Foundation Fighting Blindness announces leadership changes

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Jason Menzo is named CEO, while Russell Kelley, PhD, MBA, will become managing director of the RD Fund. Ben Yerxa, PhD, will take the helm of Opus Genetics, the first RD Fund- and foundation-backed spin-off company.

The Foundation Fighting Blindness today announced the promotions of Jason Menzo to 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.

Menzo will replace Ben Yerxa, PhD, who has served as CEO of the foundation since 2017. Yerxa is 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.

Yerxa noted that he was proud of the progress achieved during his nearly five years at the helm of the foundation, including the launch of the RD Fund, to advance the foundation’s philanthropy efforts.

“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,” he said in a news release. “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."

David Brint, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors and member of the RD Fund board of directors, lauded Yerxa for his service.

“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," Brint said in the news release. “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."

Menzo, who joined the foundation in 2018, has been involved with redefining the nonprofit's operations and engagement, including fiscal, fundraising, outreach, communications, and managerial operations.

According to the foundation’s news release, Menzo 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, Menzo is one of the founders of Opus Genetics, and was elevated to the role of president and chief operating officer of the foundation in January. Prior to joining 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," Menzo added in the statement.

Menzo noted in the release that the venture philanthropy model established with the RD Fund is a vehicle for this effort.

"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," he said in the release. "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."

According to the news release, 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 more than 25 years of experience advancing life science technologies to his new leadership role.

In his most recent role, Kelley served as the RD Fund's senior vice president of investments and alliances, responsible for identifying and managing external investment opportunities.

Before joining the foundation in 2018, 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, 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," Kelley said in the news release. "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, 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."