OUR TEAM

Creating the next generation of cancer immunotherapies requires an incredible team of scientists, managers, and advisors. At oNKo-innate, our team is made up of thought leaders, scientists with exceptional track records and a passion for translation, and a fresh crop of up-and-coming immuno-oncology experts.

Management

Jai Rautela, PhD, MBA

Chief Executive Officer

Jai obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Melbourne and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, followed by a post-doctoral position at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute under the mentorship of Professor Nicholas Huntington. Jai went on to become the youngest founder of a biotech start-up company in Victoria and completed his MBA at Australia’s top-ranked business school. As an ambassador for the city through his role in the Committee for Melbourne, Jai also sits on the board and organising committees of various non-profit organisations that deliver healthcare and education to underprivileged members of the local community.

Nicholas Huntington, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer

Nicholas leads the Cancer Immunology Laboratory at the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University. During the past 15 years he has made seminal contributions to the field of natural killer (NK) cell biology including: regulatory mechanisms of IL-15 signalling in NK cells, defining the human and murine NK cell differentiation pathways, novel xenograft models to study human NK cell biology and identification of multiple checkpoints in NK cell activation and tumour immunity. Professor Huntington has been recognized as an international leader in NK cell biology through several awards (including; the Burnet Prize, John Dixon Hughes Medal, AAS Jacques Miller Medal, RG Menzies Award, Human Frontiers Science Program Fellowship, NHMRC Fellowship and High Commendation for the Victorian Premier’s Award) and has a track record of commercially licencing NK cell checkpoints.

Iva Nikolic, PhD

Chief Technology Officer

Iva is a functional genomics expert with extensive experience in different technologies enabling high-throughput interrogation of gene function. After obtaining her PhD from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, Iva moved to the Garvan Institute in Sydney where she developed a keen interest in genomics and large-scale functional screening. During this time, she performed one of the most comprehensive screens mapping the role of microRNA in cancer chemoresistance. Following her postdoctoral training, Iva joined Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics (VCFG) as a 2IC where she led drug screening campaigns spanning diverse technologies for novel target discovery. There she developed a fully automated, high-throughput CRISPR screening platform coupled with high-content microscopy and advanced image analysis. In her role at oNKo-innate, Iva heads a screening team developing functional assays to study primary human NK cells and their function in tumour immunosurveillance.

Joe Cursons, PhD

Vice President
Computational Biology

Joe obtained his PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Auckland and held positions at AgResearch Ltd and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in New Zealand, before moving to Melbourne in 2013. Since then he worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Melbourne before joining the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research as a Senior Research Officer in 2016.

Joe has a strong background in applying computational and mathematical methods to advance pre-clinical drug development and identify putative new drug targets or treatment strategies. Since moving to Melbourne Joe has focussed on analysing data from next generation sequencing technologies to understand regulatory programs that control cell behaviours involved in clinical cancer progression, and the effects of these programs on drug sensitivity. Through collaborations with the Cancer Therapeutics CRC in Melbourne Joe has been involved in several pre-clinical drug development programs with industry partners.

Richard Berry, PhD

Vice President
Biologics & Drug Discovery

Richard Berry, PhD (VP- Biotherapeutics) is a protein chemist and structural biology expert who has amassed over a decade’s worth of experience studying receptors that are expressed on the surface of NK and T cells. After receiving his PhD from the University of Manchester (UK), Richard moved to Monash University where he developed a research program that made significant contributions to our understanding of how NK cell receptors recognise self, viral and tumour-derived ligands. Richard’s contributions to the field has been recognised in the form of several awards, grants and fellowships from the IUBMB, ARC and NHMRC. Prior to joining oNKo-innate Pty Ltd, Richard was a Cross Family & Frank Alexander Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellow. In his role at oNKo-innate, Richard leads a team that is focused on developing innovative biological and cellular therapies that will transform cancer treatment.

Board of Directors

Jai Rautela, PhD, MBA

Chief Executive Officer

Jai obtained his doctoral degree from the University of Melbourne and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, followed by a post-doctoral position at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute under the mentorship of Professor Nicholas Huntington. Jai went on to become the youngest founder of a biotech start-up company in Victoria and completed his MBA at Australia’s top-ranked business school. As an ambassador for the city through his role in the Committee for Melbourne, Jai also sits on the board and organising committees of various non-profit organisations that deliver healthcare and education to underprivileged members of the local community.

Nicholas Huntington, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer

Nicholas leads the Cancer Immunology Laboratory at the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University. During the past 15 years he has made seminal contributions to the field of natural killer (NK) cell biology including: regulatory mechanisms of IL-15 signalling in NK cells, defining the human and murine NK cell differentiation pathways, novel xenograft models to study human NK cell biology and identification of multiple checkpoints in NK cell activation and tumour immunity. Professor Huntington has been recognized as an international leader in NK cell biology through several awards (including; the Burnet Prize, John Dixon Hughes Medal, AAS Jacques Miller Medal, RG Menzies Award, Human Frontiers Science Program Fellowship, NHMRC Fellowship and High Commendation for the Victorian Premier’s Award) and has a track record of commercially licencing NK cell checkpoints.

John Hughes

After graduating from Melbourne University, John completed his chartered accounting qualification at Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) working in audit services and taxation. He then worked at Bongiorno & Co before starting his own accounting practice in 1977. He is currently in the practice of Hotchkin Hughes Pty Ltd with a major interest in Self Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSF), having gained a sought after accreditation, the Specialist SMSF Adviser from CAANZ. He is also a registered auditor.

Kevin Molloy

Chief Financial Officer of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. In this role, he leads the financial, risk, actuarial, and internal audit functions at Guardian. This includes planning and reporting, tax, capital management, risk management, actuarial, treasury, and banking and ratings agency relationships. He took on this role shortly after joining the Company in 2019 as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Guardian’s Individual Markets business.

Prior to Guardian, Mr. Molloy held several leadership positions at AXA. His career there spanned 20 years, where he most recently served as their Managing Director and Head of Investor Relations of AXA Equitable Holdings. Additionally, he served as CFO of AXA Global Life upon initially relocating to Paris, France in 2010. There, he served as Senior Vice President of AXA’s Business Support and Development area and shareholder representative for several AXA entities, including AXA Equitable, AXA Life Japan, AXA Investment Managers, and AllianceBernstein.

Earlier in his career he was an Economist and Corporate Profits Analyst with the United States Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

He holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of Connecticut.

Mr. Molloy resides in New York City with his family and is an avid cyclist.

Scientific Advisory Board

Katy Rezvani, MD, PhD

Katy Rezvani, MD, PhD is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she serves as the Sally Cooper Murray Chair in Cancer Research, Chief of the Section for Cellular Therapy, Director of Translational Research, and Medical Director of the GMP Facility. She also serves as Executive Director of MD Anderson’s Adoptive Cell Therapy Platform. She leads a research lab with a focus on NK cell biology and developing novel NK cell engineering strategies for cancer, with the aim of translating these discoveries to the clinic. Dr. Rezvani completed her medical training at University College London, England and her PhD at Imperial College London. She completed her training in immunology and transplantation biology at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. In addition, she has co-authored over 250 peer-reviewed publications and received multiple prizes and awards, including the American Society of Hematology E. Donnall Thomas award.

Mark Lupher, PhD

Mark Lupher, PhD is a biopharmaceutical executive with over 30 years of experience with biomedical research organizations and over 14 years of experience serving in various executive level roles.  Dr. Lupher currently serves as the president and founder of VeritasRx Consulting, an executive consulting service he founded in 2013, advising venture capital firms and their companies on biopharmaceutical operations and drug development.  He also serves on the Board of Directors for Adverum Biotechnologies since 2019.  Previously, Dr. Lupher held a variety of executive roles at biopharmaceutical companies, to include serving as the Vice President of Translational Pharmacology and Preclinical Development at Sutro Biopharma, a biotechnology company focused on clinical-stage drug discovery, development and manufacturing of oncology products, from 2014 to 2020, and Chief Scientific Officer at Promedior, Inc. (acquired by Roche) that developed biologics to treat fibrosis and ocular diseases, from 2007 to 2013.  Prior to those roles he held various positions in drug discovery at ICOS Corporation (acquired by Lilly), from 1998-2007 and at Immunex (acquired by Amgen), from 1991-1994.  Dr. Lupher earned his B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Washington and a PhD in Immunology from Harvard University.

Stephen Eck, MD, PhD

Stephen Eck, MD, PhD, is Senior Vice President for Clinical Development and Chief Medical Officer at MacroGenics. Prior to MacroGenics, Dr. Eck served as CMO of Immatics U.S., a company focused on TCR-based immunotherapies, and as President and CEO of Aravive Biologics. Prior to these roles, Dr. Eck was Vice President and Global Head of Oncology Medical Sciences at Astellas Pharma, managing a portfolio of assets that included enzalutamide (Xtandi®), erlotinib (Tarceva®), and gilteritinib (Xospata®). Dr. Eck has also held leadership positions in drug development as Vice President of Translational Medicine and Pharmacogenomics at Eli Lilly and as Head of Clinical Oncology at Pfizer. He began his professional career at Monsanto in cancer target discovery and later joined the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Anne B. Young Assistant Professor of Cancer Research and the Director of the Cancer Gene Therapy Program. Dr. Eck currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Center Pennsylvania Clinic, 1CBio, the Personalized Medicine Coalition and Circulogene. He is a past board member of Luminex.

Lewis Lanier, PhD

Lewis Lanier, PhD, is an American Cancer Society Professor and J. Michael Bishop MD Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California San Francisco. Lewis is a prominent immunologist and pioneer in the field of natural killer (NK) cell research contributing over 500 peer-reviewed articles on the topic over the past four decades. His pivotal work has been cited over 122,000 times and focuses on how NK cells recognize and combat virus-infected tissues, uncovering activating and inhibitory NK cell receptors pivotal in innate immunity to pathogens and cancer. Among his accolades are the prestigious William B. Coley Award for Tumor Immunology (2002), Rose Payne Award for Immunogenetics (2005), and memberships in the US National Academy of Sciences (2010) and American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011). Notably, as a former President of the American Association of Immunologists, he has been honoured with distinguished awards such as the AAI Excellence in Mentoring Award (2017) and the AAI Lifetime Achievement Award (2023).

Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD

Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago where he directs the Melanoma Oncology Clinic and leads the Immunology and Cancer Program of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center. His research focusses on understanding fundamental aspects of anti-tumour immunity and bringing these concepts forward from the laboratory into clinical trials. His prolific career spans over 230 manuscripts, 20 book chapters, and 200 scientific conference presentations. Notable accolades include the American Cancer Society-Jules L. Plangere Jr. Family Foundation Professorship, AbbVie Foundation Professorship for Cancer Immunotherapy, and the William B. Coley Award for cancer immunology. As a former president of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer and a founding editor of the Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer, Prof Gajewski’s impactful contributions extend to co-founding biotech startups including Jounce Therapeutics and Pyxis Oncology.

Team

Andrew Powell, PhD

Director
Operations

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I enjoy the varied and fast-paced nature of working in a small biotech company and I am inspired by the intelligent and passionate team at oNKo, who have a genuine aim to make a difference in patients’ lives.

What do you do in your spare time?

On the weekends, I enjoy reliving my youth by playing baseball with a local team.

Harold Wickens, BSc (Hons)

Scientist – II
Biologics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

It’s incredibly motivating working side by side with our in vivo, screening and computational teams, seeing how our efforts combine to build potentially life-saving drugs brick by brick.

What do you do in your spare time?

I love rock climbing in my spare time.

Junyun Lai, PhD

Senior Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

The immune system is fascinating – what I like most about my work is the prospects of discovering new and exciting ways to better engage and enhance its ability to treat cancers.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time (or whichever little amount I have left after becoming a parent), I enjoy baking and testing recipes of my favourite dishes. Often, I would list instructions and note down optimal ways to do certain steps – very much like what one would do with lab protocols.

Aaron Harrison, BSc (Hons)

Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I enjoy the creativity with which our understanding of diverse aspects of immunology can be combined to develop new products and technologies to fight cancer, such as new types of antibody-drug conjugates or cellular therapies.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time I usually play video-games or boardgames while hanging out with friends. I am also quite passionate about cooking and enjoy cooking with new and exotic ingredients.

Raphael Rahmani, PhD

Principal Scientist
Drug Discovery

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

Better understanding interactions between small molecules and proteins to develop new drugs for unmet medical needs.

What do you do in your spare time?

Cooking and playing with my kids.

Jason Glab, PhD

Senior Scientist – I
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I find it interesting creating and optimising new assays from scratch, addressing technical issues throughout the process, and having the reward of a robust assay that you routinely use afterwards.

What do you do in your spare time?

I make hand-drawn animated cartoons in my spare time.

Matthew Veldman, BSc (Hons)

Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

All the incredible technology and equipment we get to harness in our research. From CRISPR to flow cytometry and automated liquid handling, we really stand on the shoulders of giants.

What do you do in your spare time?

Aerial photography using Google Earth (Insta@mjveld2).

Skye Ho, BSc (Hons)

Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I enjoy the fast-paced and challenging environment of working in an immuno-oncology biotech.

What do you do in your spare time?

I play computer games in my spare time, although I also enjoy portrait drawing and painting.

Marcin Węgrecki, PhD

Senior Scientist – II
Biologics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I think it’s exciting that we’ve got the knowledge and technology to engineer or redesign the components of the immune system to create more specific and safer therapeutics. Immuno-oncology is very appealing from my perspective because we use the potential of the human body to boost its capacity to fight the disease; we just try to give it a push in the right direction.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time I like trying new flavours of sour beer, I complain about the weather in Melbourne and I cook, mostly Polish and Spanish food. Nigella Lawson once saw a picture of the pierogi (polish dumplings) I made, she said they looked wonderful. She hasn’t had a chance to try them yet, one day.

 

Allison Wan, BSc (Hons)

Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I’ve always been interested in the interactions between the hosts immune system and cancer cells. Learning how cancers evade detection and exploit immune checkpoints, we can work towards tailoring treatments based on the unique characteristics of a patient’s disease.

What’s something your lab colleagues do that low-key annoys you?

Eppies being left everywhere!

Benjamin Shields, PhD

Senior Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

Working with cutting edge technology to investigate novel targets that enhance immune cell function in robust models, where findings have the real potential for translation into meaningful outcomes in the clinical setting.

What’s something your lab colleagues do that low-key annoys you?

Despite having a full head of hair, being occasionally reminded by lab colleagues that I have seen more summers than anyone else at oNKo.

David Ladd, PhD

Senior Software Architect
Computational Biology

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I enjoy designing systems and building software pipelines, combining our lab’s in-house discoveries with existing knowledge/data to pursue promising new therapeutic targets.

What do you do in your spare time?

Start (and less frequently finish) projects around the house. I like to hike and catch up with friends over a meal or a board game.

Felix Deuss, PhD

Senior Scientist – II
Drug Discovery

Imran House, PhD

Senior Scientist – III
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I enjoy the ability to explore novel immunology while at the same time developing news drugs with clinical potential and moving them towards the clinic.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

My namesake was the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and averaged 37 with the bat and 22 with the ball.

Jovana Gotovac, PhD

Senior Scientist – I
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I’m most interested in high-throughput screening.

What do you do in your spare time?

Cycling, running, and drinking coffee 🙂

Krystal Hughes, Dip Tech

Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

Knowing that we are working towards a more hopeful future for cancer patients and their families.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I’m petrified of heights (will not climb up a ladder) but will never pass up the opportunity to push the boundaries, like bungee jumping.

Pramod Aryal, PhD

Senior Scientist – I
Drug Discovery

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

Despite the advanced treatment modalities, various cancers still account for the major cause of death worldwide. The scientific challenges presented by complex biology of cancer and anticancer drug development are both intellectually stimulating and motivating. I enjoy the process of overcoming these challenges to bring new and effective treatments to the forefront.

What do you do in your spare time?

I prefer biking and hiking. Also, one of my favourite hobbies is gardening. Tending to plants and watching them thrive is not only calming but also a wonderful way to connect with nature.

Reshma Vijayakumaran, PhD

Senior Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

In addition to the innovative projects, I like the fast-paced environment and the amazingly resourceful team at oNKo.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I have a very cute ginger cat and I absolutely adore him.

Sam Law, PhD

Senior Scientist – I
QC and Process Improvement

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I am very proud to be part of this team that pushes the boundaries and redefine how we approach cancer treatment. Also, working with a group of extremely passionate and knowledgeable scientists are my personal highlight too.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I just realized today (after being prompted by this question and reflecting on my past) – that I used to be a good singer when I was younger and even won competitions in primary school. But not sure what happened (blame puberty!), my singing is so off-key that I don’t even sing in the shower!

Sepideh Foroutan, PhD

Senior Scientist – II
Computational Biology

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

My passion for immuno-oncology stems from a personal experience — witnessing a family member’s cancer journey. This experience ignited my deep interest in cancer immunotherapy, inspired by its transformative potential. I’m committed to contributing my skills to the forefront of immuno-oncology, believing that each breakthrough brings us closer to a future where cancer is no longer a devastating diagnosis.

What do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy creating science paintings in my spare time. I understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, bringing along a mix of emotions like fear and sadness. Adjusting to this new reality can be tough. My goal is to bridge the gap between science and emotions, helping patients understand their diseases better and find hope in their pain. Through science communication and the power of art, I strive to change patients’ perspectives about their conditions, showing them the beauty in the science that surrounds them. You can find examples of my work on my Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/sepforoutanart/).

Stephane Chappaz, PhD

Senior Scientist – III
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

It is a very exciting time to work in the field of onco-immunology, it is a very creative, fast-evolving and burgeoning space. This dynamism infuses my everyday job and a great bonus is to work with a team of talented scientists.

What’s something your lab colleagues do that low-key annoys you?

I absolutely hate when people leave empty cardboard boxes in the storeroom.

Thao Nguyen, PhD

Senior Manager
Lab Operations

Varnika Hemanth, MSc

Scientist – I
Biologics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

Something that interests me is that there is plethora of new drugs that are being produced into current standards, but many things remain unanswered. Every new drug in the market addresses a small question or opens up a new route that helps in the progress of the next drug in the market. In my role particularly, I love that we are able to troubleshoot and understand the behaviour of our protein of interest at the biochemical level.

What do you do in your spare time?

I watch a ton of movies, go out to low-key cafes outside the city and make some time to read a nice book or draw/paint.

Tahlia Procter, BSc (Hons)

Scientist – III
Functional Genomics

What interests you most about working in immuno-oncology?

I love working with a great team in a fast-paced environment, where we are always challenging ourselves to do interesting and meaningful research.

What do you do in your spare time?

My spare time is spent soaking up fun and chaos with my husband and three kids!

Tom Kitson, Dip Tech

Scientist – II
Functional Genomics

Adrian Salavaty, PhD

Senior Scientist – I
Computational Biology

Kahlia Wong, PhD

Senior Scientist – I
Functional Genomics