Torben Straight Nissen, PhD


Torben Straight Nissen is President of Rubius Therapeutics and Venture Partner at Flagship Pioneering. He has held leadership positions in both large pharmaceutical and biotech companies and brings to Rubius two decades of experience and passion for translating groundbreaking innovation into therapeutics as well as product development expertise across multiple therapeutic areas.

Dr. Straight Nissen joined Rubius from Pfizer where he headed up Worldwide R&D Strategic Portfolio Management and oversaw Pfizer’s portfolio spanning from discovery up to Phase 3 across multiple therapeutic areas, including Oncology, Inflammation and Immunology, Rare Diseases, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease, Neuroscience and Vaccines. Previously, he was responsible for the portfolio, strategy and operations functions within Pfizer’s BioTherapeutics division and ensured efficient advancement of protein therapeutics, cell therapies, gene therapies and vaccines from discovery through development. He also served as Chief Operating Officer for the Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, a pioneering R&D unit within Pfizer that drives product development partnerships with world-leading academic medical centers, where he headed up the portfolio management, business development, finance and operations functions and was one of the key drivers behind establishing the unit.

Prior to joining Pfizer, Dr. Straight Nissen served as Chief Operating Officer at Ascendis Pharma (NASDAQ: ASND). In this position, he was responsible for advancing the company's portfolio of new, innovative prodrugs from discovery to clinical proof-of-concept. Earlier, Dr. Straight Nissen was at Maxygen, a pioneering product platform company based on directed molecular evolution and advanced protein engineering, where he held several leadership positions, including Managing Director of R&D and Senior Vice President of Global Project Management. He began his career at Novo Nordisk with a focus on protein engineering.

Dr. Straight Nissen holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemical engineering from the Technical University of Denmark and Carlsberg Laboratories and a Master of Science degree in chemical engineering from the Technical University of Denmark. He is a co-inventor of 22 patents.


Avak Kahvejian, PhD

Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer

Avak is a Partner at Flagship Pioneering, where he leads a team to invent and launch new companies and platforms in the life sciences sector. He has been part of the founding VentureLabs teams of Seres Therapeutics, where he helped create a breakthrough platform for microbiome therapeutics, and was involved in the early days of Moderna Therapeutics, the leader in messenger RNA therapeutics. Avak was also a founder of VL27, Inc. a VentureLabs company that served as the basis for Codiak Biosciences, the leading exosome therapeutics company.

Prior to Flagship, Avak was at Helicos BioSciences, a Flagship VentureLabs company which developed and commercialized the world's first single molecule sequencing technology. At Helicos since 2004, Avak held various business development, product management, marketing and sales roles. Most recently, as Vice President, Business Development for Helicos, he focused on establishing strategic partnerships in the areas of high-throughput sequencing and molecular diagnostics.

Avak earned his Ph.D. from McGill University in the laboratory of Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, where his research focused on modulators of mRNA translation and their regulation.


Thomas Wickham, PhD

Vice-President, Research and Development

Tom Wickham, Ph.D. is responsible for the discovery and development of novel Red-Cell Therapeutics in multiple therapeutic areas, based on his over twenty-year drug development experience in the fields of immuno-oncology, oncology, and gene therapy, spanning preclinical through later stage clinical development. 

Dr. Wickham most recently comes from Merrimack Pharmaceuticals where he served as Vice President, R&D and led preclinical through Phase 2 development of a targeted chemotherapy in breast cancer.  Prior to Merrimack, Dr. Wickham was Senior Director of Preclinical Pharmacology and led efforts at EMD Lexigen (now Merck-Serono) to advance immuno-oncology drugs through preclinical development and into Phase I trials.  As Senior Director of Preclinical Sciences at GenVec, Inc. he led the advancement of a targeted gene delivery platform for oncology, cardiovascular, infectious disease, and genetic disease applications. 

Dr. Wickham holds a B.S. in chemical/biomedical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering from Cornell University, and pursued his postdoctoral training at the Scripps Research Institute in the department of immunology.


Robert Konopacz

Vice President of Manufacturing

Robert Konopacz is responsible for the manufacturing and bioprocess development at Rubius Therapeutics, based on his background in Gene Therapy and Biological Manufacturing. 

Robert has more than 35 years of experience in Biotechnology Therapeutics which includes work with virus and T cell processing, mammalian, bacterial and yeast expression systems, blood fractionation, and transgenic animals. He most recently served as Head of Advanced Medicines Relationship Management for Novartis AG Global Technical Operations supporting their Cart 19 program. 

Prior to Novartis, Robert was Senior Director of Manufacturing at Genetics Institute (Pfizer), responsible for the manufacturing of recombinant Factor VIII, BMP-2, and IL-11. Robert was an original manufacturing team member at Genentech, developing and launching hGH and tPA. He has also held positions of increasing responsibility at Chiron and Baxter Healthcare. 

Robert holds a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering and a B.Sc. in Microbiology from Michigan State University. 


Nathan Dowden

Senior Vice President, Corporate Development

Nathan has 25 years of strategy, investment, and operational experience in the healthcare field. Prior to Rubius, Nathan was a Managing Director in the Huron LifeScience consulting practice. Nathan joined Huron in 2014 after helping to grow and lead, and finally sell The Frankel Group after 16 years. Clients included executive, corporate development, and technology teams within global life science firms, non-profit organizations, and start-up / emerging growth companies. Nathan has written and spoken at conferences on a wide variety of topics, ranging from stem cell commercialization and orphan drug business models, to the practical application of personalized medicine.

Nathan was a senior consultant with Ernst & Young LLP where his advisory assignments included mergers & acquisition, new business creation, operational assessment, & systems support work.  He was also worked for the Equity4Life venture capital fund (Switzerland) and has served on a variety of start-up boards. Prior to that, Nathan worked at Searle Pharmaceuticals in their Managed Care Strategy group and at CIGNA Healthcare as an analyst & programmer.  Nathan holds an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.