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Lisa Carlton, PhD: Fighting Rare Diseases as a Mother, Patient Advocate and Regulatory Affairs Professional

About this episode:

Lisa Carlton, PhD, understands rare childhood diseases both professionally and personally. She was already a scientist specializing in rare diseases when her daughter was diagnosed with one: tuberous sclerosis. As VP of Global Regulatory Affairs for a biotech drug developer she is involved in development of treatments for other rare diseases too. This makes her an ideal person to co-chair an industry-patient-advocacy group called the Working Group on Regulatory Science, a part of the EveryLife Foundation for Rare Disorders that seeks to advance the development of treatment and diagnostic opportunities for rare disease patients through science-driven public policy.

Tuberous sclerosis, a rare genetic disorder, affects one in every 6,000 newborns in the United States. It is a disorder that causes benign growth in almost any tissue; it’s of particular concern when it occurs in the brain, lungs or kidneys. Some people who have tuberous sclerosis may have learning problems or difficult-to-control seizures. Her daughter—one of a pair of twins—was diagnosed in utero. She’s doing well, although the speech and language disorders associated with the condition have made it hard to access the curriculum in school.

Dr. Carlton talks about the challenges of developing new treatments for rare diseases and the approaches taken to try to overcome them. She also talks about her daughter’s disease, and how families can bring their best to their journey as they adapt to support their child. Based on her experience as a parent and advocate—as well as her experience in the industry—she has this advice for families: “Take a breath.” Drug development is slow, especially in rare diseases. “You are in for a marathon of supporting your child.”

When possible, connect with other parents and advocacy groups. Or build your own tribe—work, friends, family, etc. “You have to be healthy and rested enough to do this. You have to be at your best.”

She’s often asked how she manages to keep going. “I don’t know how I wouldn’t do it. You’ve been given this gift of a special child.  Now it’s time to find your tribe and push ahead.”

Her advice for a biotech company considering launch of a clinical trial for a rare disease? Nobody knows more about a patient’s journey, the patient’s experience, than the patient—or a parent or caregiver. “Just listen to what patients are saying. You are going to learn a lot.”

Lisa Carlton, PhD, has previously worked in regulatory roles at the National Institutes of Health, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals and International Partnership for Microbicides. She is currently serving as Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs at REGENXBIO, a gene therapy-focused biotech company with headquarters in Rockville, MD. Lisa received her PhD in Pharmaceutics and MS in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a BS in Biochemistry from North Carolina State University.