Board of Directors

Robert DeBenedetto

Founder, President & CEO

Robert DeBenedetto has over 25 years of global pharmaceutical / life sciences experience. Robert founded SFJ Pharmaceuticals® in January of 2009 on a premise that there was a better way to fund and conduct clinical trials globally. This premise is now a reality with SFJ Pharmaceuticals® as the premier global funding partner for many of the world’s largest pharma companies, with SFJ Pharmaceuticals® now having a proven track record of drug approvals with many more drugs with trials successfully completed and in regulatory submission. Prior to joining SFJ Pharmaceuticals®, Robert was Vice President of Global Business Development at Quintiles Transnational’s, pharmaceuticals investment unit. Preceding that Robert was Executive Committee Member, CFO, V.P. of Corporate Development, and V.P. of Corporate Marketing for Boston Scientific’s Japan subsidiary with 800 employees and sales exceeding $600 million. Robert spent the first 9 years of his professional career as a CPA with E&Y, advising some of the world’s largest companies. To date Robert has been involved in approximately 100 acquisitions, mergers, licensing and partnering arrangements valued at over $10 billion. Robert has a Master’s Degree from Bentley University and presently a Senior Adviser at Blackstone Life Sciences.

James Abell

James Abell

James retired in 2019 after more than 20 years as Abingworth’s CFO responsible for finance, compliance and administration as well as investment matters, focusing on start-up companies. His directorships have included Avillion, SFJ Pharmaceuticals, Chroma Therapeutics, Clinical Designs and Syntaxin. James has been retained as a Senior Adviser concentrating on clinical co-development deals.

Previously James was CFO of Prolifix, a start-up biotech company. He trained and qualified as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG and holds a degree in Biology with Chemistry from the University of Southampton.

Bruce Bouchard

Bruce is the former CFO of SFJ Pharmaceuticals® and currently serves as a Senior Advisor to the SFJ assisting with deal negotiation and structuring of collaboration agreements with our Partners.  In addition he is a founding and managing partner of Pleasanton Pharma Ventures, a private equity fund that was established to co-invest in the SFJ collaborations alongside Blackstone and Abingworth.  Prior to joining SFJ, Bruce served as a partner and the Global Biotechnology Sector Tax Leader for Ernst & Young LLP.  For 32 years, he provided advice and counsel to clients and other partners on life science industry related matters including structuring transactions, collaborations, joint ventures, and license arrangements, intellectual property planning and migration, global and domestic supply chain planning, pre-IPO planning, and equity based incentive programs. He presented at many EY sponsored client events and was a frequent speaker at industry organization events sponsored by BIO and Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.  Bruce served as a member of the BIO tax and finance committee.


Bruce received an MBA from Bentley University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree from Merrimack College. He is a past Chairman of the Board of a State Affiliate of the American Heart Association, past President of the Board of a local affiliate of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association and a current Member of the Board of Trustees of Merrimack College.

Emmett Cunningham, Jr., MD

Emmett Cunningham, Jr., Blackstone Life Sciences

Emmett Cunningham is a Senior Managing Director in the Blackstone Life Sciences group, having joined Blackstone as part of its acquisition of Clarus in December of 2018. Dr. Cunningham joined Clarus in 2006 as a Principal.


Dr. Cunningham has led investments in the medical technology, and biotechnology space including partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. Prior to joining Clarus, Dr. Cunningham was the Senior Vice President, Medical Strategy at Eyetech Pharmaceuticals, Inc. where he led the team that developed Macugen, a first-in-class product for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration. Prior to Eyetech, Dr. Cunningham was at Pfizer, Inc (NYSE: PFE). Dr. Cunningham is an internationally recognized specialist in infectious and inflammatory eye disease with over 350 publications.


Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Board of Directors of Annexon Biosciences, Galera Therapeutics, Graybug Vision, Lumos Pharma, and SFJ Pharmaceuticals Group, and serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI). Dr. Cunningham is the founder and chairman of the Ophthalmology Innovation Summit (OIS) symposium held in conjunction with the annual meetings of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.

Jorge Puente, MD

Jorge Puente

Jorge has had an extensive career in many areas of the pharmaceutical industry since joining 25 years ago. He served most recently as President of the Asia and Canada regions for Pfizer’s oncology unit and was simultaneously the head of Oncology Clinical Development for China. Given his unique research and regulatory expertise, Jorge achieved many “firsts” including approvals of Pfizer’s key oncology agents in record time in both Japan and China, leading to a 500% increase in revenues in the region during his tenure.


Jorge served most recently as President of the Asia and Canada regions for Pfizer’s oncology unit and was simultaneously the head of Oncology Clinical Development for China. He was selected as one of the 3 role models studied as part of the leadership training given to Pfizer’stop 700 executives. In his prior positions, Jorge undertook leadership roles in the development of many of Pfizer’s blockbusters.


Jorge has led development programs in the US, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. He served as medical head in China and in Japan. Prior to joining Pfizer he had an academic career at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, where he was the youngest faculty to receive the Salomon Berson Award for Excellence in Medical Teaching.

Kurt von Emster

Kurt von Emster, CFA Managing Partner Menlo Park

Kurt joined Abingworth in January 2015 bringing over 25 years of experience in life science investment. He began his career as a biotechnology and healthcare analyst in 1990, and then was promoted to Vice President and Portfolio Manager at Franklin Templeton. Kurt then became a General Partner at MPM Capital in 2000. In 2009, he co-founded venBio, a US healthcare investment firm and most recently was a Partner in the San Francisco office. He holds board positions at CymaBay, Jasper Therapeutics, Orbus Therapeutics, SFJ Pharmaceuticals, Tizona Therapeutics, Trishula Therapeutics, Vaxcyte and Vera Therapeutics.  He was formerly on boards at Aurinia, CRISPR Therapeutics, Cytos, Kesios, Facet and Somaxon. Kurt holds a Bachelor of Science in Business and Economics and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.

William Young

William Young, Blackstone Life Sciences

William Young is a Senior Advisor to the Blackstone Life Sciences group.

Mr. Young became a Venture Partner with Clarus in 2010.  Mr. Young previously served as CEO of Monogram Biosciences, a leader in personalized medicine, from 1999 through to the sale of the company to LabCorp in 2009. Mr. Young currently serves on the Board of Directors of Vertex (NASDAQ: VRTX) and is the lead director at Theravance (NASDAQ:TBPH). Previously he was Chairman of the Board of Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB). Prior to Monogram he was at Genentech since 1980 at positions of increasing responsibility, including COO, responsible for all of the biotechnology company’s development, operations and commercial functions. Prior to Genentech Mr. Young was at Eli Lilly and Company for fourteen years.


Mr. Young received his Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University, his MBA from Indiana University and an honorary doctorate in engineering from Purdue University. In 1993 he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his leadership in research, development and manufacturing of recombinant proteins using recombinant DNA technology. Mr. Young represents Blackstone on the Board of Directors of Praxis Medicine and is the Chairman of the Board of Annexon Biosciences and Nanostring (NASDAQ: NSTG).