Our Science


Immune cells versus tumor cells and other roadblocks

Immuno-oncology (I/O) is considered one of the most promising therapeutic avenues for treating cancer. Modern I/O relies on several strategies to stimulate the immune system and overcome the natural defenses inherent to cancer. However, even the most advanced I/O therapies are only effective in a minority of patients due to lack of response and dose-limiting toxicities that limit full clinical potential. There is a great need for new treatments and technologies with an acceptable safety profile that offer compatibility with other therapeutic modalities. Some of these challenges will find solutions with our INTASYL™ self-delivering technology.

Phio is maximizing the value of the self-delivering RNAi technology for I/O by

  1. Developing adoptive cell therapy (ACT) products with increased antitumor effectiveness in partnering with leading providers

  2. Developing RNAi drugs directly targeting immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment (TME)

Pamela Pavco, Ph.D.

Dr. Pavco has over 20 years of experience in the research and development of oligonucleotides. Until May 2017, she was the Chief Development Officer at Phio. Prior to Phio, she worked at Galena Biopharma, Inc. where she served as the Senior Vice President of Pharmaceutical Development until April 2012. Starting in 2002, she served as Senior Director, Research and Development Project Management at Sirna Therapeutics, Inc. until Sirna was acquired by Merck & Co., Inc. in 2006 for $1.1 billion. At Sirna, she headed the discovery research and development of Sirna-027, the first chemically modified siRNA to enter clinical trials. Dr. Pavco managed the alliance between Sirna and Allergan, Inc. that was initiated to continue discovery research in the area of ophthalmology and to take Sirna-027 forward into Phase 2 clinical studies. Other roles at Sirna included Director of Biology Research and Director of Pharmacology. She managed corporate collaborations and internal programs for Sirna focusing on the development of therapeutic oligonucleotides in the fields of oncology, anti- angiogenesis, hepatitis, respiratory disease and Huntington’s disease. Further, she has authored numerous scientific articles and contributed to approximately 58 patents and patent applications in the oligonucleotide therapeutics field. Dr. Pavco holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University with post-doctoral work at Duke University. She is a member of the American Association of Cancer Research and the Association for Research and Vision in Ophthalmology.

Rolf Kiessling, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Kiessling is a Professor in Experimental Oncology at the Karolinska Institutet, as well as Senior Chief Physician of Radiumhemmet at Karolinska Hospital. He possesses broad scientific expertise in the field of experimental and clinical immunology and is credited with the discovery for Natural Killer cells (NK cells) during the mid-70’s. Over the course of his career, he has authored more than 250 publications in peer-reviewed journals. He previously served as a Member of the Research Council at the Swedish Cancer Society and the Swedish Association for Medical Research.

James D. Griffin, M.D.

Dr. Griffin is the Chairman of the Department of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Director of Medical Oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Griffin earned his Doctor of Medicine from Harvard Medical School in 1974. His residency training in internal medicine was at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, while his Hematology fellowship was at Massachusetts General Hospital and medical oncology fellowship was at Dana-Farber. In 1981, he joined the staff of Dana-Farber, where he is currently chair of the Department of Medical Oncology. From 1993 to 1998, he was editor-in-chief of Blood. In addition to his role at Phio, Dr. Griffin is a member of the scientific advisory boards of the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University, The Johns Hopkins Cancer Center, and Case Western Cancer Center.

Gerrit Dispersyn, Dr.Med.Sc.

As President and Chief Executive Officer of Phio Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Gerrit Dispersyn holds a seat as a director on the Phio board. Previously, he has served as the Vice President, Global Head of Clinical Affairs at Integra LifeSciences Corporation, where he was responsible for global strategy and execution of Clinical Development, Clinical Operations and Medical Affairs projects. He was also a member of the Senior Management Leadership team and several of the core teams for M&A projects. Prior to Integra, Dr. Dispersyn was the Vice President, Product Development & Portfolio Management for Barrier Therapeutics, Inc., a pharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of dermatology products. A Johnson & Johnson spin-out, Barrier is now part of GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Dispersyn holds a Dr. Med. Sc. (Ph.D. in Medical Sciences) from the Faculty of Medicine at Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands, as well as a post-graduate degree in Biomedical Imaging and a M.Sc. in Biochemistry, both from the University of Antwerp, Belgium.

Curtis Lockshin, Ph.D., Director

Dr. Lockshin currently serves as the Chief Scientific Officer of Xenetic Biosciences, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of novel oncology therapeutics. Previously, he was Chief Technical Officer of VBI Vaccines, Inc., as well as the former Chief Executive Officer of SciVac Therapeutics, Inc. until its acquisition by VBI in July 2016. Prior to this, Dr. Lockshin was the Vice President of Corporate R&D Initiatives for OPKO Health, Inc., with operational responsibilities inside several of OPKO’s R&D units. He began his career as a scientist with Sepracor Inc. (now Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc.) and eventually became the research director responsible for the strategy and operations of Sepracor’s new leads initiative. Dr. Lockshin holds an S.B. degree in Life Sciences and a Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Jonathan Freeman, Ph.D., Director

Dr. Freeman is the Chief Operating Officer of Anthos Therapeutics Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company launched by Novartis and Blackstone Life Sciences to develop therapies for cardiovascular patients. Since July 2018, he has also been a Senior Advisor at Blackstone Life Sciences. Prior to this, he was the Chief Business Officer at Vedanta Biosciences. He was also Senior Vice President of Strategy and Portfolio Management at Merck KGaA, where he was responsible for the portfolio and strategic shift that repositioned Merck as a major player in the immuno-oncology space. Dr. Freeman earned his Ph.D. in Molecular Pharmacology and Drug Metabolism from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now CRUK), an M.A. and First-Class Honors in Biochemistry from Cambridge University, and an MBA with a finance major from Webster, St. Louis. 

Robert Ferrara, Director

Mr. Ferrara recently served as the Chief Financial Officer of Cutanea Life Sciences, Inc., a private company focused on developing innovative technologies to treat diseases and disorders of the skin and subcutaneous tissue. He is the former Chief Financial Officer of Storeroom Solutions Inc., a venture-financed integrated supply chain solutions company and NER Data Products, Inc., an IT service management company. Mr. Ferrara has held numerous senior-level financial positions in national and international public companies in the greater Philadelphia area. Previously, he has also served on the board of directors of the Planned Lifetime Assistance Network of Pennsylvania, where he was on the executive committee, as well as chairman of the governance and audit committees. He is a Certified Public Accountant and earned a B.S. in Accounting from Lehigh University.

H. Paul Dorman, Director

Mr. Dorman possesses nearly three decades of executive experience in the pharmaceutical industry. He currently serves as the Chairman and CEO of DFB Pharmaceuticals, a holdings company specializing in pharmaceutical business investments and operations. Previously, he was the Chairman and CEO of DPT Laboratories, a contract manufacturer and developer of pharmaceuticals products. Mr. Dorman worked at Johnson & Johnson for 12 years, where he served in various positions, including Vice President. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Tulane University and a Juris Doctor of Law from Loyola University. He is a member of the Phio Governance & Nominating Committee as well as the Audit Committee.

Geert Cauwenbergh, Dr.Med.Sc., Director

Dr. Cauwenbergh served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Phio from April 2012 until his retirement in March 2019. He is also the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Barrier Therapeutics, Inc., a publicly-traded biopharmaceutical company that he founded in 2001. Barrier focused on dermatology drug development, and was acquired by Stiefel Laboratories, Inc. in 2008. Prior to this, Dr. Cauwenbergh held senior management positions at Johnson & Johnson over a 23-year period. He holds a Doctorate in Medical Sciences from the Catholic University of Leuven, Faculty of Medicine (Belgium), where he also completed his masters and undergraduate work.

Robert Bitterman

President & Chief Executive Officer

Robert Bitterman has been a member of the board since 2012. He was appointed President & Chief Executive Officer in February 2023 and assumed the duties of principal executive officer, leading all aspects of the Company’s operations. He brings 25 years of executive leadership experience in the pharmaceutical and biologic life science industry. He also has prior experience in senior financial and investor relations roles.

Caitlin Kontulis

VP of Finance and Administration

Caitlin Kontulis has been with Phio Pharmaceuticals since April 2012. Prior to Phio, Ms. Kontulis was the Controller of Galena Biopharma, Inc. where she played a central role in the spin-out of Phio as a stand-alone public company. Ms. Kontulis began her career in the audit practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her Masters in Accounting from Northeastern University, a Bachelor’s degree with a major in Accounting from Bryant University, and is a licensed certified public accountant in the state of Massachusetts.

Jim Cardia, Ph.D.

VP of Scientific Operations

James Cardia, Ph.D., is the Vice President of  Scientific Operations at Phio Pharmaceuticals, with over 10 years of experience in biotechnology. During his tenure at Phio, Dr. Cardia’s group was responsible for the discovery and optimization of “self-delivering” RNAi platform (termed INTASYL™) and the development and characterization of multiple INTASYL compounds for the treatment of cancer as well as dermal and ocular scarring. He has managed the intellectual property portfolio of Phio and has led business development activities, resulting in multiple licensing and co-development agreements. He has also contributed to numerous publications and patent applications. Dr. Cardia has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Boston College and received postdoctoral training in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University.

Gerrit Dispersyn, Dr.Med.Sc.

President and Chief Executive Officer

Dr. Gerrit Dispersyn joined Phio Pharmaceuticals Corp. in April 2017. An accomplished leader in clinical, product, and business development, Dr. Dispersyn most recently served as the Vice President, Global Head of Clinical Affairs at Integra LifeSciences Corporation. In this role, he was responsible for Integra’s global strategy and execution of clinical development, clinical operations, and medical affairs projects and a member of the Integra Senior Management Leadership team as well as several of the company’s core teams for M&A projects. Prior to that role, Dr. Dispersyn was the Vice President, Product Development & Portfolio Management for Barrier Therapeutics, Inc, a pharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of products in the field of dermatology. The company was a spinout of Johnson & Johnson and is currently part of GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Dispersyn holds a DMSc (PhD in medical sciences) from the faculty of medicine at Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands, and a postgraduate degree in biomedical imaging, and a MSc in biochemistry, both from the University of Antwerp, Belgium.