Jul 21, 2022

RD Fund Announces New Chair, and Expansion of Board of Directors

The Foundation in the News

RD Fund Board member and seasoned ophthalmology leader Adrienne Graves, PhD, appointed chair. Ophthalmology luminaries Jean Bennett, MD, PhD, Catherine Bowes Rickman, PhD, and José-Alain Sahel, MD, to join the board.

RALEIGH, North Carolina July 21, 2022 – Today, the RD Fund (Retinal Degeneration Fund) – the venture arm of the Foundation Fighting Blindness (the Foundation) aimed at rapidly driving research toward preventions, treatments, and cures for the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases – announced the appointment of Adrienne Graves, PhD, as the chair of its board of directors, and Jean Bennett, MD, PhD, Catherine Bowes Rickman, PhD, and José-Alain Sahel, MD, as directors.

“The guidance of our board of directors is essential to driving the RD Fund’s mission to identify investable and novel technologies backed by strong science to bring forward therapies with the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients with retinal diseases,” said Rusty Kelley, PhD, MBA, managing director of the RD Fund. “We are thrilled to welcome ophthalmology luminaries Drs. Bennett, Bowes Rickman, and Sahel to our board. Their unmatched business, clinical and scientific expertise and Dr. Graves’ leadership as chair of our board, puts the RD Fund in an optimal position to pursue our mission with the urgency it demands.”

Dr. Graves spent 15 years serving in leadership roles at Santen Inc., culminating in eight years as its CEO, where she was responsible for growing the company’s global presence and advancing multiple ophthalmic products through development to approval and commercialization. Prior to Santen, she spent nine years at Alcon in roles of increasing responsibility, including director of International Ophthalmology, and establishing Alcon's first Retinal Electrophysiology Laboratory. Dr. Graves also currently serves as board chair at Iveric Bio, and as a board director for Qlaris Bio, Nicox S.A., Surface Ophthalmics, Oxurion, TherOptix, and Greenbrook TMS, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) Foundation, Glaucoma Research Foundation, American Academy of Ophthalmology Foundation (Emeritus), Retina Global, Himalayan Cataract Project, and the Foundation. She earned her PhD in Psychobiology/Neuroscience from the University of Michigan, and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Visual Neuroscience at the University of Paris.

“This is a pivotal time in the development of preventions, treatments, and cures for retinal diseases, thanks to remarkable scientific and technical advances,” said Dr. Graves. “On behalf of Drs. Bennett, Bowes Rickman, and Sahel, we’re eager to lend our combined ophthalmic expertise in translational science, clinical practice, business, regulatory, and commercialization to advance the RD Fund’s unique and important mission to improve the treatment of retinal diseases.”

Dr. Bennett is the F.M. Kirby Emeritus Professor of Ophthalmology at the Perelman School of Medicine and previously served as director of the Center for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics (CAROT) at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to Dr. Bennett’s positions at the University of Pennsylvania, she has been an investigator at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for more than a decade. She also co-founded life science companies Spark Therapeutics (acquired by Roche), GenSight Biologics, Limelight Bio, and Opus Genetics. Dr. Bennett received her PhD in Zoology and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkley, and obtained an MD from Harvard University. She also completed postdoctoral fellowships in Radiobiology and Environmental Health at the University of California, San Francisco, Human Genetics at Yale School of Medicine, and Development Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Bowes Rickman is a professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Cell Biology and the George and Geneva Boguslavsky Endowed Vision Research Chair at Duke University.

She is a translational scientist whose research efforts over two decades have been focused on the molecular/cell biology and pathobiology of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Her work includes the creation of murine models that recapitulate many aspects of human AMD, the genetic, inflammatory, and environmental factors contributing to AMD, and the evaluation of emergent therapies for the dry form of AMD, for which there are no effective approved therapies. She currently serves on the Foundation’s executive scientific advisory board, as well as the National Eye Institute Board of Scientific Counselors and the Ryan Initiative for Macular Research Executive Board. Dr. Bowes Rickman earned her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Jules Stein Eye Institute.

Dr. Sahel is a Distinguished Professor and the Eye and Ear Foundation Endowed Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and a Professor of Ophthalmology at the Sorbonne Université in Paris. Dr. Sahel founded and led the Institut de la Vision in Paris, the French National Reference Center for Retinal Dystrophies, and the Paris Ophthalmology Clinical Investigation Center until 2020. His research is focused on understanding retinal degeneration mechanisms, leading to several first-in-human promising trials in gene therapy, neuroprotection, prosthetics, stem cell, and optogenetics. He is a founder of Fovea Pharmaceuticals, GenSight Biologics, Pixium Vision, SparingVision, Avista Therapeutics, and other biotech companies. Dr. Sahel currently serves on the Foundation’s executive scientific advisory board. He earned his MD from Paris University School of Medicine and completed an ophthalmology residency and a clinical fellowship at the Louis Pasteur University Hospital in Strasbourg, France. He performed a fellowship at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston and was a visiting scholar and lecturer at Harvard University.

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.