Board of Directors

Edward M. Payne, III

Mr. Payne is the President of Piney Land Company, which is engaged in land ownership, management and development in multiple states.  Mr. Payne was a practicing attorney in West Virginia for almost 50 years.  Previously Mr. Payne served in the West Virginia Legislature, as the Chairman of the Advisory Board of West Virginia College of Graduate Studies, as a member of the Institutional Board of Advisors of Marshall University and as a member of the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust Board.  He also served as Chairman of the Board of City Holding Company.  Mr. Payne is a graduate of Davidson College and University of Virginia Law School.

Elliot Favus, M.D.

Dr. Favus has been working as a healthcare equity research analyst on Wall Street since 2006, at Lazard Capital Markets and Och-Ziff Capital Management Group. Prior to working on Wall Street, Dr. Favus was an Instructor in Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He attended the University of Michigan (B.A.), The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine (M.D.), and the NYU-Bellevue Hospital Internal Medicine Residency Program. He became board-certified in Internal Medicine in 2004. In addition to being board-certified in Internal Medicine, Dr. Favus has 10 years of basic science laboratory experience, working on human genetics projects at Harvard Medical School, The University of Chicago, and the University of Pittsburgh.


Gautam Ghatnekar, PhD
President and CEO

Dr. Ghatnekar is President and CEO of FirstString Research, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to delivering breakthrough solutions for inflammation and injury based medical conditions through a better understanding of the molecular and cellular contexts that define the underlying pathology. FirstString is focused on diseases associated with dysregulation of inflammatory processes and modulation of injury response, such as cutaneous radiation injury, radiation dermatitis, and wounds. FirstString’s technology is based on connexin-based peptides (α-Connexin Carboxyl-Terminal or aCT peptides) that exert profound healing effects on diseased and damaged tissue. Under Dr. Ghatnekar’s leadership, FirstString Research is advancing the clinical development of aCT1 peptide through a topical formulation called Granexin® gel. Granexin® has been tested in multiple successful clinical trials and is currently in late-stage trials for cutaneous radiation injury, diabetic foot ulcers, and venous leg ulcers.

Dr. Ghatnekar is well published and has multiple US and International patents to his name.  He serves on NIH study sections, and is PI or Co-PI on multiple NIH and DoD grants/contracts. Over the last ten plus years, Dr. Ghatnekar has raised significant funds for research and development via federal and state grant awards, individual investors, angel groups, collaborations, loans, and partnerships. These funds have allowed FirstString to successfully advance its lead compound – Granexin® gel, and build out its therapeutic pipeline in other indications such as ophthalmology, organ preservation and oncology.

Dr. Ghatnekar earned a Ph.D. in 2004 from North Carolina State University in Comparative Biomedical Science with an emphasis on cellular and developmental toxicology. Dr. Ghatnekar was also a post-doctoral fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina where he studied regenerative medicine and discovered the translational benefits of the aCT peptide, which led to the formation of FirstString Research. Prior to becoming President and CEO of FirstString, Dr. Ghatnekar served as the Company’s Chief Scientific Officer and is currently Executive Chairman of Regranion and on the board of directors of the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation and the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC).


Grant Carwile

Grant Carwile has been active in finance, investment banking and capital markets for over 30 years.   Mr. Carwile presently serves as a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Vice President of the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation, a specialty finance company.  Prior to 2016, he worked in the field of investment banking and financial consulting, including nearly 20 years at RBC Capital Markets, over 10 years of which serving in the position of Managing Director.  During his banking and financial advisory service, Mr. Carwile’s historical client base was diverse and included finance companies, banks and other lending institutions, loan guaranty agencies, loan servicing organizations, specialty data companies, institutions of higher education, and loan collections organizations.  During his career, Mr. Carwile has worked with his clients to create or finance in excess of $53 billion in consumer and higher education loan programs and trusts.  Mr. Carwile has been a frequent speaker at industry associations and asset-backed finance conferences, and he has written articles for national and international finance publications.

He is a graduate (BSBA) with high honors of the University of Arkansas and holds a Juris Doctor degree with high honors from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the UALR Law Journal.

Mr. Carwile currently serves or has served on the following boards of directors in recent years: FirstString Research (2007 – present); South Carolina Student Loan Corporation (Finance Company, 2014 – present); Palmetto Investment Holdings Incorporated (Holding Company, 2015 – present); Roper Saint Francis Foundation (Regional Hospital System, 2002 – 2014).


James R. McNab Jr.
Chairman of the Board

Mr. McNab was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of FirstString Research in 2009. He is the former Chairman and a founder of Curis Inc (NASDAQ: CRIS), a drug discovery company focused on developmental biology and with ongoing collaborations with Johnson & Johnson, Genentech, Pfizer, and Procter & Gamble. Mr. McNab is also Chairman and founder of eNOS Pharmaceuticals, a development stage company working on treatments for cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases. Previously, Mr. McNab founded two medical device companies, Sontra Medical based on technology licensed from MIT, and Parker Medical Associates which was later sold to Smith and Nephew. Mr. McNab was a Phi Beta Kappa Economics and History graduate of Davidson College and earned his MBA at the University of North Carolina. He served in the US Army as a Force Planning Analyst in the Office of the Chief of Staff for General William Westmoreland.


Robert Parish

Prior to founding White Springs Capital, Robert Parish worked as an investment banker at Feltl & Company and practiced law with the Finance and Restructuring group at Faegre & Benson in Minneapolis. He also clerked for the Honorable Robert J. Kressel, Chief Judge of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Eighth Circuit. He received his J.D. from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Prior to his legal career, Mr. Parish served as Captain in the United States Air Force as an Intelligence Officer.

Steven Speer

Stephen W. Speer is a resident of Mount Pleasant, SC and is an original investor and board member in FirstString Research since its early days.  His professional background is primarily as a geologist in the oil and gas industry, running several private partnerships in the search and development of domestic oil and gas since graduating from New Mexico State University (BS Geology) and the University of Texas (MA Geological Sciences) in the early 1980s.  Since moving to SC in 2003, he has additionally formed and invested in LLC’s which operate in the food/beverage/hospitality industry and has also invested in multiple other local/regional startup ventures in the biotech and other technology sectors through participation in the Charleston Angel Partners group, where he has served as an Executive Administrator.