If someone you love has been diagnosed with autism or is suffering from a related disorder, it might seem as if there is not nearly enough being done to find the cause and a cure for this disease. After all, any amount of time is too long when someone you love is suffering. And while the medical field and world of drug research and drug development is notorious for taking its sweet time (and taking what feels like forever) to get anything done, rest assured there is at least one woman who is working fast and furiously to make a difference.
Meet Dr. Joan Fallon, the CEO and founder of Curemark, a biotech and biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and researching drugs to treat serious diseases with unmet medical needs. Most notably, Fallon and her team are using all their efforts and their resources to bring critical, life-changing pharmaceuticals to people living with autism.
Joan Fallon is a medicine maker with a knack for solving mysteries, getting to the bottom of problems that have puzzled others for years, and finding much-needed medical solutions for diseases such as Parkinson’s, schizophrenia and most notably, autism. Think of her as a medical Nancy Drew; she looks for connections and clues to indicate the cause of a disease and then she raises funding to lead clinical trials and drug research studies to develop effective treatments. She has the experience and passion to make a difference, and she’s changing the game for medical professionals, pharmaceutical companies and most importantly, for people living with autism.
Autism Affects Millions of Children Around the World
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects how a person interacts with others, learns, thinks, behaves and communicates. It can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
According to estimates from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, approximately 1 in 59 children have been identified as having ASD. This developmental disability does not discriminate and can occur in children of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic groups. While it most often is diagnosed in young children, and can be diagnosed as early as 18 months of age, it can also be identified later in life. It is considered to be a developmental disorder because more often than not it is diagnosed within the first two years of life, and it impacts a child’s development during their formative years.
There are known warning signs to look for when diagnosing autism, but there is still a lot we don’t know about what causes this disorder. And because it is a spectrum disorder — meaning it occurs on a scale with a wide range of conditions, symptoms, traits and severity — it can be hard for some people to understand, to diagnose and to treat.
There is Currently No Cure for Autism
Currently there is no cure for autism, and there is no known way to prevent ASD before it is diagnosed. There is also no cure to treat or prevent the core symptoms of autism. The best options to date are medications and treatments that can help those living with autism function better in daily life. Treatment regimens may include a combination of medication and therapy to help the patient maintain a healthy lifestyle, improve focus, prevent depression and improve communication skills. In addition, treatments such as speech therapy, sensory integration and physical therapy may all help someone with autism develop social and communication skills that are affected by this disorder, and may help with developmental delays.
To be clear, these are not cures. They are ways to help cope with symptoms, but they are not permanent fixes or proven ways to cure or prevent the illness. While experts are learning more about autism and some advances have been made in recent years, there is still so much we don’t know and so much more that could be done and that needs to be done.
Joan Fallon and Her Team at Caremark are on A Mission to Make a Change
Joan Fallon is not satisfied with the status quo in terms of autism treatment options. She and her team are on a mission to find life-changing treatments for people living with autism, and her ultimate goal is to find a cure for this disease, as well as other serious diseases that have unmet medical needs.
“Anyone who has done something great has been told no” – #RussellWilson @DangeRussWilson @Seahawks @jimmyfallon @Yankees #SpringTraining @wearedream @seahawksPR @NFLPlayerEngage @YankeesPR @NFL #persistence #GRIT pic.twitter.com/22gdqe0pXC
— Dr Joan Fallon (@CuremarkCEO) March 16, 2019
Fallon has a background in both clinical practices and academics; in the 1980’s and 1990’s she ran a private practice specializing in pediatric development, and she has also served as an Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Yeshiva University. She has over 20 years of experience researching autism and related disorders, and she is clearly well established in the medical field both on the clinical level as well as the academic front. Her observations in both of those arenas have contributed to her latest mission: finding a cure for autism. It all began with a medical observation after working with patients with autism. While each child with autism exhibited somewhat unique symptoms and had varied severity of those symptoms, they had some things in common. One important consistent observation was that each of those children are extremely high-carbohydrate, low-protein diets. Fallon investigated to see if that was simply a coincidence or a potential clue about what causes (and how we can treat) autism.
“I wanted to see if that was an accident,” she said in an article for Westchester Magazine. She tested some of her patients and found they all had low levels of a specific enzyme that digests protein. Since then, Fallon’s research has helped to investigate how this impaired protein digestion may impact a child’s ability to access essential amino acids in the body. And taking it a step further, she is investigating how that inability to process protein might ultimately impact neurological functioning in those individuals. If your head is spinning and it sounds like we just spoke in gibberish then you’re not alone, but the good news is that you don’t need to truly understand the scientific research behind this finding.
What you really need to know is that Fallon and her team made a potentially life-changing discovery, and that discovery led to founding of Curemark, a biotech company dedicated to creating and producing a treatment for children with autism.
Scientific Drug Research Isn’t all About Science
If you are a parent of a child with autism, or a patient dealing with any unmet medical condition, it can feel as if the science just isn’t there and the process of developing and researching a cure takes forever. It can also feel daunting trying to wrap your head around the treatment options and the scientific explanations of what is happening.
But Fallon wants to change all of that, and she’s approaching her drug research in a new way, a way that isn’t strictly scientific but actually an art form as well.
“I think that something many people do not know or do not understand is that medicine is both an art and a science,” she explained in a Forbes interview. “The science in many cases is quite clear cut; however, how that science is actually applied is an art. So while we have medical tools that we can apply to certain diagnostic or treatment paradigms, the employment of those tools – who, what, when where and why – is important.”
That’s one quality that makes Joan Fallon such a unique force in the medical research and biopharmaceutical world. To her it’s not just science. There is room for creativity and an opportunity to really look at all of the moving parts and pieces and find a solution that works for the people you are trying to help.
Fallon has also said that at the end of the day, everything she is working towards is to help the kids in need. She is approaching her research and her work in more of a top-down model that often leads to more creative solutions. While inductive, traditional medicine and drug development is clearly important, deductive reasoning is also crucial. Fallon and her team use a more deductive approach that is patient-focused and looks at the relationships of symptoms to gain scientific insights. That reasoning is how Fallon first identified the common enzyme deficiency that has the potential to change the way we approach autism treatment in the future.
“When I started Curemark I did so because I thought I had discovered something that may help patients. For me it was “all about the kids.” I had very little understanding when I started Curemark that it would take this long to move our drug technology through clinical trials,” she explained. But she continues to push forward, to focus on the patients who need these medical advancements and to be uncompromising in their mission to develop novel therapies for the treatment of autism and other neurological disorders.
Curemark is a Marriage Between Entrepreneurship and Medicine
Fallon vision and Curemark’s mission are quite unique in the medical research world. According to their website, Curemark is called a “clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company.” The company is on a mission to change the drug development industry by using disruptive technology to produce change. They want to change the way people think and the way we develop treatments.
Fallon talks a lot about how Curemark is not just a drug development company; it’s also an entrepreneurial venture. As with any startup, there are challenges, because you are trying to change the conversation. You are trying to put new ideas together, to alter the way things have been done in the past and to introduce new tools, concepts and in this case, life changing drugs to the world. Fallon notes that “bringing a drug through clinical trials and to market takes significant time and financing. Raising money and tackling things like manufacturing, finding and employing talent and recruiting subjects for a clinical trial is a challenge.” But they are taking risks, and are prepared to put in the work and the time to reach their end goal. They are changing the paradigm for medical research and are making discoveries that will help patients in the immediate future and for many years to come.
Fallon was Named Entrepreneur of The Year
In celebration of her work and to recognize Curemark’s efforts to find a cure for autism, Fallon was honored on the Top 40 Over 40 list in 2015. In addition, in June 2017 Fallon received the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 NY Award in the Healthcare category. In her acceptance speech Fallon said:
“Across the country, there are biotech companies like Curemark – that are small in size but driven by a huge mission. These companies are often born from promising new discoveries that ultimately become the entrepreneur’s lifelong work. These biotechs are tackling drug development from new angles to develop novel treatments to help our children and our family members to have the best quality of life possible. This award acknowledges that entrepreneurship is not defined by the size of the company, but rather by its impact. At Curemark, we will continue to work to raise awareness around autism and other unmet medical needs that impact our families and our communities. I am grateful to EY for acknowledging the importance of our mission.”
Change is on the Horizon, and Fallon is a Master Medicine Maker Behind this Shift
And with an unwavering dedication to achieving her mission, Curemark is closer than ever to developing a new drug treatment to cure autism symptoms and help children in need. The company’s lead drug candidate, CM-AT, is targeting the enzyme deficiency in children with autism. The drug in development is a replacement enzyme that targets the GI tract in an effort to impact neurological development. CM-AT has received “Fast Track” designation from the FDA and Curemark has also been granted a rolling review of its New Drug Application for CM-AT.
Once upon a time there were very few, if any, treatment options for children with autism. At best there were ways to help patients cope with their behavioral, sensory, speech or physical symptoms. But no treatment really targeted the core symptoms and there was no cure on the horizon. Curemark is changing that. The team is on a mission to bring this new drug treatment to children who need it. And for every setback in the process there is also a groundbreaking discovery propelling Fallon’s work forward. She and her team are changing the game for people with autism, and at the end of the day, helping these children and helping future generations is what Joan Fallon’s work is all about.