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).
Dr. Grek is an experienced translational scientist with foundations in both industry and academia. After receiving her BScH at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, Dr. Grek pursued a career in industry at the biotech startup KAIROS Scientific, where she aided in the development of a high-throughput technology, that enables solid phase enzyme screening of mutagenized bacterial libraries expressing enzymes that have undergone directed evolution. She then worked as a cancer researcher in the drug discovery team at SUGEN, a pioneering drug discovery company focused on the development of small-molecule protein kinase inhibitors as cancer therapeutics. At SUGEN, Dr. Grek developed a keen understanding of the pipeline components involved in drug discovery protocols and the development of successful therapeutics.
Dr. Grek earned a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, where she studied the role of oxygen sensitive genes in the alveolar epithelium and successfully designed and developed a novel semi-permeable hollow fiber based membrane system that enables the culture and differentiation of alveolar epithelial cells. At MUSC, she continued her pursuit as a translational scientist through a series of preclinical and clinical studies focusing on the discovery and development of pharmacodynamic biomarkers for current and novel redox modulating chemotherapeutics. Dr. Grek was also instrumental in a drug discovery program involving the screening, development, and evaluation of small molecule inhibitors that target protein disulfide isomerase that may serve as the basis for future cancer therapeutic development. She has extensive experience in the development of in vivo and in vitro model systems as well as experience in the development and implementation of preclinical and clinical studies.
Ms. Soughley is a senior clinical operations leader with 25 years of progressive experience in drug development. She has held key roles across biotech, diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies where her strategic and operational knowledge and expertise has been successfully applied through all stages of drug development.
Ms. Soughley has significant experience in various therapeutic areas including diabetes, infectious disease, oncology, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system, and autoimmune diseases. She has a deep understanding of best practices in clinical research and has successfully implemented clinical operations from the ground up, building high performing internal teams and effectively working with external partners.
Ms. Soughley holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Carlow University, Pittsburgh, PA. She is a member of the Drug Information Association (DIA) and Association of Clinical Research Professional (ACRP).
Ms. Harris has an expansive background in leadership and research. She began her career at Wake Forest University Medical Center where she spent more than 25 years honing her craft and building on her nursing knowledge. There she directly participated in the creation of the first multidisciplinary breast center that incorporated a full array of research trials available under her direction. She was later recruited to manage the first Wake Forest University Clinical Trials Research Office. She has acquired a diverse work history of clinical trial research in many arenas including pediatrics, neurology, medical oncology, surgical oncology, head and neck, and radiation therapy. She completed her tenure at Wake Forest serving several years as the Clinic Manager for the Center for Reproductive Medicine. She also held the position of Oral Surgery Supervisor for RJ Reynolds, Inc., Oral Surgery Center during her time in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
After moving to Pawleys Island in 2005, she led the research program at Georgetown Hospital Systems and spearheaded the drive to successfully obtain the first NAPBC accreditation for the Breast Program. She served on the Cancer Committee, the Breast Tumor Board, and the Breast Program Leadership Committee during this time.
Most recently, she was the Nurse Administrator for the Office of Clinical Trials at the Medical University of South Carolina, a position held for the last 6 years. Additionally, she served on the Data Safety Monitoring Committee for 5 of those years. She was also an active member on the IT Governance Committee and the Cancer Program Committee. She currently holds her professional research certification through the Society of Clinical Research Associates and oncology nursing certification through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.
Stefanie Cuebas joined FirstString in 2009 to streamline business operations and administration. Since then, Ms. Cuebas has flourished within the company, working closely with President and CEO, Dr. Gautam Ghatnekar, to plan, organize and oversee key business activities and programs. She has played an instrumental role in the company’s growth, ensuring operations are running smoothly and end goals are met. Prior to joining FirstString, Ms. Cuebas worked in public relations and program management at the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Charleston.
Dr. McQuiston has a broad range of experience in cellular therapy and regenerative medicine to address unmet medical needs. Before joining FirstString Research, Dr. McQuiston was employed at Propagenix Inc, an R&D-stage cell therapy company with proprietary platforms for epithelial cell bioproduction, where he worked to identify potential applications for the company’s patented technology while also assessing possible competitive advantages. Dr. McQuiston worked on several successful programs including an engineered skin therapy, next-generation airway epithelium models, and novel cancer models for tumor-specific drug screening. Dr. McQuiston also led internal efforts and external collaborations in basic research through preclinical animal models for several other early-stage projects focusing on epithelial tissue diseases.
Dr. McQuiston earned a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical University of South Carolina where he investigated the role of mammalian sphingolipid biosynthesis in the host immune response against pathogenic fungi. To advance his research experience and efforts towards the clinical setting, Dr. McQuiston accepted a position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Translational Mycology Unit of the Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the NIH. Dr. McQuiston examined the role of the RNA helicase DDX6 family members in the transcriptional regulation of autophagy and mammalian inflammasome activation. During his postdoctoral tenure, Dr. McQuiston advanced this extensive translational work from in vitro models and cell-based assays to the development of novel mouse models and eventually leading to the clinical setting in attempts to understand how patient genetics lead to pulmonary cryptococcosis.