Orphagen Team 

We are committed to creating innovative science for discovery of new therapies at novel drug targets.

We are drug hunters….


Scott Thacher, Ph.D., CEO and Director

founded Orphagen in 2001.  He has 30 years of experience in life sciences research and pharmaceutical R&D. Scott led Orphagen to its first partnership in 2008 with JT Pharma and created first-in-class discovery programs for two other orphan nuclear receptors, steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1) and ROR-beta. Scott has been awarded 15 SBIR and other grants to support drug discovery at Orphagen.

Prior to founding Orphagen, Scott directed programs in acne, psoriasis, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes at Allergan, focusing on nuclear receptor-based therapeutics, served on management teams for strategic collaborations in dermatology and diabetes, and supported the successful NDA filing for Tazorac® (tazarotene), a topical retinoid for psoriasis and acne. He is author on 30 publications in cell biology and pharmacology, including the discovery of transglutaminase type 1 (TGase1). Scott was previously on the biochemistry faculty at the Texas A&M College of Medicine (1986-1993) and holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University and a B.S. in physics (Stanford). Scott is also a co-founder of Io Therapeutics and co-founder and first President of the San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange.


Paul Crowe, Ph.D., Vice President of Drug Discovery

was previously Senior Director of Pharmacology and Lead Discovery at Neurocrine Biosciences (San Diego, CA) where he managed internal drug discovery programs in CNS, autoimmunity, and metabolic disease. While at Neurocrine, Paul led a joint research collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to discover and develop corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) receptor antagonists for depression and other mood disorders. He joined Orphagen in 2008 and holds a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Therapeutics from the University of South Florida.


Neil Raheja, Ph.D., Director of Chemistry

was most recently a Group Leader of Chemistry at Celgene San Diego and was responsible for multiple programs in the Oncology and Inflammation therapeutic areas.  Prior to Celgene, Neil held multiple positions at Pfizer in Groton, CT and Ann Arbor, MI.  As a project leader and/or Director, Neil has advanced 10 programs to clinical development in the Oncology, Inflammation, and Dermatology therapeutic areas. Neil earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry under Prof. Carl Johnson and did an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship under Prof. Ralph Hirschmann and Prof. Amos Smith III at The University of Pennsylvania.  Neil is also a co-founder of January Therapeutics.

Haiyan Tao, Ph.D., Director of Pharmacology

joined Orphagen in 2010. She earned her Ph.D. in bio-organic chemistry under Prof. Virginia Cornish at Columbia University and did her post-doctoral research under Dr. Xu Wu at The Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF). Haiyan is involved in preclinical research including various cancer and autoimmune diseases. Her expertise includes the identification of small molecule ligands for orphan targets and target validation using chemical, biological, genomics and animal models.

Board of Directors

Scott Thacher, Ph.D.,

CEO and Director, founded Orphagen in 2001 and secured $3 M in non-dilutive federal funding between 2003 and 2008 to establish its nuclear receptor drug discovery platform, leading to Orphagen’s first industry partnership in 2008. Prior to founding Orphagen, Dr. Thacher directed programs in dermatology and metabolic disease at Allergan following an academic career in dermatology, cell biology, and biochemistry. Dr. Thacher was previously on the faculty at the Texas A&M College of Medicine (1986-1993) and a Staff Fellow at the National Institutes of Health. He holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University and a B.S. in physics (Stanford). Dr. Thacher is active in the local entrepreneurial community, and was a co-founder and first president (2010-2014) of the San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange.


Director, is CEO of Lineage Cell Therapeutics since September 2018. Under Brian’s leadership, Lineage established a partnership in December 2021 with Roche and Genentech for development of cell therapies to treat ocular disease including dry AMD and geographic atrophy. Prior to joining Lineage, Mr. Culley was CEO of Artemis Therapeutics (ATMS) and previously CEO at Mast Therapeutics, Inc. (MSTX) from 2010 through Mast’s merger with Savara, Inc. (SVRA) in April 2017. Mr. Culley held positions of increasing responsibility at Mast starting in 2004 during which Mast grew from two to 50 employees. Mr. Culley’s earlier experience includes operational roles in business development for Immusol, technology transfer for the University of California San Diego, and discovery research for Neurocrine Biosciences. He received a B.S. in biology from Boston College, a masters in biochemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an M.B.A. from The Johnson School of Business at Cornell University.


Director, is CSO at Vivace and most recently held the positions of Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President of Drug Discovery at BioMarin. He was CSO at LEAD Therapeutics, based in Burlingame, CA, where the PARP inhibitor talazoparib was discovered. As Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Onyx, he led the Onyx team that developed Nexavar®, a treatment for advanced kidney cancer, in collaboration with Bayer AG. Earlier, Dr. Post was Vice President of Discovery Research at Parke-Davis. He received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin and is the author of 55 publications.

Dave snyder, j.d.,

Director, has been a capital markets and M&A lawyer for over 40 years, serving as Executive Vice Chair, Board member and Business Department Chair at the Pillsbury law firm. Dave led the merger transaction between Idec and Biogen, which was at the time the largest biotech combination in history valued in excess of $15 Billion. He has been a Board member of both life science and high tech companies, most recently serving as a director of Victory Pharma, Inc. and Chair of the Board at Rady Children’s Physician Management Services, Inc. Mr. Snyder earned a BA from Michigan State University and a JD from Cornell Law School.

Gönül Veliçelebi, Ph.D.,

Director, is CEO and Founder of Camino Pharma and previously CEO and Founder of Calcimedica. Dr. Veliçelibi was formerly VP of Research and Drug Discovery at TorreyPines Therapeutics, responsible for all discovery programs, including genetics-based target discovery, and preclinical development of gamma-secretase modulators. Dr. Veliçelebi received her Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry from Yale University, and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University.

Scientific Advisors

Casey Weaver, M.D.

Wyatt and Susan Haskell Professor of Medical Excellence in the Department of Pathology at University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB). Dr. Weaver is an immunologist and a pioneer in T cell pathways that protect against infection and cancer. He was winner of 2009 HudsonAlpha Prize for Outstanding Innovation in the Life Sciences for his work on the discovery of a new class of immune call called Th17. Dr. Weaver was also a scientific co-founder of Eleven Biotherapeutics.

Richard Auchus, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor of Internal Medicine and Pharmacology at the University of Michigan Medical School and James A. Shayman and Andrea S. Kervick Professor of Translational Medicine, Dr. Auchus is the recipient of the 2021 Outstanding Clinical Investigator Award of the Endocrine Society. He is an authority on steroid-related diseases and has been involved in the development of several drugs, including abiraterone acetate for prostate cancer. Dr. Auchus holds a B.S. from M.I.T. and an MD/PhD from Washington University.