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Management Team

Ghatnekar

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).


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Christina Grek, PhD
Director of Translational Research

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.


Lorraine Harris, BSN, RN, CCRP, OCN
Director of Clinical Operations

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.


Steven Holshouser, PhD
Head of Discovery

Dr. Holshouser is an innovative scientist with an all-inclusive background for the foundations of drug discovery. Through the years, he has gained experience in synthetic chemistry and molecular biology in both the academia and industry settings. He received his B.S. in Biochemistry and B.A. in Chemistry at the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC). During his undergraduate studies, he simultaneously obtained Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) grants award by the Medical University of South Carolina to develop his skill set in molecular biology. After graduation, Dr. Holshouser furthered his medicinal chemistry skills by maintaining a synthetic chemistry lab and constructing an in vitro testing facility to expedite compound development in-house. Further pursuing his education, he earned his Ph.D. in Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston, SC). Here he utilized medicinal chemistry techniques as well as high throughput lead optimization to develop small molecule inhibitors targeting key enzymes which affect post translational modifications that have implications for treating pancreatic adenocarcinomas. While also being a full time student, he played a crucial role in developing and maintaining the drug synthesis and screening laboratories at MUSC.

Halfway through his Ph.D. training, he took a brief intermission from his studies to  work as a medicinal chemist for GlaxoSmithKline (Philadelphia, Pa). Here, he expanded his medicinal chemistry expertise by utilizing chemically based computational software to swiftly develop compounds for the treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Within one year, he was highlighted for his outstanding work in compound screening and synthesis as well as identifying pivotal biological processes which helped expedite compounds more efficiently through the pipeline.


Stefanie Cuebas
Director of Operations

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.