Meet the Team That Makes Likarda Great

Lisa Stehno-Bittel, PhD
President & Founder

In 2012, Lisa licensed her laboratory patents from the University of Kansas and co-founded the company Likarda. The patents had applications in drug screening for efficacy and toxicity, as well as the ability to transform cell-based therapeutics. The first focus was to build the screening side of the business by providing consultation and direct research services. Within 17 months of launching, Likarda was revenue positive and in 2012 was chosen, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, as one of the top 50 Most Promising Start-Ups in the World. As the service division of Likarda grows, she and her team are developing a cell-based solution for dogs with diabetes, which will be an injectable islet transplant that will remove the need for daily insulin injections for diabetic dogs.

Lisa began her career in health care as a physical therapist. With more than 25 years of research experience in the fields of cell biology and diabetes, she has over 65 publications in scientific journals and received more than $9 million in grant funding for her research. Lisa currently holds a part-time faculty position at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where she served as the chair of a department prior to 2015. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, a PhD from the University of Missouri, and completed a pharmacology fellowship at the Mayo School of Medicine. Global Medical Discovery identified Lisa’s work in immunosuppression of autoimmune-induced type 1 diabetes as a Key Scientific Discovery.

Lisa has received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Faculty Research Award from the University of Kansas Medical Center and the Jim Baxendale Commercialization Award. Ingram’s Magazine named her one of “50 Kansans You Should Know” and Lisa was awarded the Women in Medicine and Science Sirridge award for female role models. Faculty Row designated Lisa a Super Professor.

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Karthik Ramachandran, PhD
Vice President & Founder

With a PhD in bioengineering and a knack for entrepreneurship, Karthik is the co-founder and vice president of Likarda, a world-class biotech research laboratory for science entrepreneurs, partners for bio consortiums, and contract research organizations. His graduate research focused on tissue engineering, specifically developing a technology for efficiently engineering 3D cell clusters (or miniature organs) for applications in drug discovery and regenerative medicine that can benefit animal and human health.

That research became the foundation for Likarda. The original proof-of-concept studies focused on the notion of re-engineering the 3D structure of islets to minimize diffusion barriers and increase viability and performance, with an end result being a superior transplantable solution for treating diabetes. Karthik has been published in many peer-reviewed publications on diabetes, islets, and engineering of tissue, with a few focusing on drug discovery. He also is a primary inventor in several pending/issued US and International patents.

Karthik has been recognized with entrepreneurial awards, including “20 in Their Twenties” from Ingram’s Magazine and was named a “Top Young Entrepreneur to Watch” by Under30CEO and featured in several national news articles over the last few years as Likarda grew from a start-up to a profitable small business. He sits on various boards and advisory boards that support the growing bioscience industry in the Kansas City region and the U.S. Since co-founding Likarda, he has been involved in business development and corporate partnerships.

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Donald Muathe, MS
Quality Assurance Supervisor & Senior Analytical Chemist

Donald Muathe is an analytical chemist with more than 15 years of extensive and diversified experience working with various pharmaceutical companies. Donald has knowledge in the areas of analytical method development and validation; stability, isolation, and identification of impurities in drug products; auditing; and quality assurance with compliance requirements in cGMPs, GLPs, ICH, USP, FDA, OSHA, and WHO industry guidelines.

With a master’s degree in chemistry from Pittsburg State University, Donald’s areas of expertise are in HPLC and GC-MS instrumentation, process research and development, drug discovery chemistry, and project management.

In his free time, Donald enjoys playing soccer, watching sports, dining out and going to the movies.

Francis Karanu, PhD
Senior Research Scientist

With a PhD in immunology and cell biology, Francis is a senior cell therapy researcher for Likarda, a world-class biotech research laboratory that works with science entrepreneurs, bio consortium members, and contract research organizations. Francis is part of a team that is developing a cell-based solution for dogs with diabetes, which will be an injectable islet transplant that will eliminate the need for daily insulin injections for diabetic dogs.

Francis began his career as a veterinarian, but quickly turned to his passion, biomedical research. Prior to joining Likarda, he was with Johnson & Johnson and worked extensively in a stem cell and regenerative medicine venture developing beta-like, insulin producing cells from pluripotent stem cells for the treatment of diabetes in humans, including isolation and characterization procedures. Francis’s methods for purifying cells derived from pluripotent stem cells were granted patent US20110212067. He has been author or co-author of many peer reviewed publications and patents.

Francis studied veterinary medicine at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and completed his graduate training at Washington State University before beginning postdoctoral work at Robarts Research Institute / University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario where he worked on isolation and expansion strategies of human hematopoietic stem cells from cord blood and bone marrow.

Along with extensive experience in biotechnology/industry and academic research environments, Francis is very involved in diabetes care and management issues in underserved areas including Sub-Saharan Africa. He is active in Mariira Catholic Dispensary in Murang’a, Kenya where he volunteers his time and resources to provide medical supplies and equipment to support the organization’s mission. As an advisor on the Kenya Defeat Diabetes Association, he helps guide the grassroots group in tackling diabetes and high blood pressure through community education and support.

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Edward J. Robb, DVM, MS, DACVN
Director of Veterinary Clinical Programs

Edward J. Robb is an experienced leader, building successful innovative global teams that have successfully registered new veterinary products with current annual sales >$500M (US). His scientific interests include internal medicine, infectious diseases, endocrinology, and the regulation of veterinary drugs, food safety and clinical trial design / epidemiology. Edward received his B.S. in Animal Science and D.V.M. from Cornell University. He practiced veterinary medicine in northern N.Y. before completing an M.S. in epidemiology and residency in Veterinary Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania and is board certified in veterinary clinical nutrition. Edward held various technical, business, marketing and leadership roles at American Cyanamid Company, The Upjohn Company, Pfizer, Embrex Inc., Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., Ceva Animal Health and Parnell Veterinary Pharmaceuticals.

Edward founded BioPharmaPotentials in 2013, specializing in animal health product development and providing both consulting services and execution of regulatory and clinical strategies to assure the full potential of new or current chemical or biologic entities.

Lindsey Ott, PhD
Product Innovation Scientist

With a PhD in bioengineering and an eye for innovation, Lindsey is the director of product innovation for Likarda, a world-class biotech research laboratory that works with science entrepreneurs, bio consortium members, and contract research organizations.

Lindsey received her B.S. in biological/agricultural engineering from Kansas State University, her Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Kansas, and her postdoctoral training at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Her graduate research focused on biomaterials and tissue engineering, specifically developing biomaterial implants to treat tracheal stenosis in pediatric patients. Lindsey designed a synthetic nanofiber scaffold that could replace rib cartilage as an option to expand the trachea for infants and toddlers with a narrowed airway.

In her role at Likarda, Lindsey expands Likarda’s patented 3D cell cluster technology into other preclinical drug discovery applications like oncology, immunotherapies, and ADME-Tox. She has published work in the fields of tracheal tissue engineering, biomaterial fabrication, adult mesenchymal stem cells for musculoskeletal tissue engineering, and preclinical drug discovery using 3D hepatic organoids. Lindsey has presented at numerous conferences including the Biomedical Engineering Society, Society for Biomaterials, and the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists. She is also involved in K-12 science education programs by mentoring students and developing bioengineering-related curriculum for elementary school classrooms.

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Stephen Harrington, PhD
Senior Research Scientist & Manufacturing Supervisor

Stephen wasn’t an analytical laboratory chemist for long before he discovered his passion for applied research. That passion drove him to graduate school, investigating novel biomaterials for improving islet transplantation, which also led to advancements in islet isolation and cryopreservation techniques. Promising results then led to his research collaboration with Likarda and the development of a novel micro-encapsulation process that was granted a US patent in 2017. This novel process for producing cell-hydrogel microspheres, termed core-shell spherification (CSS), has great potential in cell-based therapy as an injectable, immunoprotective, and customizable delivery system.

Conducting research and development for Likarda’s islet transplantation project gave Stephen a unique opportunity to observe directly the successful translation of Likarda’s patented micro-mold technology from an academic project to a revenue generating product, and strongly influenced his approach to research.

While his early research interest was in islet transplantation as a cure for type 1 diabetes, he became most interested in the use of biomaterials (specifically hydrogels) as immunoprotective and cell-supportive structures to improve and prolong islet transplants. Encapsulation within a hydrogel can prevent immune rejection without immunosuppression by physically blocking contact between host T- Cells and donor islet MHC molecules. Alongside transplantation studies, Stephen became involved in an additional project involving a novel single-cell based islet cryopreservation technique for the goal of improving donor tissue availability.

Stephen earned his undergraduate in chemistry from Emporia State University and holds a doctorate in bioengineering with a focus on biomaterials and tissue engineering from the University of Kansas. His dissertation gained recognition as a 2017 Argersinger Dissertation Award Nominee for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation at the University of Kansas.