Foundation Fighting Blindness Announces Leadership Changes
Jason Menzo named chief executive officer • Russell Kelley, PhD, MBA, appointed managing director of the RD Fund • Ben Yerxa, PhD, to lead Opus Genetics, the first RD Fund- and Foundation-backed spin-off company.
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
COLUMBIA, Maryland – June 21, 2022 – The Foundation Fighting Blindness, the world’s leading organization committed to finding treatments and cures for blinding retinal diseases, announced today the promotions of Jason Menzo to chief executive officer (CEO) of the Foundation and Russell Kelley, PhD, MBA, to managing director of the Retinal Degeneration (RD) Fund, the venture arm of the Foundation, effective July 1, 2022. Ben Yerxa, PhD, who has served as CEO of the Foundation since 2017, will be transitioning to assume the permanent CEO position for Opus Genetics, the first spin-off company internally conceived and launched by the RD Fund to further the Foundation’s mission.
“I’m exceptionally proud of the progress we’ve made toward our mission during my nearly five years at the Foundation, including the launch of the RD Fund to further the Foundation’s mission through venture philanthropy,” said Dr. Yerxa. “Stepping into the permanent CEO role at Opus Genetics – a company that we created and launched through the RD Fund – enables me to be on the front line of bringing potentially life-changing treatments to the patients who so urgently need them.”
We thank Ben for his incredible service to the Foundation. He was the right person at the right time for the Foundation, and we are pleased that he will stay close to the organization as he leads Opus Genetics. We look forward to working with Jason and Rusty in their new roles as CEO of the Foundation and managing director of the RD Fund, respectively.
Dr. Yerxa continued, “Under the sound leadership of Jason, Rusty, and the rest of the Foundation team and board, I am confident the Foundation and RD Fund will continue to thrive and make great strides toward curing blinding retinal diseases, and I look forward to continued collaboration with them in my new role.”
"We thank Ben for his incredible service to the Foundation. He was the right person at the right time for the Foundation, and we are pleased that he will stay close to the organization as he leads Opus Genetics. We look forward to working with Jason and Rusty in their new roles as CEO of the Foundation and managing director of the RD Fund, respectively,” said David Brint, chairman of the Foundation board of directors and member of the RD Fund board of directors. “Jason and Rusty each have the expertise and the confidence of their teams, patients, and the boards to build upon the current direction and strategies to propel the work of each organization forward.”
Since joining the Foundation in 2018, Mr. Menzo has had a profound positive impact on redefining the nonprofit’s operations and engagement, including fiscal, fundraising, outreach, communications, and managerial operations. He is recognized by colleagues and constituents for his passionate leadership style and ability to create innovative partnerships. In addition to being involved in the formation of the RD Fund, Mr. Menzo is one of the founders of Opus Genetics. Mr. Menzo was elevated to the role of president and chief operating officer of the Foundation in January 2022. Prior to the Foundation, he spent nearly 20 years in various leadership positions in the eyecare industry, and intimately understands the space, and key players in it.
“We’re grateful for Ben’s leadership in advancing therapies to address retinal disease and highlighting the patient voice — both during his tenure at the Foundation and RD Fund, as well as throughout his more than three-decade career translating research into clinical-stage and commercial products for the eye,” said Mr. Menzo. “This is the beauty of the venture philanthropy model that we’ve pioneered with the RD Fund. We can collaborate closely, identify needs and respond seamlessly to advance the shared missions of our organizations to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in our community. I am honored to carry this momentum forward for the Foundation, together with Rusty at the helm of the RD Fund, and our respective management teams.”
Dr. Kelley helped launch the RD Fund and has been instrumental in building a portfolio of novel technologies, including genetic medicines. He is a pharmacologist who brings over 25 years of experience advancing life science technologies to his new leadership role. Dr. Kelley most recently served as the RD Fund’s senior vice president of investments and alliances, responsible for identifying and managing external investment opportunities. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2018, Dr. Kelley led several initiatives at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for funding gaps in interdisciplinary and translational medicine while earning an executive MBA from Duke University. His experience also includes prior scientific and leadership roles in the industry spanning discovery and preclinical and clinical development across multiple therapeutic fields. Among his board service with several portfolio companies, Dr. Kelley is a founding director of Opus Genetics.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the RD Fund to connect capital, particularly from affected donors, with novel technologies and therapeutics with the potential to address underserved, inherited, and rare retinal degenerative diseases,” said Dr. Kelley. “Our venture model, with anchor donors Gordon Gund and Paul Manning, has catalyzed the development of patient-supported companies, including Opus Genetics, Atsena Therapeutics, Nacuity Pharmaceuticals, Vedere Bio II, and SparingVision, seed-funded by the RD Fund and previously supported by the Foundation. We look forward to elevating existing and new ventures aiming to bring life-changing outcomes to people with retinal diseases.”
About the Foundation Fighting Blindness
Established in 1971, the Foundation Fighting Blindness is the world’s leading private funding source for retinal degenerative disease research. The Foundation has raised more than $856 million toward its mission of accelerating research for preventing, treating, and curing blindness caused by the entire spectrum of blinding retinal diseases including: retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, and Usher syndrome. Visit FightingBlindness.org for more information.
About the RD Fund
The RD Fund (Retinal Degeneration Fund) is the venture arm of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and a leading investor in the inherited retinal disease space. It was established in 2018 to serve the Foundation’s mission to rapidly drive research toward preventions, treatments and cures for the entire spectrum of blinding retinal diseases—including retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, and Usher syndrome. RD Fund focuses on mission-related investments in companies with projects nearing clinical testing. Visit RDFund.org for more information.
About Opus Genetics
Opus Genetics is a groundbreaking gene therapy company for inherited retinal diseases with a unique model and purpose. Backed by Foundation Fighting Blindness’s venture arm, the RD Fund, Opus combines unparalleled insight and commitment to patient need with wholly owned programs in numerous orphan retinal diseases. Its AAV-based gene therapy portfolio tackles some of the most neglected forms of inherited blindness while creating novel orphan manufacturing scale and efficiencies. Based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., the company leverages knowledge of the best science and the expertise of pioneers in ocular gene therapy to transparently drive transformative treatments to patients. For more information, visit www.opusgenetics.com.