About Us


Transformational mRNA therapeutics at the push of a button

Founded in 2018, Nutcracker Therapeutics is bringing the combined power of high-technology engineering and advanced biosynthesis to RNA therapeutics through its push-button mRNA synthesis and formulation platform.

Armed with this high-tech advantage, we will advance mRNA therapeutics into the clinic and engage in strategic partnerships with clinical institutions and pharmaceutical/biotech companies.

Our GMP-in-a-box approach to manufacturing is expected to offer significant cost, cycle time, capacity and point-of-care execution advantages over other RNA manufacturing approaches.

Supporting our initial focus on mRNA therapeutics for oncology, our platform will ultimately enable the development and manufacturing of all RNA therapeutics to benefit patients worldwide.

Meet The Team


Igor Khandros, PhD

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer

Igor Khandros co-founded Nutcracker Therapeutics, Inc. and serves as its Chief Executive Officer.  In founding Nutcracker Therapeutics, Igor is driven by his belief that high technology engineering, coupled with winning biochemistry, will make RNA immuno-therapies a critical component in emerging standard of care for a wide variety of human diseases.  Prior to Nutcracker, Igor was the founding CEO of Berkeley Lights, Inc. and presently serves on its Board of Directors.  Prior to Berkeley Lights, Igor founded two publicly traded companies: FormFactor, Inc, where he was the founding CEO and later Executive Chairman and Tessera Technologies, Inc, where he served in the role of Vice President of Development.  Earlier in his career, Igor served as Manager at the IBM TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.  Igor holds over 200 US patents.


Benjamin Eldridge

Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer

Ben Eldridge co-founded Nutcracker Therapeutics, Inc. and serves as its Chief Technology Officer.  As Nutcracker’s systems architect, Ben leads the development of a device-based platform for large scale synthesis of nucleic acids.  Prior to Nutcracker, Ben served in executive management roles at FormFactor, Inc., most recently as Chief Information Officer, previously as Chief Technology Officer.  Prior to joining FormFactor, Ben held engineering positions at the IBM TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.  Ben was awarded a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Union College and an M.S. in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  Ben holds over 200 US patents covering inventions in Electrical, Mechanical and Micro Systems Engineering.


Madhavan “Madhu” Balachandran

Chief Operating Officer

As the Chief Operating Officer at Nutcracker Therapeutics, Madhu Balachandran leads all aspects of the company’s operations, including manufacturing, quality, and product development functions. Previously, he had roles of increasing responsibility over a 20-year career at Amgen, Inc., ending as Executive Vice President, Operations. Prior to his tenure at Amgen, Madhu held leadership positions at Copley Pharmaceuticals, now a part of Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd., and Burroughs Wellcome, now part of GlaxoSmithKline plc. In addition he serves as a director of Stevanato Group, Catalent, Inc., uniQure NV, and A2 Biotherapeutics.


James Zhu

Chief Financial Officer

As Chief Financial Officer, James Zhu oversees Nutcracker Therapeutics’ finance, legal, information technology, and business operations.   Prior to Nutcracker, James served as Chief Financial Officer at VoloAgri Group, Inc., Chief Accounting Officer and Interim CFO at First Solar, Inc., and Vice President, Corporate Controller at Salesforce.com. Earlier in his career, James held finance and accounting roles with Chiron Corporation and KPMG, LLP.  James was awarded a BA degree in Political Economics and MBA degree in Accounting from Golden Gate University.


Samuel Deutsch, PhD

Executive Vice President, Research & Early Development

Sam Deutsch leads biological research and development at Nutcracker Therapeutics, as Executive Vice President, Research & Early Development.  Sam orchestrates the development of Nutcracker’s therapeutics through close interactions between internal R&D, advisors and clinical collaborators.  Prior to Nutcracker, Sam led the DNA synthesis platform at the Joint Genome Institute part of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  Sam’s experience also includes research in molecular hematology at the Geneva University Hospital, and cancer genomics at the World Health Organization.

Sam was awarded a B.Sc. in Genetics from University of Nottingham and received his Ph.D. from the University of Geneva. Sam is the author of over 65 peer reviewed papers.


Ian Wiener


As Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Ian Wiener leads Nutcracker's legal function and advises the board and management on legal, business and policy matters.  Prior to joining Nutcracker, Ian was a partner at the law firm of Irell & Manella LLP, representing corporate, private equity and other clients in a wide variety of business law matters and complex business transactions.  Ian was awarded a B.A. in Economics from Dartmouth College and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.


Michelle Roth


Michelle Roth joins Nutcracker from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where she’s held roles as the Deputy Head of Human Resources and the Head of Talent Management. At JPL she’s led the HR function in all aspects of talent management, employee relations, diversity & inclusion, compensation, and talent analytics. Prior to her time at JPL, Michelle held roles of increasing responsibility at Thermo Fisher Scientific, where she led the HR function for the Transplant Diagnostics Division as well as roles at Amgen, Bank of America, and Deloitte Consulting ranging from coding/IT and business process improvement to change management and HR business partnering. Michelle’s unique blend of business, life science and technology experience, coupled with strong leadership in Human Resources, is a guiding force for establishing and growing Nutcracker’s company culture, employee coaching, development, engagement, well-being, rewards, talent acquisition, inclusion, equity and diversity programs. Michelle was awarded a BS in Finance from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, an MBA from the University of Southern California, and an MA in Human Resources from Cornell University.


Swami Murugappan, MD, PhD


Swami Murugappan is responsible for developing and executing the non-clinical and clinical development strategies for the Nutcracker Therapeutics mRNA platform. He leads both non-clinical and clinical functions and is responsible for driving programs from preclinical to IND, execution of clinical studies, and managing regulatory filing activities. Prior to Nutcracker, Swami was the Executive Director and product lead for a CD19 CAR-T (Tecartus™) at Kite Pharma, where he led a successful US and EU filing and subsequent FDA approval of Tecartus™  for relapsed and refractory mantle cell lymphoma. Before Kite, Swami worked at Amgen in early and late phase oncology programs within clinical development and supported global filings and approvals of Vectibix™ and ImLygic™ (first in class Oncolytic virus). Within early phase development, he was the clinical development lead for multiple BiTE® molecules and supported IND enabling activities.

Swami is a board certified Hematologist and Oncologist. He completed his fellowship training at the University of Washington/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center after his Internal Medicine training at Drexel University. He graduated from Temple University with his PhD in Physiology and received his MD degree from Chennai Medical College, India.


Pin Kao


As the Vice President of Hardware Systems Engineering, Pin Kao is responsible for the development and production of instrumentation systems and their integration with microfluidic devices.  Prior to Nutcracker, Pin held several executive positions where he has led the development of several instrumentation and consumables systems for biotechnology, diagnostics, microfluidics and 3D printing.  He brings over 20 years of development experience in high throughput platforms for Real Time PCR, Digital PCR and DNA sequencing at Complete Genomics, Novartis and Applied Biosystems.  Pin holds a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at San Francisco, a M.Sc. and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Manitoba, Canada.

Meet Our Advisors

Medical Advisory Board


Peter Carroll, MD, MPH


Dr. Peter Carroll is Professor and former Chair of Urology at UCSF, consistently ranked as one of the top urology Departments in the country by U.S. News and World Report and the NIH. He is a member of the UCSF – Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Carroll received his undergraduate degree from U C Berkeley and MD degree from Georgetown University, followed by his general surgery training and urology residency at UCSF. He completed a fellowship in urologic oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center before joining the faculty of the UCSF Department of Urology. Dr. Carroll holds The Ken and Donna Derr-Chevron and Taube Family Distinguished Professorships and added an MPH from UC Berkeley to his academic credentials in 2008.


Lawrence Fong, MD


Medical Advisor, Dr. Lawrence Fong is Professor of Medicine and Leader of the Cancer Immunotherapy Program at the UCSF Medical Center where he pursues interests in tumor immunology and developing immune-based treatments of cancer. Dr. Fong was awarded his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and his medical degree from Stanford University.  After completing an oncology fellowship at Stanford, he joined their medical staff in 1999.  He later joined the UCSF Medical Center in 2001.  Currently, he is Co-Leader, Cancer Immunity Program in the UCSF Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and holds The Efim Guzik Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Biology.

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W. Martin Kast, PhD


W. Martin Kast, PhD, is a Professor of Molecular Microbiology & Immunology, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Urology and Otolaryngology at the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center (NCCC) of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA. He holds the Walter A. Richter Cancer Research Chair and is the co-director of the NCCC Tumor Micro-environment program, the Director of the USC Medical Biology and Infectious Diseases, Immunology & Pathogenesis PhD Graduate Programs, the Director of the Beckman Center for Immune Monitoring, the Director of the K-12 Cancer Education Program for underrepresented minorities and the Associate Dean of Academic Integrity.
A native of the Netherlands, he earned his BS, MS, and PhD summa cum laude, from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He has and is serving on multiple Study Sections including the National Institute of Health and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. His research involves the design of therapeutic cancer vaccines directed against human papilloma virus (HPV) and prostate cancer. Several of his therapeutic HPV vaccines have or are currently been tried out in clinical trials. He studies how HPV enters cells and also studies the interaction of HPV with the human immune system to find out how HPV escapes immune detection and how to reverse that. He has published over 280 articles that have been quoted almost 25,000 times and lead to a publication h-index of 83. He is also the inventor on 18 patents. His research is supported by NIH grants. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Translational Medicine, Cancers, and Papillomavirus research. He also served as the secretary/treasurer of the International Papillomavirus Society from 2012-2019 and serves on the advisory board of 6 biotechnology companies. In his free time he is a Scoutmaster and an actor.

Scientific Advisory Board


Adam Arkin, PhD


Dr. Adam Arkin is Dean A. Richard Newton Memorial Professor, Bioengineering, UC Berkeley, Senior Faculty Scientist, Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Director, Berkeley Synthetic Biology Institute. CEO/CSO DOE Systems Biology Knowledgebase. PI and Co-Director, ENIGMA SFA. Dr. Arkin was awarded his undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Carleton College and his Ph.D in Physical Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Ming Wu, PhD


Scientific Advisor, Dr. Ming Wu is Nortel Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley and Co-Director of the Berkeley Sensors and Actuators Center.  Dr. Wu’s research interests include optical MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), optoelectronics and bio photonics. Dr. Wu was awarded his undergraduate degree from National Taiwan University and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering and computer sciences from UC Berkeley. Prior to joining UC Berkeley, Dr. Wu was a Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories and was a Professor in Electrical Engineering at UCLA.


Pei Yu Eric Chiou, PhD


Dr. Pei Yu Eric Chiou is Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering, UCLA where he pursues research in a variety of areas, including design and manufacture of high speed microfluidic devices for life science applications. Dr. Chiou was awarded his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from National Taiwan University and his Masters in Electrical Engineering from UCLA. He received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from UC Berkeley.


Phil Baran, PhD


Dr. Phil Baran is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute and Member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology. He received his BS in chemistry in 1997 (NYU), his PhD at The Scripps Research Institute in 2001, and from 2001-2003 he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard.

Dr. Baran has published over 220 scientific articles, several patents, and has been the recipient of several ACS awards such as the Corey (2015), Pure Chemistry (2010), Fresenius (2006), and Nobel Laureate Signature (2003), and several international distinctions such as the Hirata Gold Medal and Mukaiyama Prize (Japan), the RSC award in Synthesis (UK), the Sackler Prize (Israel), and the Janssen Prize (Belgium). In 2013 he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, in 2015 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2016 he was awarded the Blavatnik National Award, and in 2017, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

CMC Advisory Board

Marc Better2

Marc Better, PhD

Dr. Better is a biotechnology professional with more than 25 years’ experience in cell therapy and biologics CMC.  He is currently a principal consultant at Pharmefex Biopharma Consulting.  Prior to Pharmefex, Dr. Better was Senior Vice President, Product Sciences at Kite, a Gilead Company, where he led process and analytical development, process characterization and process validation activities leading to the successful US licensure of Yescarta®, a first in class anti-CD19 CAR T cell therapy.  Prior to Kite, Dr. Better held leadership roles in biologics process development and manufacturing at Boehringer Ingelheim, Amgen/Abgenix, and Xoma.

Board of Directors

Igor Khandros, PhD

CEO and Chairman of the Board

Robert Nelsen


Robert Nelsen is a Director of ARCH Venture Partners. He joined ARCH at its founding and played a significant role in the early sourcing, financing and development of more than 100 companies, including nineteen which have reached valuations exceeding $1 billion. His seed and early-stage investments include Illumina (ILMN); Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (ALNY); Juno Therapeutics (JUNO); Unity Biotechnology (UBX); Vir Biotechnology, Agios Pharmaceuticals (AGIO); Sage Therapeutics (SAGE); GRAIL, Ikaria; Kythera Biopharmaceuticals (KYTH); Receptos (RCPT); Aviron (AVIR); Denali Therapeutics (DNLI); Rubius Therapeutics; KSQ Therapeutics; Beam Therapeutics; NetBot; Bluebird Bio (BLUE); R2 Technology; XenoPort (XNPT); Caliper Life Sciences (CALP); Trubion Pharmaceuticals (TRBN); Adolor (ADLR); deCODE Genetics; Array BioPharma (ARRY); Editas (EDIT), IDUN Pharmaceuticals; Classmates.com; Hua Medicine; Fate Therapeutics (FATE); WuxiNextCODE; and Everyday Learning Corporation.

Mr. Nelsen is a director of Vir Bio, GRAIL, Beam Therapeutics, Unity Biotechnology, Denali Therapeutics, Arivale and serves as Chairman of Hua Medicine, among others. He previously served as a Trustee of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, the Institute for Systems Biology, and was a director of the National Venture Capital Association. Mr. Nelsen holds an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago and a B.S. from the University of Puget Sound with majors in Economics and Biology.


Bluebird Ventures, a firm associated with Sutter Hill Ventures