Joan Fallon’s Tireless Pursuit to Help Kids with Autism
Joan Fallon will never forget a meeting she had with a family a few years ago.
In the meeting, Joan—CEO and founder of Curemark, a biopharmaceutical company doing clinical trials for autism and ADHD drugs—sat down with a boy with autism and his parents to discuss her research.
“The boy was virtually nonverbal, and he was seemingly not paying attention to the conversation,” recalls Joan. “When they left my office, the parents wanted to pay me for my time. I explained that I was happy to spend the time with them and didn’t expect to be paid.
“After I said that, the child came over and gave me this huge hug. He was clearly very aware and wanted to tell me how much he appreciated what I was doing.”
It’s this type of encounter that propels Joan, who is on a mission to pioneer a breakthrough in autism treatment. One of her biggest discoveries, for which she secured a patent in 2003: a gut-brain connection that may link autism to an enzyme that digests protein.
Joan, a Girl Scout alum who was trained as a pediatric chiropractor, began her own autism research in the late 1980s and early 1990s when she saw patient after patient who showed signs of the condition. Four years after she secured her first patent, she opened Curemark in Rye, New York, not far from the Westchester County home she grew up in and where her mother was her troop leader.
Since then, she has raised over $60 million to fund her research and develop clinical trials and drug testing protocols on autism, a condition that affects one in 59 people but currently has no FDA-approved medications to treat it.
It’s her patient-centered focus that may appeal most to potential investors.
“Our hashtag is #ItsAllAboutTheKids, and I think that’s important, because our motivation is always to think about these children,” says Joan about Curemark, which has also developed innovative therapies for such conditions as schizophrenia and addiction. “Our focus has always been on who can get the drugs to them in the fastest, most comprehensive way. That’s what drives us to work as hard as we can to reach that goal.”
This determination to fast-track an autism drug is of utmost importance, given that today virtually everyone has been touched by the issue.
“Whether it’s a school buddy of your children, a neighbor, or your own child, everyone has been touched by autism now,” she says. “Compared to when I started, there’s so much awareness about autism, and that has made a big difference in terms of the urgency to try to find therapies that can help these patients.”