Management Team

Yutaka Niihara, MD, MPHChief Executive Officer

Dr. Niihara has been involved in patient care and research for sickle cell disease for most of his career, and is the principal inventor of the patented L-glutamine therapy for treatment of sickle cell disease. He is a cofounder of Emmaus, principal investigator for LABioMed at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

His experience includes serving as President, Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director of Hope International Hospice. A board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine/Hematology, Dr. Niihara is licensed to practice medicine in both the U.S. and Japan. His honors include the Life Time Achievement Award, from the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of California and the Abigail Kawananako Award. Dr. Niihara received his B.A. in Religion from Loma Linda University, obtained his M.D. degree from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1986, and received his MPH from Harvard School of Public Health in 2006.


Willis C. Lee, MS Chief Operating Officer

Mr. Lee has more than 25 years of management and consulting experience with influential companies in the semiconductor and healthcare industries. Prior to joining Emmaus, Mr. Lee led worldwide sales and business development of Yield Dynamics’ product group at MKS Instruments. He joined the Company in 2009 and has served as Chief Operating Officer since May 2011.

He has held various managerial and senior positions at companies including HPL, Syntricity and Reden & Anders, a subsidiary of United Healthcare that provides actuarial services including capitation and risk assessment analyses for healthcare insurance carriers. Mr. Lee received his B.S. and M.S. in Physics from University of Hawaii and University of South Carolina, respectively. He was a member of the American Physical Society, completed TQM/SPC programs, and has published papers in Nuclear Instruments and Methods.


Lan T. Tran, MPH - Co-President, Chief Administrative Officer and Corporate Secretary

Ms. Tran joined Emmaus in 2008 and serves as Co-President, Chief Administrative Officer and Corporate Secretary. Previously, Ms. Tran was with LABioMed, serving in a variety of roles including Grants and Contracts Officer, Director, Pre-Clinical/Clinical Trials Unit, and Assistant Vice President, Research Administration.

In her position as Director, Pre-Clinical/Clinical Trials Unit and Assistant Vice President, Research Administration, Ms. Tran was part of the executive management team of LABioMed and responsible for all administrative aspects of research in her assigned area at LABioMed, which had a research budget of $61,000,000 in 2008. Ms. Tran holds a B.S. in Psychobiology from UCLA and a Masters of Public Health from UCLA.


Yasushi Nagasaki, CPA - Senior Vice President, Finance

Mr. Nagasaki joined Emmaus in 2011 and is the Senior Vice President, Finance of the company. Prior to joining Emmaus, Mr. Nagasaki was Chief Financial Officer and served on the board of directors at Hexadyne Corporation, an aerospace and defense supplier. Previously, he was Controller at Upsilon Intertech Corporation, an international distributor of defense and aerospace parts and subsystems.

Mr. Nagasaki is a Certified Public Accountant and received a B.A. in Commerce from Waseda University and a M.A. in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a graduate school of Middlebury College. 


Charles Stark, Pharm.D. - Senior Vice President of Research and Development

Mr. Stark has served as Emmaus’ Senior Vice President of Research and Development since 2013, bringing more than 30 years of experience in medical affairs, research and academia. Previously, Dr. Stark was Director of Clinical Development at Bavarian Nordic, an immunotherapeutic company, and prior to that Associate Director of Medical Affairs for the Dendreon Corporation, an immunotherapeutic company. He has served as, Director, Medical Science Liaisons (cardiovascular, metabolic and oncology) at Pfizer, Inc., a pharmaceutical company.

Dr. Stark has served as the Director of Investigational Drug Services and Clinical Research at LABioMed at Harbor UCLA and at the Health Research Association at USC Medical Center. He has also served as a faculty member at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. Dr. Stark received his Pharm.D. from the University of Southern California and completed his residency at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in West Los Angeles.


Kurt Kruger, Chief Financial Officer

Mr. Kruger has enjoyed a 30-plus year career in the life sciences industry.  His deep involvement in the field has ranged from product design and development as a biomedical engineer to raising capital for, and following, publicly traded medical products companies as an equities research analyst.  Prior to joining Emmaus, Mr. Kruger headed up the life sciences investment banking team at WR Hambrecht + Co.  Early in his career he served as a marketing manager for CPI/Guidant, now Boston Scientific, a large pacemaker company, where he developed the launch plans for the first-ever implantable defibrillator.  Mr. Kruger then went on to Wall Street where he continued to work in life sciences as a high-profile equities research analyst for Hambrecht & Quist and Montgomery Securities (BofA) --firms that played significant roles in funding many of the notable biotechnology and medical products companies such as Genentech, Amgen, Ventritex, Cytyc and Kyphon.

Mr. Kruger received an Sc.B. degree in Biomedical Engineering from Brown University; a Master’s degree in Bioengineering from The University of Michigan; and a business degree (S.M) from the Sloan School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He also completed the premedical post-baccalaureate program at Columbia University.


Dale E. Short, General Counsel

Mr. Short joined Emmaus in September 2018 as the company’s first General Counsel.  Prior to joining Emmaus, he served for more than 20 years as Chairman of the Corporate Department TroyGould PC, Los Angeles, California. Mr.  Short has extensive expertise and experience in securities regulation, capital markets, mergers and acquisitions and corporate governance law matters, including for many publicly held life sciences.  He was named “2014 Los Angeles Securities Lawyer of the Year” in The Best Lawyers in America, and has been recognized by his peers as among the Best Lawyers® in the country in Securities Regulation and Securities/Capital Markets Law since 2008 and among Southern California Super Lawyers since 2003.  He has been a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Corporate Counsel, a joint venture of the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law and the Business Section of the Los Angeles Bar Association since 1997, and has been active in the State Bar of California as a member of the Working Group of the Opinions Committee and the Partnerships and Limited Liability Companies Committee of the Business Law Section from 2013-2106 and of the Partnerships and Limited Liability Companies Committee from 2009-2012.  Mr. Short holds a J.D. degree from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, where he was awarded The Order of the Coif and served on the University of Southern California Law Review, and a B.S. degree from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, where he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honors society.