s Hospital, and as an undergraduate researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. He received his B.S. in Biology, with a concentration in Biochemistry, from Emmanuel College.

Aalok Shah, M.S.

Associate Director, mRNA Nanoparticle Formulation Development
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Aalok has been leading the Formulation and Delivery effort at Strand since June 2020. Aalok brings along more than 10 years of experience in lipid nanoparticle delivery working at leading gene therapy companies. Prior to Strand, he was at Beam Therapeutics where he was an integral part of Beam’s delivery efforts aimed at advancing base editing technology to cure liver diseases. Previously, he was at Intellia Therapeutics, where he was a key contributor in advancing CRIPSR/cas9 applications and demonstrated the first in-vivo proof of concept for the technology. Earlier in his career, he spent time at Dicerna Pharmaceuticals where he was on the team that advanced siRNA programs to the clinic. His broad exposure to multiple therapeutic modalities spanning protein, siRNA and mRNA gives him an impactful lens with which to address and solve scientific challenges facing the field of gene therapy delivery systems. Aalok received his M.S. in Drug Delivery from Northeastern University and B.S. in Pharmaceutical Science from Nirma University.

Kevin Shi, Ph.D.

Principal Scientist, Data Analytics and Machine Learning
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Kevin Shi is a Principal Scientist, Data Analytics and Machine Learning at Strand Therapeutics. Kevin's work spans mechanistic and machine learning-based modeling of synthetic biology circuits, analytics for high throughput experimentation, and optimization of drug properties. He also brings expertise in software development for automation and process analytics. Prior to joining Strand Therapeutics, Kevin headed the computational drug design and software development program at Mytide Therapeutics, a peptide drug discovery and manufacturing company. This work entailed building machine learning pipelines for process optimization and structure-guided peptide design and developing a fully automated peptide synthesis platform. Kevin received his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from MIT under the supervision of Prof. Bruce Tidor in the Department of Biological Engineering and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. His research focused on system biology for biochemical signaling pathways and optimal experimental design. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Caltech, where he also worked on antibody-drug conjugate design under the direction of Prof. Steve Mayo.

Anna Simon, Ph.D

Associate Principal Scientist, Synthetic Biology
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Anna Simon is a Scientist, in the Synthetic Biology group at Strand Therapeutics. Anna takes inspiration from nature to design new, technologically useful functions into biological molecules. In particular, Anna’s work has focused on combining rational design and synthetic evolution to design minimalist sets of nucleic acids and proteins that cooperate and assemble in response to changes in their environment. Before joining Strand Therapeutics, Anna was an Arnold O. Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, where she engineered natural systems into tools to create novel synthetic biosystems, specifically engineering bacterial retroelements for gene editing and evolution-inspired protein assembly strategies. She received a B.S. in Biological Engineering from MIT and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UC Santa Barbara. Anna has authored numerous publications, including in the journals Nature Biotechnology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Angewandte Chemie, ACS Synthetic Biology, Nucleic Acids Research, and Nature Chemistry, where her publication was featured on the cover of the March 2019 issue.

Ryan Sowell, Ph.D.

Principal Scientist, Immuno-Oncology
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Ryan is an immunologist focused on next-generation immune medicines for cancer and responsible for supporting Strand’s immuno-oncology programs. Prior to joining Strand, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale School of Medicine where he developed cutting edge ‘immune avatars’, an in vivo model system constructed from individual patients’ tumors and their immune systems to enable personalized parallel evaluation immunotherapy combinations. His research interests include T cells and how they adapt to different tissue microenvironments. Ryan earned his Ph.D. in Immunology at Rush University in Chicago, where he identified a novel approach to redirect T cells to mucosal tissues where they are positioned to serve as a barrier to infection. He also holds a M.S. in Biomedical Sciences from University of Texas, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and a B.S. in Cell & Molecular Biology from University of Northern Colorado. He has authored numerous publications, including in the journals Cell, Nature Medicine, Nature Communications, Blood, Cancer Discovery, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cell Reports, Journal of Immunology, and has been collectively cited over 1000 times.

Zhijun Su, B.S.

Senior Associate Scientist II, Cancer Biology
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Zhijun Su is an associate scientist at Strand Therapeutics. She is currently supporting Strand’s cancer immunotherapy program. She is adept at RNA synthesis, immunological analyses, running mouse models, and keeping the lab organized. Prior to Strand, she worked at Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, Irvine Lab, where she worked on a number of mouse animal studies, and supported cell culture and molecular biology experiments. She earned her B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Weiyu Zhao, Ph.D.

Scientist, mRNA Nanoparticle Formulation Development
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Weiyu is a Scientist, in the mRNA nanoparticle formulation development group at Strand Therapeutics. Her research expertise involves the development of functional drug/gene delivery systems. Weiyu received her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the Ohio State University, where she worked on developing lipid nanoparticles for mRNA based therapeutics. She also holds an M.S. degree in Pharmaceutics and a B.S. degree in Pharmacy from Peking University Health Science Center. Weiyu has authored and co-authored peer-reviewed publications in journals, such as Nature Nanotechnology, Nature Cancer, Nature Biomedical Engineering, Science Advances, and Chemical Science and Biomaterials.

Scientific advisory board

Prof. Darrell J. Irvine, Ph.D.

Scientific Co-founder

Prof. Ron Weiss, Ph.D.

Scientific Co-founder

Prof. K. Dane Wittrup, Ph.D.

Scientific Advisor
Clinical advisory board

Mark W. Frohlich, M.D.

Clinical Advisor