We pledge to design groundbreaking medicines

Our team members have built and exited start-ups, advanced multiple drugs into the clinic, are inventors on FDA approved drugs and cracked multiple “undruggable” targets

Our Team

Ali Munawar, Ph.D.

Chief Executive Officer & Founder

Stephen Weeks, Ph.D.

Director of Structural Biology

Hector Lucero, Ph.D.

Director of Biochemistry and Cell Biology

Dr. Mark Spyvee

Vice President, Head of Chemistry R&D

Asanga Bandara, Ph.D.

Computational Chemist

Joe S. Matarlo, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist

Maria Martin-Goula

Maria Martin-Goula

Operations and Human Resources Manager

Join Our Team

We are interested in rational design and intransigent disease discovery. We strive achieve our mission to deliver high-quality, medicinal, lead molecules that ultimately will benefit patients and their families. We serve them through our hard-work, dedication and passion. Our values—scientific rigor, responsibility, excellence, and respect—reflect on our everyday achievements. We appreciate diversity in all forms, and look for candidates that bring a variety of perspectives, ideas, backgrounds and expertise. If you would like to help in the process of unique discovery efforts to deliver pre-clinical IND-phase assets for our clients, we would like to hear about you!
Ali H. Munawar, Ph.D.

Ali is an experienced entrepreneur with a track record of leading discovery projects from ideation to proof-of-concept and executing M&A transactions. He has built biotech startups from the ground up, collectively raising over $50M in seed and venture capital investment for companies that he founded.

Ali was the founding CEO of Novira Therapeutics and led the evolution and growth of Novira and directing its novel approach to targeting virus capsid assembly as an antiviral strategy. His pioneering graduate work in non-enzymatic antiviral inhibitors that disrupt protein-protein interactions led to a Gates Foundation award that propelled Novira. Novira was acquired in 2015 by Johnson & Johnson.

Previously, he led the commercialization strategy, business development, and alliance management functions at the Joslin Diabetes Center, securing over $22M in business deals with multiple Big Pharma companies.

As the CEO, Ali is also a hands-on scientist specializing in difficult to “drug”, frontier targets often referred to as the “high hanging fruits in drug discovery”. He is actively involved in innovative hit and lead generations strategies that have led to the development of drug starting points for over half a dozen drug targets. Ali holds a Master’s in Bioengineering from Harvard University and received a Ph.D. in X-ray crystallography and structure-based drug design from KU Leuven in Belgium.

Ali has a background in strategic consulting, is an active member of various venture and scientific communities. He is involved with early-stage investment, venture creation, and due diligence. He is passionate about paying it forward by mentoring new entrepreneurs. In his spare time, Ali is passionate about animals, nature, and the outdoors.

Stephen D. Weeks, Ph.D.

Stephen brings more than twenty years of experience in the fields of biochemistry and structural biology. Stephen is also the group leader of our Leuven research facilities and coordinates an advanced biophysics-based research program to accelerate our discovery pipeline.

Before joining Pledge, Stephen led a team of researchers at the University of KU Leuven using rational drug design to develop new antibiotics. Previously, Stephen was involved with several innovative programs at Life Sensors Inc in the USA. His original work around the SUMO fusion expression system and the generation of other life sciences tools has impacted protein production across basic research, drug discovery and diagnostic laboratories worldwide.

Stephen carried out his undergraduate studies in biochemistry at the University of Lancaster and US in the US, and he undertook his Ph.D. at the European Molecular Biology Laboratories in Heidelberg, Germany. He has over 40 peer-reviewed publications and is responsible for nearly 90 structures in the public Protein Data Bank. Reflecting on his cross-border international experience Stephen is passionate about bringing together the brightest minds to drive success.

Hector R. Lucero, Ph.D.

Dr. Lucero brings more than 30 years of experience in industry and academia. At Pledge Therapeutics, he is in charge of early validation of hits and established mammalian cell culture, a BLS-2 laboratory to process and analyze tens of cell lines and primary cells, and lead scientist’s work at our facilities in Canton, US.

Before joining Pledge Therapeutics,Hector held a faculty position at Boston University, where he led industry collaborations with Bristol-Myers, Squibb, and Hoffman La-Roche. His work focused on the analysis and identification of the Yhns 4 ATPase of the proteasome 20 S subunit. Previous to that, he was at Agrivida, an Agritech company, where he led the Plant Analysis team, coordinating research & development, and implementing biochemical and cell biology strategies. Hector also made key contributions to Agrivida patents and proprietary technology.

Hector obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Buenos Aires and completed his post-doctoral training with Dr. Efraim Racker, founder of the Biochemistry Department at Cornell University, and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In Dr. Racker’s laboratory, Hector started the molecular cloning of a yeast protein whose mammalian equivalent is an essential subunit of the proteasome complex involved in cellular homeostasis.

Hector is passionate about mentoring young scientists with diverse scientific and technological backgrounds, and he earned his credentials as an extraordinary advisor in his participation at the Molecular Biology, Cell Biology at Brown University.

Mark R. Spyvee, D. Phil.

Mark is a seasoned Medicinal Chemist who has contributed to the development of 17 innovative small molecules, including 8 compounds that reached clinical development and 1 FDA approved product. At Pledge, Mark strategizes lead finding, lead optimization, and medicinal chemistry to create novel clinical candidates and develops pre-clinical candidate compounds to enable INDA filing.

Mark spent 14 years at Eisai Pharmaceuticals, a multinational pharma company, in various roles; most recently, he was Director of Medicinal Chemistry and co-Head of the Immunology group at Eisai US, UK, and Japanese sites. He oversaw multidisciplinary teams working on lead finding, optimization, and pre-clinical development efforts, yielding drug candidates for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, sepsis, infectious diseases, oncology, and immune-oncology. In addition to R&D roles, Mark has previously held the position of VP of Business Development at Sai Life Sciences, where he managed a portfolio of over 30 biotech and pharma clients. Mark has also actively been a Medicinal Chemistry consultant to over 16 companies.

Prior to Eisai, Mark was involved with the development of multiple insecticidal and antifungal programs at ICI Agrochemicals, including the billion-dollar product, azoxystrobin.

Mark has co-authored 65 publications and is a co-inventor on 37 patents. He received his doctorate at the University of Oxford with Prof. Sir Jack Baldwin, FRS, and completed his post-doc fellowship at UT Austin with Prof. Phil Magnus, FRS. In his spare time, Mark loves to enjoy the great outdoors, especially oceans, ski slopes and the racetrack.

Asanga Bandara, Ph.D.

Asanga manages our computational chemistry and computational drug discovery effort. His work is in the application of computational chemistry, cheminformatics, and bioinformatics in the pursuit of novel small molecule drugs. Asanga also assists with the ongoing systems biology and biophysics efforts at Pledge through in-silico modeling, molecular dynamics (MD) and Monte Carlo (MC) simulation, establishing data analysis platforms for high-throughput assays, and utilization of machine learning and deep-learning based methods. His work leverages high-performance computing systems. At Pledge, Asanga has put together a state-of-the-art workflow that enables us to sample a vast universe of drug compounds in experimentally validated models generated by our interdisciplinary team.

Asanga earned his Ph.D. at Boston University, working on biophysical and statistical mechanical aspects of protein-protein and lipid-protein interactions pertinent to neurodegenerative diseases. He is passionate about the use of experimentally directed computational research and its future in the life sciences.

Joe S. Matarlo, Ph.D.
Joe leads our assay development group tasked with interrogating small molecule binding and inhibition or activation of protein targets. At Pledge, Joe is responsible for mechanism of action studies as well as screening and discovery of novel drug compounds. Previously, Joe was a senior scientist at UCB, a multinational pharmaceutical company, where he aided in the development of DNA-encoded library (DEL) screening platform and incorporated this technology to identify small molecules against various protein targets. Joe obtained his Ph.D. at Stonybrook University in Biochemistry and Structural Biology, after which he spent two years as a post-doctoral fellow at The National Cancer Institute. Joe’s experience in the small-molecule drug discovery field begun during his undergraduate research and continues to expand today. Joe enjoys learning, cooking, and eating different cuisines and recently took up a Bonsai cultivation and care project.
Maria Martin-Goula

Maria oversees and harmonizes the day-to-day operational planning,
collaborates with the scientific teams to streamline processes and systems
and manages Human Resources functions and the business administration in Leuven and Canton.

Previously Maria worked at Tax Consultancy, in the Human Resources and
Contractual area for small businesses in Barcelona. Later she spent over four years at the United Nations Associations in Spain (UNA-Spain) and the World federations of UNA (WFUNA) in New York as Model-UN Coordinator, where she worked with WFUNA associations worldwide, collaborating on the design, development and implementation of international conferences.
Maria also has experience as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant,
delivering focused trainings and consultancy to executives and leaders across sectors at local and international level.

Maria earned a BA in Political Science and a Degree in Labor Relations from
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. She earned a M.A. focused on Diversity
and Inclusion at Yale University. In her free time, Maria enjoys outdoor