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FARA's Leadership & Staff

ProfileRonald J. Bartek

Retired U.S. Government Official; Business Consultant

Co-founder/President, Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance; Board of Directors/past Chairman, National Organization for Rare Disorders; Vice President & Board of Directors, Alliance for a Stronger FDA, Board of Directors, Alliance for Regenerative Medicine; Member, NIH/NCATS National Advisory Council; Vice Chair, NCATS Cures Acceleration Network Review Board; member, FDA/CTTI Patient Engagement Collaborative; 4-year member, NIH Neurological Institute National Advisory Council; former partner/president, business development/government affairs firm; twenty years in federal executive and legislative branches in defense, foreign policy and intelligence (six years on House Armed Services Committee staff; four years at U.S. State Department, one year on U.S. Delegation to Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces Treaty talks, Geneva; six years as CIA analyst, including a year as Intelligence Community representative to U.S. arms control committees); after graduation from United States Military Academy, West Point, four years as Army officer, as company commander in Korea and Infantry and Military Intelligence officer in Vietnam; Master's Degree, Russian Area Studies - Georgetown University.

Paul Avery

Chairman of the Board
CEO – Avery Management Group

Prior to his retirement in July, 2009, Paul E. Avery served as Chief Operating Officer of OSI Restaurant Partners, Inc. since May 2005, including operation of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Lee Roy Selmon's, Ala Carte Pavilion and Outback International. He was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of Outback Steakhouse, Inc. January of 2004 and served as President of Outback Steakhouse, Inc. since April of 1997. Paul was elected to the Board of Directors in 1998 and served until April of 2004. From 1990 to 1993, Paul was the Director of Operations.Paul Avery has an Associate Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management at Middlesex County College in New Jersey and a Bachelor of Science Degree at Kean University in New Jersey.

He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Suntrust Bank – Tampa Bay, Health Innovations Insurance, and the Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA). Additionally, he is a Trustee for Paul Smith's College NY, and serves on the Advisory Boards for CLW Real Estate Group and Front Burner Brands.

Marilyn E. Downing

Secretary / Director
Teacher/ Diagnostician, Special Education

Mrs. Marilyn Downing taught special education classes in the Buffalo and southern California areas and was an Education Evaluator for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in Western New York. She received her undergraduate degree in Exceptional Education from the University of St. Joseph, West Hartford, CT and her Masters degree in Special Education, SUNY College at Buffalo. Mrs. Downing and her husband, Terry, have two children, John (1984) and Bridget (1986). Bridget was diagnosed with Friedreich's ataxia in 1996. Mr. and Mrs. Downing began fundraising for FA research and were founding members of FARA in 1998. She continues to serve as Secretary of the Board of Directors.

Ruth Acton

Director of Finance Administration and Human Resources

Prior to serving on FARA's Board, Ruth Acton worked for Schering-Plough Corporation in various audit, finance and accounting roles. Ruth is a graduate of the University of South Carolina’s Master in International Business Studies program. When her son was diagnosed with Friedreich's ataxia in 2010, Ruth joined the strongly engaged FA community by volunteering to help support FARA’s operations. Ruth officially joined the FARA staff in 2018 and continues to serve as a Director and FARA’s Treasurer.

Dr. Sanjay Bidichandani

Section Head of Genetics, University of Oklahoma
College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics

Sanjay Bidichandani received his medical degree from the University of Pune (India) and a PhD in Medical Genetics from the University of Glasgow (Scotland, UK). Following postdoctoral fellowship training at the Baylor College of Medicine, where he was part of the group that discovered the gene for Friedreich ataxia, he established his research lab at the University Of Oklahoma College Of Medicine. For two years (2011-2012) he served as the Vice President for Research at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). He is currently the CMRI Claire Gordon Duncan Chair of Pediatric Medical Genetics and Professor of Pediatrics and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the University Of Oklahoma College Of Medicine. His research over the past 15 years, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, FARA and MDA, has been focused on characterizing the genetic and epigenetic defect in Friedreich ataxia. He has served on the Medical Advisory Committee of the MDA, and as the Assistant Dean in the College of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma. In addition to being on the Board of Directors, he currently serves as a member of the Scientific Review Committee of FARA. He has mentored several PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, and has received numerous teaching and research awards.

Brigid T Brennan, Esq

General Counsel/Director of Advocacy/Board Director

Brigid T Brennan brings her legal training and passion for advocacy to the Board. As a former Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx, she investigated and tried misdemeanor and felony cases. She also worked for Matthew Bender & Co, helping to revise a legal treatise on evidence rules. When she left to raise her family, Brigid continued her passion for the law helping to identify, draft and advocate for legal changes that would benefit the lives of women, children and the elderly. Her commitment to the community includes numerous volunteer leadership roles in the government, non-profit and religious sectors.

Brigid has a B.A. from the University of Rochester and a J.D. from Fordham University. She is a member of the bar in New York & New Jersey.

Alex Fielding

Vice President of Operations, Fielding Manufacturing Inc.

Alex Fielding earned his M.S. in Chemical Engineering from Bucknell University. He started his career in a leadership development program at Saint-Gobain, working in various research, process and manufacturing engineering roles. Alex was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia in 2014. Upon receiving the diagnosis, he began researching the science behind FA and getting involved with FARA fundraising and advocacy efforts.

Alex is currently the Vice President of Operations at Fielding Manufacturing Inc. – a small, family-owned manufacturer in RI producing custom component zinc castings and plastic molded parts serving a variety of industries. He continues to support FARA as a FA Ambassador (serving on the leadership team for several years), through fundraising campaigns (notably an active member of the Race for Matt & Grace committee, the local RI event fundraising for FARA), and by assisting with various projects and events in the FARA-community. Alex understands the balance between urgency and scientific discipline required to develop treatments for FA.

Jennifer L. Good

President and CEO, Trevi Therapeutics

Jennifer Good is the co-founder of Trevi Therapeutics and serves as the Company's President and Chief Executive Officer. Trevi is a drug development company founded in 2011 that is currently focused on developing orphan drugs in kidney disease. Prior to founding Trevi, Ms. Good successfully led the transition of a publicly traded life sciences company, Penwest Pharmaceuticals Co., from a development stage company to generating annual revenues in excess of $50 million with strong profitablility. At Penwest, Ms. Good oversaw the development of A0001 in Friedreich's Ataxia from preclinical through a successful Phase 2 trial. Penwest was sold in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Ms. Good received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a Concentration in Accounting from Pacific Lutheran University in 1987 and is a Certified Public Accountant licensed by the State of Washington, although her license is currently inactive. Ms. Good has previously served on the boards of two publicly traded companies. In 2007, Ms. Good received the Connecticut Technology Counsel's Small Business Innovation and Leadership Award.

Thomas Hamilton

CEO and President of Conforms Inc.
CEO of Esser-Werke GmbH &Co KG

Holly Hedrick, MD

Pediatric Surgeon and Louise Schnaufer Endowed Chair
in Pediatric Surgery, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Derek G. Hennecke


Derek Hennecke was the founder of a contract development manufacturing company specialized in developing clinical Phase I-III drug products. Derek started the company in 2006 and sold it to a large multinational in 2016.

Derek began as a molecular biologist developing APIs in the late 1980's. Fluent in four languages, he developed international joint ventures and pharma services businesses around the world, including Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Mexico and Egypt.

Dr. Steve Klasko

President, Thomas Jefferson University
President & CEO, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital System

Dr. Stephen K. Klasko is President and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and the TJUH System, located in Philadelphia, PA. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is ranked among the Top 20 hospitals nationwide by US News & World Report. Thomas Jefferson University includes Jefferson Medical College, one of the largest private medical schools in the country, and the Jefferson Schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions, Population Health and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. With a degree in medicine from Hahnemann University and an MBA from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Klasko is using his unique blend of experience to bridge the art and science of medicine with today's business and technology challenges. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology from Lehigh University.

Dr. Klasko is recognized as a national leader in healthcare management and is passionate and optimistic about the transformation of healthcare delivery, education, and the use of technology to create and enable new models. He has been appointed a trustee for the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology and was named by Healthcare IT News as one of the ten rising stars in healthcare information technology. For the previous nine years, Dr. Klasko served as the CEO of USF Health and Dean of the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida. Prior to joining USF, he held several leadership positions in the College of Medicine at Drexel University and served as CEO of Drexel University Physicians.

Dr. Klasko has served as President of the Maimonides Society, an organization of physician volunteers, and is the founding President of Spirit of Women, a grassroots woman's health marketing and health improvement program. He is married to Colleen Wyse, a magazine publishing executive and has three children: Lynne, David and Jill.

Dr. Katherine Mathews

Vice Chair for Clinical Investigation
Director, Muscular Dystrophy Clinic and Iowa Neuromuscular Program
Professor of Pediatrics - General Neurology
University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

Dr. Mathews has a longstanding interest in neuromuscular diseases, particularly those affecting children. She completed a fellowship in genetics following her training in pediatrics and child neurology. Her initial research activities involved genetic mapping of facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD). Dr. Mathews then transitioned to clinical research. She has directed a natural history and outcome measure study of the dystroglycanopathies, a group of rare types of muscular dystrophy, as part of the NIH-supported Iowa Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Specialized Research Center for 15 years. As co-PI of the Iowa MDSTARnet site she has participated in the development and growth of this CDC-sponsored epidemiologic study of muscular dystrophies since 2005. She has also led the University of Iowa's participation in the FARA-sponsored Collaborative Clinical Research Network in Friedreich Ataxia since 2007. Dr. Mathews continues to be active in the clinic, caring for patients with all types of neuromuscular diseases. Her goal throughout all these activities has been to improve care of children and adults with neuromuscular diseases and to support development of the next generation of clinical investigators.

James McArthur, PhD

President and Chief Executive Officer of PepGen

James McArthur currently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of PepGen and serves on the company’s Board of Directors. James has 25+ years of industry experience, has cofounded 5 biotechnology companies, 3 of which were acquired, and has served as a Director of two companies through successful initial public offerings. He was founding CEO of Imara, a public company developing therapies for sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia, co-founder and President of R&D of Cydan, a rare disease accelerator, and founding CSO of Synovex/Adheron, a rheumatology therapy company acquired by Roche. Prior to these companies, James held senior research leadership roles in several pioneering gene and stem cell therapy companies. He was a Venture Partner at RA Capital and an entrepreneur in residence at HealthCare Ventures. James was previously a post-doctoral fellow at MIT and UC Berkeley working with Drs. David Raulet and Nobel Laureate James Allison, before which he received his PhD in molecular oncology and BSc in biochemistry from McGill University in Montreal.

Tony Plohoros

Principal at 6 Degrees PR

Pat Ritschel


Pat holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, and has over 20 years of experience in business management, business development, technology licensing, equipment/product sales, and engineering. Pat has plant operations/maintenance experience with Air Products and Chemicals, later joining Monsanto Enviro-Chem Systems where he held a variety of design engineering, sales, and business management positions. In 2003, he relocated to Hong Kong to lead the Asia-Pacific business of Monsanto Enviro-Chem and in 2005, he joined other members of senior management to acquire the company in a management buyout. From 2005 - 2010, Pat led the Asia-Pacific business of the privately held company, establishing local entities and growing the business significantly. Following the sale of the company to DuPont in 2010, Pat relocated to Wilmington, Delaware as Director, Business Development for DuPont Clean Technologies. Pat has served as a Director of Monsanto Far East Ltd, MECS Far East Limited, MECS Shanghai, MECS-Tongren Joint Venture, Monsanto-DMCC Joint Venture, MECS India Private Limited, and MECS Enterprises Private Limited. Pat left DuPont in 2013 and is focused on supporting FARA to find a cure for FA.

James R. Rusche, PhD

Senior Vice President, Director of Research and Development, Repligen - retired

Dr. Rusche has over 30 years experience in pharmaceutical development and biotechnology. He received his PhD from University of Florida and was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University before joining Repligen Corporation. During his career he co-founded two drug discovery companies, ProsCure and Glycan, and advanced multiple novel drugs from research to clinical trials in the USA and Europe. Dr. Rusche has authored more than 50 original scientific articles and holds numerous patents. At Repligen, Dr. Rusche was responsible for research, drug and product development, and clinical manufacturing. Ten new molecules were advanced from research to clinical trials in immunology, cardiovascular disease, and CNS diseases (spinal muscular atrophy, autism, bipolar disease, and Friedreich's ataxia).

Dr. Rusche recently retired from Repligen as Senior Vice President, Director of Research and Development. Dr. Rusche has worked on Friedreich's ataxia drug discovery and development for the last 10 years. This work included advancing the HDAC inhibitors to clinical trial in Friedreich patients and licensing the program for further development. Dr. Rusche is also a member of the FARA Scientific Advisory Board serving on imaging, biomarker, and clinical development committees.

Board Member Emeritus

Edward Ramsey

Co-Owner and Vice President, Taylor Ramsey Corporation - Retired
Vice President, BEPCO - Timber and Land Development Company

Mr. Edward Ramsey is currently the Vice Pres and Sec. of Taylor-Ramsey Corp. – a producer and distributor of forest products and Vice Pres. of BEPCO- a timber and land development company. Mr. Ramsey graduated from Washington and Lee University. Mr. Ramsey as well as one brother and one sister have FA. Ed knows the urgency in finding a treatment/cure for FA and is working with the dedicated team at FARA to this end.

Ron Bartek

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Jennifer Farmer
, MS
Chief Executive Officer
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Barbara Tate
, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
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Ruth Acton
Director of Finance Administration and Human Resources
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Elisabetta Soragni
, PhD
Director of Research
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Myriam Rai
, PhD
Director of Global Relations & Initiatives
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Layne Rodden
, PhD
Director of Patient Engagement
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Cait Monette

Director of Clinical Operations
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Felicia DeRosa
Vice President- Fundraising and Communications
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Jamie Dean

Executive Administrative Assistant & Director of Special Projects
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Kyle Bryant

rideATAXIA Founder & Director
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Ann Musheno

Manager of Grassroots Fundraising
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Erin Goerss

Database Manager/ Development Associate
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Alexandria Kinsey

Communications & Social Media Coordinator
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Naseem Baksh

Administrative & Program Assistant
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Blair DeSaw

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Lawrence Phillips

Graphic Support


FARA Founding Board of Directors

Ronald J. Bartek, President / Director / Co-Founder
Retired U.S. Government Official; Business Consultant

Grant Curtis, Vice President / Director
Retired Executive, Coca-Cola Co.; Business Consultant

Marilyn Downing, Secretary / Director
Teacher / Diagnostician, Special Education

Terrence Downing, Treasurer
Certified Financial Planner and Certified Public Accountant

Raychel Bartek, Director / Co-Founder
US House of Representatives Staff Member

Mary Caruso, Fundraising Director
Small Business Owner

Fraser Goodmurphy, Communications Director

Sandy Lane, Director
Small Business Owner

Martin Litke, Director
Founder Seek A Miracle (SAM)

Rochelle Litke, Director
Founder Seek A Miracle (SAM)

Dr. Bronya Keats, Scientific Director
Geneticist, Louisiana State University

Dr. Massimo Pandolfo, Scientific Director
Neurologist, University of Montreal

Dr. Robert Wilson, Scientific Director
Geneticist, University of Pennsylvania

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