Eileen has been a long-time member of the Highmark family. She spent 17 years at Highmark, Inc. in various roles, including health plan operations, product management, and development. She joined the VITAL innovation program team in 2015. Eileen is excited about the opportunity to truly affect a return on health for our customers and in accelerating valuable new health care solutions. She has a BS in communication and psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. Eileen lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Rick, three daughters, and cuddly pooch. She enjoys spending time with them, traveling to new locations, riding the latest roller coasters, watching movies, being outdoors, and reading for relaxation.
Benjamin Echeazu, MBA, PharmD
Benjamin brings ten years of strategic sales and business development experience across multiple industries in the US and International markets. He achieved a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (Pharm.D) from Saint John’s University in New York and an MBA from Henley Business School in the UK.
Benjamin’s previous experiences include; working in the pharmaceutical, automotive and healthcare consulting industries. In the pharmaceutical industry he worked with Key Opinion Leaders and commercialization teams in the development and execution of medical marketing strategy that drove the growth of a diabetes franchise in US and UK markets. In the automotive sector, Benjamin managed B2B and B2G business development activities between the US and emerging markets in Africa. In his most recent role Benjamin worked with Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) to develop international market expansion plans for its new growth initiative, targeting the healthcare landscape, GLG-Institute.
As a healthcare practitioner and commercial manager Benjamin is truly aligned with VITAL’s goal of accelerating the adoption of best in class innovative solutions that deliver value to the healthcare ecosystem. Outside of work, Benjamin enjoys cycling, fitness training, exploring local culinary experiences and international travel.
Nicole Fitzpatrick, PhD
Nicole is passionate about creating an environment where new medical interventions reach the patients who need them. Her experience as a neuroscience research associate at PsychoGenics, Inc. drove her to complete her PhD in neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. Realizing the extensive time delay between basic research and deployment of new treatments to patients, Nicole joined the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, where she managed programs focused on accelerating medical innovations to commercialization. In her current role as a VITAL research manager, Nicole manages teams of clinician researchers and industry partners.
Gerard Odafe, MBA
Gerard brings more than six years of project management and Lean operations experience to VITAL across multiple disciplines. In his current role, Gerard supports portfolio management, business operations and reporting for the VITAL team. A graduate of the University of Dayton (B.S. Mechanical Engineering), he completed his MBA at Baldwin-Wallace University with a focus on Healthcare Administration. Prior to Highmark Health, Gerard managed projects for the Cleveland Clinic supporting Continuous Improvement & Strategic Growth. He also has experience working in the Oil & Gas Industry as well as Defense/Aerospace. Outside of work, Gerard enjoys live music, running 5Ks, and exploring Pittsburgh.
Rajesh Chitturi, MS, MBA
In his current role with VITAL, Rajesh works with various stakeholders to gather information, design studies, and extract and analyze data to evaluate medical innovations. He has an MS in business analytics from the University of Connecticut and an MS in Business Management from Lund University in Sweden. Rajesh worked in data analytics for the media, consulting, business process outsourcing, and health care industries for more than six years. He is passionate about VITAL’s goal of accelerating patient access to medical innovations. Outside of work, Rajesh enjoys being outdoors and watching movies.
Ericka Holmstrand, PhD
Ericka worked as a biomedical researcher for more than 14 years, conducting neuroscience experiments across a range of disciplines, including molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, fluorescence and electron microscopy imaging, and animal behavior. She received her BS in systems neuroscience from Brown University in 2000 and her PhD in neuroscience from University of Pittsburgh in 2010. Following postdoctoral work in neuropharmacology at Vanderbilt University, Ericka transitioned to a data analytics role, producing custom analyses of state reading and mathematics results for K-12 educational technology customers. She joined the VITAL team in 2017, excited by the opportunity to support effective and transformative innovation in health care. In her spare time, Ericka enjoys home renovation projects, exploring Pittsburgh, and traveling to new places.
Suneera Bhatia, MS, MBA
Suneera joins the VITAL program from The University of Pittsburgh, where she was a Portfolio Manager for the Coulter Program. The Coulter program is a prestigious national initiative with an objective of identifying, selecting, developing, and commercializing promising Bioengineering technologies from 16 schools in the US. Most recently she was selected to coach 2 NIH teams (with RO1 and SBIR awards) to help advance their technologies. She brings expertise in medical device commercialization and has a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and an MBA with specialization in finance. Suneera is zealous about delivering innovative technologies to improve health care. Even in her prior roles in Investment Banking and Engineering sales, she primarily worked with healthcare companies. Both Suneera and her husband love travelling, and will also be seen frequently at Benedum Theater.
Kenneth Rayl, MBA
Kenneth joined the VITAL team in April 2018 and brings over 12 years of expertise in designing and managing clinical research studies. Prior to joining VITAL, Kenneth worked at Allegheny Health Network’s Research Institute where he championed several clinical research trials studying new medical devices, therapies, and medications. Kenneth is extremely excited about being part of the VITAL team and the opportunity to bring new innovations to the medical community. Kenneth earned his bachelors of science in Biological Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh and recently earned his MBA from Carlow University. Kenneth is local to Pittsburgh and lives with his wife and twin boys in Pittsburgh’s North Hills. In his spare time, Kenneth likes to remain active by exercising, playing golf, and playing baseball in a local recreational baseball league.
Sarah Ahmad, MA, MBA
Sarah is an accomplished health care executive focused on making it easier for people to achieve their best health. In her current role, she leads Highmark Health’s transformation to human-centered, value-based care. Prior to joining Highmark, Sarah was vice president of Innovation at Humana Health Care. She led the charge to apply design thinking to develop solutions to stop chronic disease progression. Sarah holds a BA in psychology from Tulane University, an MA in health services management from Webster University, and an MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship from the University of Louisville. Sarah and her husband have two children and recently relocated to Pittsburgh from Louisville, her lifelong home. She thrives on community involvement and recently joined the Tull Family Theater Board of Directors in Sewickley, PA. She also enjoys running and has completed the New York City and Chicago marathons.