Meet the River BioMedics' team


Nicky Cooper
Chief Executive Officer

Nicky has a background in biology and a PhD in pharmacology from the University of Greenwich, and more than 30-years’ experience in drug discovery. She has served in a range of lead drug discovery positions, including head of discovery at Sosei Group and Acacia Pharma, CSO at Peptinnovate and VP Drug Discovery Alliances at C4X Discovery. Nicky’s experience and knowhow in drug discovery is key for River BioMedics’ drug discovery strategy and execution.

Marcelo Ribeiro
Chief Scientific Officer

Marcelo holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Lisbon University, Portugal. In 2008 he moved to the Netherlands, where he completed his Masters in Drug Innovation at Utrecht University. He performed his PhD research at the department of Anatomy and Embryology of the Leiden University Medical Center on hiPSC derived cardiomyocyte maturation and disease modelling, and thereafter held a Postdoc position at the department of Applied Stem Cell Technologies at the University of Twente. Marcelo performed his scientific research with an entrepreneurial spirit and the ultimate goal of societal valorization. 

Lisanne Blauw
Chief Operational Officer

Lisanne has a unique combined background in Medicine and Biomedical Engineering. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Medicine at Leiden University, and decided thereafter to make the switch to the Master of Biomaterials & Tissue Biomechanics at Delft University of Technology. Lisanne holds a PhD in Medicine from Leiden University on genetic epidemiology of cardiovascular diseases. 


Julian Gilbert

Julian has more than 30 years of commercial and technical experience in the pharmaceutical industry gained at a number of companies including Chiroscience, Mundipharma, BTG and GSK. Most recently, Julian was co-founder and CEO of Acacia Pharma Group, a hospital pharmaceutical company, raising c.£100m in private and public funding to develop and commercialise BARHEMSYS®. Prior to this, he was co-founder and Commercial Director of Arakis Ltd, a specialist pharmaceutical company, that was sold to Sosei in 2005 having licensed Seebri®/Ultibro® to Novartis. Julian has a degree in pharmacy and a PhD in pharmaceutics, both from the University of Nottingham and is currently the Chairman and Non-Executive Director of Exvastat, and a Non-Executive Director of Nuformix and Monument Therapeutics.

Robert Passier
Scientific founder

Robert is Professor and Chair of the Department of Applied Stem Cell Technologies of the University of Twente and Professor at the Department of Anatomy and Embryology of the Leiden University Medical Center. His research group focuses on cardiac disease modelling based on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC). He has extensive experience on cardiotoxicity and cardiac disease using hPSC-derived cardiomyocytes. Besides, Robert is leading  the research theme “heart disease” of the Institute for Human Organ and Disease Model Technologies (hDMT). 

Rianne Ellenbroek
Non-executive director

Rianne is investment manager of the FIRST fund at BioGeneration Ventures (BGV) since 2020. Prior to joining BGV, Rianne was an associate in the healthcare investment team of INKEF Capital. She is a medical biologist by training and obtained her PhD at Leiden University that was focused on regenerative medicine for metabolic diseases, while performing part of her activities at Galapagos. Afterwards she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago. Next to performing her research, she was a fellow at the university’s Technology Transfer Office which has sparked her interest in the early stages of life sciences ventures.

Johan Sebregts
Non-executive director

Johan Sebregts is co-founder and managing partner of the early stage investment funds KIKK Capital and the Zeeland Investment fund. Before that, he was founder and director of the start-up program Starterslift. Johan is also non-executive director of the biotech companies Toxys and Pepscope.


Tom Boonen

Tom obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Medicine, learning about the technical needs and requirements of hospitals, and performing research on de-cellularising pig arteries for use as coronary bypass grafts. Afterwards, he made the switch to the Master of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Twente with a specialisation in Bio-nanotechnology and Advanced Bio-manufacturing. He gained extensive knowhow on organ-on-a-chip models during several internships. He worked, among others, on a myocardial ischaemia model on-a-chip. Tom aims to translate research into viable products and make them available to the rest of the world.

Sasja Blokzijl-Franke

Sasja obtained her Master’s degree in Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Amsterdam. Afterwards, she started her PhD at the Hubrecht Institute, Utrecht, in the den Hertog lab. Here she studied hematopoeisis in the developing zebrafish, mainly focusing on hematopoiectic stem/progenitor cells.
With her research, she aims to develop effective treatments to heart disease.

Chloë Kaal
Assistant Scientist

Chloë holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Radboud University Nijmegen, specialized in medical and molecular biology. She holds a master’s degree in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease from the Radboud University Nijmegen, focused on studying underlying processes of disease and translating them into treatments for patients. During her internship and employment at the University of Twente in the group of prof. Passier, she worked on maturation of hiPSC-derived cardiomyocytes in a heart-on-chip model. Chloë aims to translate research on heart disease models to effective treatment for patients.

Anke Vollertsen

Anke has a Master’s degree in Biophysics from the Humboldt University of Berlin and completed her PhD in the BIOS Lab on a chip group at the University of Twente. During her PhD and postdoc she focused on the parallelization and automation of microfluidic cell culture. As part of her work, she contributed to the development of the Translational Organ-on-Chip Platform which uses standardized interfacing of (bio)microfluidic modules to create a ‘plug and play’ system. Anke aims to use microfluidic technology to streamline and optimize the creation and maintenance of heart tissues for disease modeling.


Marcel Zwaal
Strategy advisor

Marcel holds a Master degree in corporate finance from the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, and has over 15-years of experience in business development in pharmaceutical and biotech companies. He served in a range of management positions, including director of business control and planning at Crucell, CEO at DC Prime, director of corporate development at Galapagos and senior VP corporate development at Kiadis. Marcel’s extensive expertise has been instrumental in the development of River BioMedics.