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Meet the Team – Our Scientist, Ken Takeoka

As a part of our new “Meet the Team” series, we hear from Ken Takeoka, Antheia’s very first employee and a Scientist III. Read on to learn about Ken’s path to Antheia and what he’s looking forward to over the next few years.

Tell us a little about your background and the path that led you to Antheia.

I got my start in the biopharma world at Neugenesis, where I worked as an associate for a year before moving to Amyris. It was there that I met one of Antheia’s co-founders and our current CSO, Dr. Kristy Hawkins. Kristy was one of the incredible scientists I worked with at Amyris who mentored me and showed me how to apply some of the concepts that I learned during my undergrad at UC Berkeley to real applications in the lab.

Fast forward a few years to when Kristy founded Antheia with our CEO, Dr. Christina Smolke. Kristy hired me as a scientist and the very first employee at the company. This was an exciting endeavor for obvious reasons, but particularly because it’s unusual – or at least very challenging – for people to come into a scientist role without a PhD. I’ve noticed that compared to the pharma industry, synthetic biology is ahead of the curve when it comes to hiring people with non-traditional academic or career paths – perhaps because it is such a cutting-edge field and people are realizing a degree isn’t everything. Nonetheless, it was still an immense show of confidence from Kristy and Christina that I hope can inspire other companies to consider diversity of experience when it comes to hiring in the life sciences space.

What does your typical day like?

I’m a scientist, which means I have my hands in a few different projects. Right now, I’m leading a project to engineer yeast to produce a cough medicine that is historically sourced from plants. When I’m not in the lab, I also help Kristy and Christina with some higher-level team management efforts and keeping a pulse on the company culture. Since I’ve been at Antheia since its inception, I have a more established relationship with the leadership team and feel comfortable starting the conversation if there are any cultural concerns.

As for my typical day, we are lucky in that Antheia is a dog-friendly office, so I get to start off the day with some puppy playdates! When I get in, I bring my dog, Ember, over to where the other office dogs hang out throughout the day. Once everyone is acquainted, I head into the lab to go over the results of past experiments – I like to tackle this in the morning so I can spend the day processing the data and thinking about next steps and how to evolve our experiments. From there, I head to a couple meetings, then back to the lab for more experiments. I normally wrap up the day by checking in with my team to see if there is anything I can take off their plate so we can all get out the door on-time.

What’s your high-level impact at Antheia?

At Antheia, I’ve been given new responsibilities as a project lead and managing research associates. I’ve had challenging managers and amazing managers and I’ve learned a lot from both, so I try to implement what I’ve learned into my own management style to make sure my teams feel supported and also empowered to carve out their own professional paths. So I guess I would say that my impact is creating a more harmonious workplace – somewhere where people can collaborate and help each other, all while progressing ground-breaking science.

What’s the best part of your job?

There’s so much I love here, but what really sticks out is the science. I think it’s so interesting that you can essentially take an entire plant pathway, stick it into yeast, and create life-saving medicines. I feel like we’re in a renaissance period where we are discovering that biology can make the seemingly impossible, possible and that just blows my mind.

I also love the workplace culture here. My coworkers are empathetic, supportive, and smart – it feels like a big family and having people you can rely on is so important, especially in the era of COVID. I’m a big fan of the dog-friendly office and the free snacks don’t hurt either.

What do you think is the most exciting or impactful thing Antheia is doing?

Definitely our work creating plant-based medicines on-demand in a lab. Traditional plant-based medicines are subject to so many variables, like weather and shipping, which can impact the supply and quality of these drugs. People are realizing how important this is now more than ever before with the continuous COVID-related supply chain disruptions. Reducing the time it takes to produce medicines from months to weeks can truly transform our medicinal manufacturing systems and reimagine what doctors, healthcare providers, and patients can come to expect from the pharma industry.

How has working at Antheia been different than your previous jobs?

My past jobs have been at really large, established companies. I learned a lot and had access to amazing scientists, but given the size of these businesses, we had to work within stricter parameters and narrower scopes. At Antheia, I feel like I have more creativity and a bigger impact on both the work culture and the science. The company is more horizontally structured so I feel empowered to think outside the box and share ideas that push the envelope. It’s also nice to have access to people at all levels – I can always pop in to ask a director at Antheia a question, which makes such a difference in terms of collaboration and ultimately, improves the work we do.

Another unique aspect of Antheia is that the founders are both women, which brings a new perspective to an industry historically led by men. Christina and Kristy are exceptional scientists and co-founders, and they’ve built a company that ensures diversity and inclusion are a cornerstone.

What advice do you have for people who want to get into biopharma or synthetic biology?

It’s so important to maintain relationships in this industry – you don’t get anywhere by yourself. Having someone like Kristy as a mentor vouch for me helped propel my career trajectory and inspired me to work harder if anything.

This industry is all about collaboration and working together to achieve a common (and often ambitious) goal, but also come up with your own ideas and execute them. If there is an opportunity, don’t be afraid to take it or even ask for more!

If you’re interested in working with Ken and the rest of the Antheia team, take a look at our current open positions.

Richard Sherwin

Head of Commercialization

Richard is an industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience in the KSM, API, and intermediate markets. He is responsible for leading the commercialization and revenue generation for Antheia’s robust pipeline of products. Richard brings an exceptional track record of leading international sales teams, driving revenue growth, building strategic partnerships, and delivering innovative products to market, including ANDA and NDA developments. Richard led commercial efforts at some of the leading global pharmaceutical companies and most recently, built his own consultancy business advising a range of clients, including $1B divisions of major multinationals.

Appropriate regulatory submissions will be prepared and submitted to support Antheia’s customers who need to reference and access necessary process-related information.

Yihui Zhu, PhD

Head of Fermentation

Yihui leads the fermentation team at Antheia. With over 25 years of hands-on experience in the field, he brings in-depth knowledge and expertise in microbial metabolism and fermentation process development. He is also skilled in developing comprehensive fermentation data collection, analysis, and visualization systems. Prior to joining Antheia, he served as a fermentation lead at Intrexon and Codexis where he successfully built fermentation labs and teams and led multiple biofuel and biochemical projects to reach stretch milestones and tech transfer. Yihui is passionate about the potential of fermentation and is dedicated to advancing the field through innovative research and development.

Yen-Hsiang Wang, PhD

Head of Strategy, Partnerships, and Finance

Yen-Hsiang leads strategy, partnerships and finance at Antheia. He completed his M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering at Stanford, with extensive research experience in synthetic biology, metabolic engineering and computational modeling. Before joining Antheia, he worked at McKinsey and Tencent with a strong focus in corporate strategy and big data/advanced analytics. At Tencent, he served as Director of Strategy and Business Development for the AI Lab, leading corporate initiatives in healthcare AI/ML applications and commercialization. He also served in AI4H (Artificial Intelligence for Health), a collaboration between WHO and ITU, to establish global standards for AI in healthcare.

Audrey Wang

Head of Financial Planning and Analysis

Audrey leads financial planning and analysis at Antheia. With an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, Audrey is passionate about leveraging financial analysis, digital technology, and data analytics to guide companies in making optimal investments and strategic business decisions. Audrey has a decade of experience in helping companies solve unique problems and creating long-term impact with unconventional approaches. Before joining Antheia, she was at Vir Biotechnology and Merck where she led various FP&A workstreams, including investment valuation, asset prioritization, and manufacturing sites operation finance support. Audrey completed CFA Level II and passed the U.S. CPA exam in 2011.

Antonij Tjahjadi, CPA

Head of Accounting

Antonij Tjahjadi leads accounting at Antheia and holds active CPA license. He joined Antheia with more than 20 years of experience in corporate accounting, bringing deep expertise in ramping up accounting operations for start-up companies, SEC reporting/technical accounting, and SOX implementation efforts. Before joining Antheia, he held various leading roles in both public and private company settings, including directing accounting functions at Ambys Medicines, where he successfully implemented Netsuite with Point Purchasing integration and set up various accounting policies and processes, and played a key role in the initial public offering of Nutanix, Inc.

Ken Takeoka

Head of Biology

Ken leads the Biology team at Antheia, which incorporates both strain and protein engineering functions. He has more than 16 years of experience in the synthetic biology field, working with leading companies, including Amyris and Novartis. One of his passions is molecular biology tool development and he previously worked to build the foundation for the automated strain engineering pipeline at Amyris. At Novartis, he modernized the molecular biology techniques and established a platform to model mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in a range of organisms.

Suzanne Sato

Head of Downstream Processing

Suzy leads downstream chemistry processes at Antheia. She has 19 years of experience in process development, including route development through synthetic chemistry and scale-up of small molecule APIs for GPCR targets under cGMP for Phase I-III trials. Before joining Antheia, Suzy led a full DSP team at Amyris where she successfully pivoted developments from biofuels hydrocarbon products to pharmaceutical intermediate, flavor, fragrance and nutraceutical products. She led a team that scaled 11 products and took five products to commercial manufacturing.

Farrah Pulce, PMP

Head of Project Management

Farrah leads program and project management at Antheia. She has over 20 years of experience leading program and project management, operations, and engineering for companies across the CPG, aerospace, and automotive industries. Prior to joining Antheia, Farrah implemented and led the sustaining program management team at Impossible Foods. She also led product operations, project management, and cost optimization at Blue Bottle Coffee and Tyson Foods to develop and commercialize new products. As a certified project management professional (PMP), Farrah has a proven record of successful project delivery, improving project management practices, and building collaborative teams.

Jordyn Lee

Head of Communications

Jordyn leads communications and external affairs at Antheia. She brings a decade of multidisciplinary communications experience in helping companies make complex science and technology accessible to broad audiences, all while maintaining technical accuracy and integrity. She has a passion for visionary storytelling and translating impact across the entire communications ecosystem – her work has spanned from public relations to corporate communications to marketing. Jordyn has served as an advisor to a number of different life sciences companies and most recently led corporate communications at Amyris.

Ben Kotopka, PhD

Head of Data Science

As Head of Data Science at Antheia, Ben manages in-house software development and external partnerships for storing and interpreting research data, executing bioinformatics analyses, and streamlining business processes. Prior to Antheia, Ben worked as an academic researcher at the intersection of machine learning, bioinformatics, and synthetic biology. Following this, as an entrepreneur and consultant, he developed and deployed data science solutions for biotechnology applications ranging from metabolomics-driven compound discovery to MRI segmentation.

Guerin Kob

Head of Supply Chain

Guerin is responsible for leading the design, development, management and improvement of Antheia’s end-to-end global supply chain. He has over 15 years of experience leading high-performing supply chain and procurement teams at leading biotechnology and specialty chemical companies, with extensive experience in process development and end-to-end supply chain optimization. Prior to joining Antheia, Guerin served as Senior Director of Global Supply Chain for Sumitomo Chemical’s biotechnology division with Valent Biosciences, where he led the end-to end supply chain including procurement, logistics and distribution, integrated business planning, materials management, customer service, and supply planning functions globally.

Pavel Aronov, PhD

Head of Bioanalytics

Pavel leads the Bioanalytics team at Antheia. He has 20 years of experience in analytical and clinical chemistry, mass spectrometry, chromatography, and metabolomics. Pavel built and led the original Chemistry and Analytics team at Impossible Foods enabling strain development, fermentation, DSP, regulatory, QC, and scale-up of leghemoglobin biomanufacturing. During his academic career at UC Davis and Stanford University Pavel developed a vitamin D assay used by all major clinical diagnostics laboratories and pioneered metabolomics studies to investigate kidney disease and microbiome.

Jesse Ahrendt

Head of Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs

Jesse has more than 25 years of experience in regulatory affairs, quality systems, manufacturing quality, and regulated industries, ranging from early- to late-stage pharmaceuticals, biomanufacturing, consumer care, and medical devices. He has supported global product launches and the underlying quality supply chain components in industries that require strict adherence to internationally accepted quality standards. Before Antheia, he led quality efforts at Zymergen and Sandoz, and supported many global pharmaceutical companies during his time in Biotech Consulting at NSF International, all to bring quality to the forefront in manufacturing, standardize global processes, and support customer regulatory requirements.

Heidi Pucel

Chief People Officer

Heidi is a results-driven human resources executive and HR business partner who leverages decades of experience in empowering, motivating, and inspiring to drive transformation within high-performing and rapidly-growing workforces. A certified executive coach and passionate advocate for people-oriented solutions, Pucel serves as a partner to executive teams to design programs that support employee development, engagement, and recruitment and retention. Pucel most recently served as Chief People Officer for Countsy, where she worked as an interim HR executive for clients in the biotechnology and software industries, such as Ceribell and Tune Therapeutics.

Zack McGahey

Chief Operating Officer

Zack is a leading executive in operations management, specializing in bioprocess engineering and manufacturing management. He has over 20 years of experience leading manufacturing functions for companies across the pharmaceutical, synthetic biology, diagnostics, and automotive industries. Before joining Antheia, Zack was VP of manufacturing and capex project management at Zymergen. He also gained experience managing commercial scale facilities operations for Tesla, where he was responsible for managing 10 million square feet of factory, lab and warehouse space during the Model 3 ramp.

Kristy Hawkins, PhD

Co-Founder & CSO

Kristy has over 20 years of experience in the field of synthetic biology, focusing on yeast metabolic engineering for the production of small molecules. She did the founding work on the benzylisoquinoline alkaloid pathway during her graduate studies and gained valuable industry experience at Amyris and Lygos. Kristy is an expert in tool development, high-throughput screening, and host strain and heterologous pathway engineering.

Christina Smolke, PhD

Co-Founder & CEO

Christina is a pioneer in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, where she has over 20 years of experience. As Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering at Stanford University, her laboratory led the breakthrough research to engineer baker’s yeast to produce some of the most complex and valuable medicines known. Under her leadership, Antheia’s synthetic biology platform enables new possibilities for drug discovery and efficient, sustainable, transparent, and on-demand drug manufacturing at scale. Her vision and accomplishments have garnered numerous awards, including the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator, NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, Nature’s 10, Novozymes Award for Excellence in Biochemical Engineering, and TR35 Award.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visits Antheia to discuss biotechnology innovation

Appropriate regulatory submissions will be prepared and submitted to support Antheia’s customers who need to reference and access necessary process-related information.