Kansas City, MO
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Laura has over 20 years experience in the pharmaceutical field, leading animal and clinical development programs for Aratana Therapeutics and Bayer Animal Health. She is currently the Head of Veterinary Product Development USA for Knoell.
Vincent “Vinny” Asaro is the Chief Financial Officer at Chemwerth, Inc. Mr. Asaro has 25 years of work experience with most of that in the pharmaceutical industry. His pharmaceutical experience prior to ChemWerth included Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) and Bayer Pharmaceuticals. While at BMS, Vinny has also worked in the consumer products industry and started his career in public accounting at Deloitte & Touche. In addition, he is a Certified Public Accountant and a member of the AICPA and NYSSCPA.
At Chemwerth, his responsibilities have included accounting, finance, information technology, human resources, and internal operations. Vinny has analyzed and evaluated many investment opportunities, leading teams, providing strategic direction and operational oversight as well as board governance.
Mr. Asaro is a graduate of Providence College where he received a B.S. in Accounting. He graduated from the University of Connecticut where he obtained an M.B.A. in Finance / Marketing. Vinny has also completed 2 management leadership programs at Notre Dame University and Harvard Business School.
Vinny is an observer on the Likarda Board.
Chief Financial Officer
Joe serves as the CFO of Likarda, LLC. He is an accomplished pharmaceutical executive with greater than 25 years of progressive experience in finance and operations for bio and life sciences companies ranging from start-ups through commercialization and IPO. Recently, Joe was contracted to lead the finance team for two successful public mergers. Prior to those mergers, Joe spent thirteen years as the Chief Business Officer of Arisaph Pharmaceuticals, where he helped raised ~$130 million in financing, $90 of which was non-dilutive. Prior to Arisaph, Joe was the Director of Financial Planning and Contracts Administration at Kos Pharmaceuticals where he worked for ten years. During that time, Joe was part of a small team that spearheaded 10 major corporate development transactions and raised approximately $500 million in public equity, including Kos’s initial public offering. Kos was acquired by Abbott Laboratories for $3.7 billion in 2016.
Joe received his BS in accounting from George Mason University with an MBA from the University of Maryland.
When he’s not chasing around one of his four kids, Joe enjoys running marathons with his wife and gardening.
Director of Cell Therapy Research and Development
For nearly 20 years, Dr. Karanu has been on the forefront conducting research in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine both in academic and industry settings, with experience in basic research through to preclinical development. Prior to joining Likarda, Dr. Karanu spent 10 years at Johnson & Johnson exploring different stem cell sources for the treatment of human diabetes. Dr. Karanu began his career as a veterinarian, with training in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He later completed his graduate studies at Washington State University in Pullman, WA, followed by postdoctoral training in the Robarts Research Institute at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada focusing on hematopoietic stem cell biology. Dr. Karanu has authored many peer reviewed publications and patents.
Along with extensive experience and interest in biotechnology and research, Dr. Karanu is actively involved in diabetes care and advocacy issues in underserved areas including Sub-Saharan Africa. As an advisor on the Kenya Defeat Diabetes Association (KDDA) Board, he helps guide and support this grassroots group in tackling diabetes and high blood pressure advocacy matters through community education and support. Dr. Karanu is also an active supporter of Mariira Catholic Dispensary in Murang’a, Kenya, as well as other local health care clinics where he volunteers his time and resources to support provision of medical supplies and equipment to support the organization’s mission.
Outside of his work, Dr. Karanu enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends. He takes pride in his title, “Likarda’s Bumper Car Aficionado”.
Chief Operating Officer & Founder
Karthik Ramachandran has always had a passion for merging his activities in engineering, medicine, and business. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, Karthik pursued his interest in tissue engineering in graduate school. He completed his PhD in bioengineering in 2012 at the University of Kansas and gained valuable business and entrepreneurship experience along the way as an Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation Fellow. Karthik has authored several peer-reviewed publications and patents. He also has received several awards since founding Likarda, including “20 in their Twenties” from Ingram’s Magazine and was named a “Top Young Entrepreneur to Watch” by Under30CEO. He has also completed the Real-Life Leadership program through BioKansas. Karthik is Chair of the Board for BioKansas and sits on the Advisory Board for the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor. Karthik is a board member of Likarda.
In his free time, Karthik enjoys snowboarding, playing Ultimate, woodworking and DIY projects, cooking a wide variety of cuisines, and is honing his baking skillset by mastering macarons, which are greatly appreciated by the Likarda staff.
Peter J. Werth is Founder and CEO of ChemWerth Inc., a privately held Connecticut-based corporation founded in 1982. ChemWerth Inc. is a full-service generic drug development and supply company providing high quality Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients to regulated markets worldwide. Mr. Werth envisioned the ability to develop and implement a successful business model for project selection which he believed was the heart of a successful generic company. Following this business model, ChemWerth has successfully introduced over 130 generic APIs.
Mr. Werth earned a BS degree in Chemistry and Math from Fort Hays State University and a MS degree in Organic Chemistry from Stanford University. He serves as a board of director for multiple companies. Mr. Werth has formed LLCs to develop commercial projects using specific technologies which reflect his strong entrepreneurial interests and contributions toward start-ups.
Along with his family, he has established the Werth Family Foundation to support various philanthropic causes, specifically in educational, cultural, and medical-related causes globally. Mr. Werth financed the formation of The Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Connecticut, the Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics at Fort Hays State University and the Werth Center for Coastal & Marine Studies at Southern Connecticut State University.
Andrea Dennis-LaVigne is a private practice veterinarian, founder, owner, and president of the Bloomfield Animal Hospital in Bloomfield, Connecticut. When she opened Bloomfield Animal Hospital she was the first African American veterinarian in Connecticut. Dr. Dennis-LaVigne has published articles in Veterinary Medicine and is the host of the radio show, Pet Talk, on WTIC 1080 and co-hosts the Better Pet segment on WFSB Television.
Professionally she has served as the President of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association Board (CVMA) as well as the Health Assistance InterVention Education Network (HAVEN) Board. A native of Hartford, her community service includes working with Habitat for Humanity and for the past two decades she has mentored hundreds of students in the Hartford county school systems.
Dr. Dennis-LaVigne is a dedicated alumni of the University of Connecticut, honored as the Connecticut Alumni Service Award. She has served in various aspects of the University, including: President of the Alumni Association, University President Search Committees 2007, 2010, and 2018, Foundation Board of Directors, President’s Athletic Advisory Committee, President’s Task Force on Diversity, and Chair of the Committee on Diversity and Opportunity. In 2013 she was appointed by the governor to the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees.
Dr. Dennis-LaVigne received a D.V.M. from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary medicine in 1982 and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 2003. After working on a Large Animal Residency at the University of California Davis, she was an associate professor at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, St. Kitts in the Caribbean.
She is married to Randy LaVigne of Simsbury, Connecticut. They have one son, Justin.
Andrea is an observer on the Likarda Board.
Quality Assurance Supervisor and Senior Analytical Chemist
Donald Muathe started off his career in the industry as an analytical chemist holding scientific positions at various pharmaceutical companies on the chemistry, stability, and manufacturing for raw materials, API’s and drug products. Donald has more than 20 years of extensive and diversified experience working in the areas of method development and validation, quality control, stability, auditing, and quality assurance with compliance requirements in cGMP, GLP, FDA, ICH, USP, OSHA, and WHO industry guidelines.
With a master’s degree in chemistry from Pittsburg State University, Donald’s areas of expertise are in process research and development, operational and quality management, quality assurance, regulatory submission requirements and continuous improvement.
In his free time, Donald enjoys spending time with his family, playing soccer, watching sports, and partaking in outdoor activities. His quick reflexes are highly prized on the Likarda Sand Volleyball Team, “The Likardans”.
Director of Hydrogel and Cell Formulation
Steve began his career as a chemist at an analytical testing laboratory and services company where he discovered his passion for applied research. He went on to obtain a PhD in biomaterials and tissue engineering at the University of Kansas. At Likarda, he developed the novel CSS cell microencapsulation and delivery platform and is the lead inventor on the initial issued US patent for the technology. Since then, he has continued to develop the CSS process to better modulate microsphere properties and enable the use of a variety of alternative hydrogel materials. Under his direction, the team has built a library of over 50 different hydrogel formulations that have been produced and tested. Most recently, the team developed a series of microsphere formulations that degrade in vivo in a controlled manner. Steve is also a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and enjoys leading continuous improvement projects at Likarda.
Outside of work, Steve likes to spend time outdoors running, hiking, and engaging in a variety of outdoor sports. Steve is an avid home cook and loves a good cooking competition, for example the 2018 Lenexa Chili Challenge where he led Team Likarda to an impressive 85th place finish.
Chief Executive Officer, President, & Founder
Lisa Stehno-Bittel serves as CEO, President of the Board, and Founder of Likarda, LLC. Lisa began her career in health care as a physical therapist helping her patients rehabilitate from injuries or illness, but she was frustrated in the lack of progress for some of her patients. She needed new tools to help them overcome life-changing diseases. She went back to school to obtain a PhD from the University of Missouri in physiology and completed a pharmacology post-doctoral fellowship at the Mayo School of Medicine. With more than 25 years of research experience in the fields of cell biology and diabetes, she has over 75 publications in scientific journals. Lisa has received numerous awards, including Ingram Magazine’s “50 Kansans You Should Know” and the 2018 Kansas Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
While an academic researcher for most of her career, she and her husband founded a real estate business, Bittel Properties, in 1997 with both single and multi-family units. In addition, at the University of Kansas, she Chaired the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Department for 10 years with a $1M+ annual budget. This business experience provided the building blocks for her transition as an academic to CEO of Likarda. She serves as the Chair of the Board for Likarda.
She enjoys water and snow skiing and traveling with her husband and kids. One of her favorite annual trips is heading to Sturgis each year on her motorcycle. Although quite proud of her cooking skills, she has yet to win the Likarda Soup-Off Contest – a long-term goal.