Executive Team

William J. Rutter, Ph.D.


Bill Rutter is Chairman and founder of Synergenics, LLC, which owns/controls a portfolio of biotechnology companies at various stages of development. Synergenics provides financing and senior executive, legal, business development, scientific and operational resources to its portfolio companies. The companies benefit from a collaborative environment, shared access to laboratories and other physical resources, and cross-licensing of technologies. R&D is carried out by a combination of in-house, and external services. The programs are monitored by “Science Partners”, a group of individuals with distinguished careers in science, biotechnology, and Pharma, who participate directly in all phases of development. Synergenics provides a novel business model for commercialization of innovative technologies/products from the concept stage to commercial reality, which is usually achieved via licensing or partnerships.

Bill, with two colleagues, founded Chiron Corporation in 1981, a pioneering biotech firm that developed the first recombinant vaccine (for Hepatitis B), the first sequencing of the HIV genome in 1984, and the discovery, cloning, and sequencing of the Hepatitis C virus (1987). Chiron also developed quantitative diagnostic tests for determination of “viral load,” a new concept that opened the way for development of therapeutic drugs and vaccines against these viruses. In 1995, the Swiss Pharma company Ciba-Geigy acquired 49% of Chiron in a transformative transaction. Subsequently, Sandoz merged with Ciba-Geigy to form Novartis. Rutter joined the Novartis Board of Directors, and remained with Chiron until 1998. Novartis purchased the remaining portion of Chiron in 2005.

Bill played a key role in developing UCSF into a major scientific institution. He joined UCSF as head of its new department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in 1968 , and helped build the science enterprise during the period of major developments in recombinant DNA technology, based on discoveries of colleague Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen of Stanford. After the formation of Chiron, Bill became director of UCSF’s Hormone Research Institute, a post retained until 1989, when he joined Chiron full time. Bill has published more than 380 scientific articles and holds over 25 patents. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received numerous awards for his contributions to science and the biotechnology industry.

Philip Needleman, Ph.D.

Senior Partner

Philip Needleman became Interim President of the Danforth Plant Science Center in October 2009 following the appointment of Roger Beachy to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Dr. Needleman has been a member of the Center’s Board of Trustees since 2005. He spent 25 years at Washington University School of Medicine, where he was professor, Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology, and Associate Dean for Special Projects. During his time at Washington University, he was selected Basic Science Teacher of the Year five times. In 1989, Dr. Needleman moved to industry, becoming Chief Scientist of Monsanto. In 1993, he became President of Searle Research and Development. He was also Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Scientist of Pharmacia from 2000 to 2003. He currently is a scientific partner with Prospect Venture Partners (San Francisco).

Dr. Needleman is a member of the National Academy of Science and was elected to the NAS Council Board of Trustees in 2004. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine. In 2002, he was appointed Special Advisor to the President for Research and Development at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and has jointed the University’s Advisory Committee for the creation of a National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev. Dr. Needleman is on the Washington University Board of Trustees, as well as a member of the boards of the St. Louis Science Center, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Plant and Life Sciences Coalition. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the National Academy of Science Award for the Industrial Application of Research, the NYU Applied Biotechnology Award, the John Jacob Abel Award of the American Pharmacology Society, Research Achievement Award from the American Heart Association, Washington University’s Distinguished Faculty Award, Washington University Medical School Second Century Award, C. Chester Stock Award Lectureship at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Industrial Institute Medal and the American Society of Experimental Therapeutics Award.

John P. McKearn, Ph.D.

Managing Partner

Dr. McKearn is a Managing Director at RiverVest Venture Partners (www.rivervest.com) and a Managing Partner at Synergenics (www.synergenics.net).  Prior to joining Synergenics in 2007 and RiverVest in 2008, he spent 25 years as a successful "drug hunter" in both large and small biopharma including a decade working in small-cap and venture-backed companies.  Dr. McKearn has served as Head of R&D, CSO, President and CEO in private biotech, and Head of Research in public companies (Searle and Pharmacia).  He has also served as a director for private and public biotech companies (IDM Pharma (acquired by Takeda), Epimmune, Keel Pharmaceuticals and Otonomy).  He holds more than 50 patents and numerous patent applications, primarily in the areas of inflammatory disease, pain and cancer treatment.  Through his efforts, Dr. McKearn helped establish the groundwork that led to the commercialization of several major pharmaceutical products, including DayPro, Arthrotec, and most notably, Celebrex, one of the leading pharmaceuticals to treat arthritis.  Prior to 1985, Dr. McKearn's academic experience included serving as a Member of the Basel Institute for Immunology in Basel, Switzerland, and as a Research Associate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Washington University in St. Louis.  Additionally he has co-authored more than 70 published, peer-reviewed scientific papers.  Dr. McKearn completed his Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Chicago and his Bachelor of Science in Biology from Northern Illinois University.


Jeremy Blitzer, M.D., Ph.D.

Partner, VP Product Development

Dr. Blitzer is Partner & VP Product Development at Synergenics, and has 12 years of experience and training in the healthcare industry and academia.  He has both strategic and operational roles in Synergenics’s biopharmaceutical division, including evaluation of new drug discovery and development opportunities, formation of new companies, and day-to-day responsibility for various aspects of advancing new drug candidates from inception through clinical proof-of-concept.  In particular, Dr. Blitzer has had a key role in the discovery and development activities of Pathologica and BioEnergenix, as well as numerous earlier-stage projects.  Prior to joining Synergenics, Dr. Blitzer obtained M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University School of Medicine, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Duke University.

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