Photo by Tessa Marie Images
Gordon J. Lutz and Melanie Tallent
Cofounders, LifeSplice Pharma
Frogs. That’s what Gordon Lutz was studying at Drexel University’s College of Medicine as part of his research into what makes muscles move.
Or not move—as is the case when humans have neuromuscular diseases. In 2005, a new class of drugs began to show impressive results in treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy. “The problem is that it’s hard to get the drug into skeletal muscle,” says Lutz, who’s a molecular biologist. “The muscle that’s most amenable to these drugs is the brain.”
Enter neurobiologist Melanie Tallent, Lutz’s wife. “She’s about 100 times smarter than me,” he says. “Melanie is working on the brain, I’m working on the drug, and the drug is best with the brain. Bingo.”
In 2010, Lutz and Tallent migrated their work from Drexel’s labs to their own, founding LifeSplice. Now, they own the pharmaceuticals they create.
Fueling the couple’s research is the relatively new scientific understanding of genetic alternative splicing. “Most diseases are linked to defective alternative splicing,” Lutz says. “The race is to find drugs to treat [that]. It’s the hottest area in medicine today.”
The National Institutes of Health agree. Lutz and Tallent landed a series of NIH grants to work on Dravet syndrome and epilepsy. Another $3 million in NIH funding is furthering research on an experimental drug that could halt the progression of ALS. It will soon enter FDA clinical trials.
“Scientists have been rebuffed at every turn in finding any drug to stop ALS,” says Lutz. “This could be a breakthrough.”