Joan Fallon, DC, was a typical pediatric chiropractor until she quit her practice eight years ago and evolved into a revolutionary autism researcher and biopharmaceutical executive. Seeing child after child in her practice exhibiting signs of autism spectrum disorders, she initiated her own research—and uncovered a common thread that was groundbreaking: Unusual appetites (including diets low in protein), which correlated with low levels of a specific digestive protease that cleaves essential amino acids that are critical for proper neurological function. Fallon secured her first patent for the breakthrough in 2003, and she went on to develop dozens more through Curemark, the Rye biopharmaceutical company she founded in 2004.
Today, Curemark has two drugs in phase III clinical stage trials for autism and ADHD, plus more in the pipeline for Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and addiction. The company has raised more than $60 million without the help of venture capital, which speaks to both the commercial promise that Dr. Fallon’s discoveries hold—there are no FDA-approved medications to treat core autism symptoms—as well as the viability of the patient-centric model Dr. Fallon deployed to get Curemark’s drugs into testing. “Drug discovery historically has been about looking at a novel molecule, understanding how it works, and retrofitting that into a clinical disease. But we weren’t looking to discover a drug, we were looking at patients,” she says.