For 25 years Carol Covin enjoyed a career in the computer industry as a software engineer but in 1997 something significant happened that would change the course of her career dramatically. Carol’s colleague, with inoperable stomach cancer, found an obscure cancer treatment developed by a scientist in the late 1970s. It was held by a private scientific library the scientist endowed to hold his papers before he died in 1986. Carol’s friend followed the scientist’s suggested cancer treatment protocol and his 30-pound tumor was gone in six weeks.
Her friend handed Carol a copy of the protocol and said “This works – I am living proof!” His concern was that it would never be patented because it was all-natural and he feared that it would never make it to clinical trials due to lack of funding and serious interest by the medical community. Carol’s friend died shortly afterward of liver damage sustained during the five year growth of his tumor but his body was cancer free.
Clean out Your Junk Drawer
The cancer treatment protocol remained in Carol’s desk for 7 years while her career took several different turns. Carol quit the computer company where she had worked for eight years and started a publishing company and flourished, publishing her sixth book with her new company following five others with a previous publisher. But the cancer protocol sitting in her desk drawer kept haunting her and eventually prompted her to seek out the scientific library where the protocol was archived. Carol is quick to point out that she is not a doctor or a scientist but she got so involved in the research, she started telling people that she was working on a cure for cancer. Nobody laughed, and many offered to help.
Eventually the networking stars aligned and Carol was introduced to a pediatric oncologist, who used to work at the FDA, the NCI, and a major pharmaceutical company. She was experienced in fraud detection and interested in alternative treatments and has been guiding Carol’s research ever since. Today Carol is incorporated and the President of her own company: Sky Blue Pharmaceuticals, LLC. She is seeking funding to conduct a Phase I clinical trial for the cancer treatment protocol.
A Sense of Urgency
It’s not often that you meet someone working on a cure for cancer. I asked Carol if she was excited to get up every morning to work on this profound new career path and she said that she is extremely focused but also feels a sense of urgency to accomplish her goal.
“I went to a memorial service last summer for a friend’s daughter. She died after her breast cancer recurred. I was re-acquainted with her two high school children – their Mom had baby-sat for my younger son. I left with a renewed sense of urgency to make this cancer treatment protocol a reality.”
Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, 562,000 deaths from cancer were projected for 2009. Every minute, of every hour, of every day, someone will die of cancer and Carol Covin is on a mission to cut that number down to size, knowing the ones she misses will be somebody’s loved ones.
The mission to cure cancer sounds noble but how does a non-scientist even begin to tackle this herculean task? Initially, Carol set aside $5,000 from money she inherited from her mother to hire a consultant to assess her scientific literature review. Carol had gone to the National Library of Medicine on the campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to gather information that had already been written on this topic and read the citations of those sources to educate herself and others on this approach.
Her goal is to find out if the treatment works and if so, to tell people about it. Ultimately she wants to take the treatment to market. But before she can do any of this she must take the protocol through clinical trials, to prove that it works in order to make a claim that it has some effect on cancer.
The Sky Blue Pharmaceuticals team of two includes Carol and the pediatric oncologist who is guiding her research efforts. Carol has not yet had access to grants so she is relying on private funding, and clinical trials are not cheap. Ultimately, she hopes a pharmaceutical company will offer to license her product and take it to market but the Phase I, and possibly Phase II clinical trials must happen first.
Trials and Tribulations
The cancer treatment protocol will be taken by the patient in the form of a pill for a 30-day regimen. It takes about three to six months to manufacture the pill and the full Phase I clinical trial will take about a year with 1-2 months of treatment and then observation, and follow-up testing. The recipe and production of the protocol will cost approximately $500,000 and another 3 million dollars to facilitate the clinical trial.
Carol has a business plan and a line item budget and she is looking for investors to help underwrite the cost of the clinical trial. Venture capitalists will be pitched after the trials, so for now, she is living off of her 401K which looks more like a 201K in the current economy.
She is networking like mad connecting with entrepreneurs and women’s business organizations as well as people who are living with cancer. Sky Blue Pharmaceuticals is truly a labor of love since there is no money coming in for Carol but she considers this her full-time career and she is committed to meeting her goal of bringing this protocol to market.
Carol has learned that you need to identify what you need and then ask for it. This was a lesson that took a while to sink in but Carol can say with confidence now that her life has purpose and she is unflappable in the face of adversity.
Assembling a resource team was crucial for Carol and she works with a team of advisors who are helping her make the clinical trial goal a reality. She is learning the art of fundraising and is perfecting the subtleties of “the ask” since at the end of the day, what she needs most is financial support.
Seek and You Will Find
Research has become one of Carol’s top transferable skills these days. She found an online message board and unearthed discussions among people who had tried the protocol. She posted a message to ask if they were willing to be interviewed about their experience, and, if possible, supply supporting medical documentation. This has resulted in 15 case studies, including seven who supplied medical documentation, from people who had actually utilized the protocol successfully to treat their cancerous tumors. This information is now documented in a brief that will be part of the clinical trial application.
This particular protocol is unique because it is a treatment for cancerous tumors and not a preventive measure. But preparing for government application for a clinical trial has been a lesson in patience and perseverance. Carol has a 50-year plan for the rest of her life that she breaks down into 10-year chunks. She predicts it will take 8-10 years to get the protocol to market and she is in it for the long haul.
No One Else is Going to Do It
In the last nine months, Carol has added another advisor to her team and is talking with a law firm about a promising road map to a patent. She also won the STEM Award (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) from a case study she submitted to George Washington University’s Business School, The Hot Mommas Project and presented a poster on the project at the Annual 2010 Multinational Development for Women in Technology (MD-WIT) conference.
Nobody expects a software engineer to cure cancer but Carol has taken this on as a personal mission. She has always put herself into challenging situations and thrives on intellectual stimulation. While some people are dubious about her efforts to cure cancer, more are applauding her and sharing personal stories of people in their lives affected by cancer. These connections have offered Carol hope and inspiration to tackle the monumental challenge she has dedicated her life to pursue.
Carol left the security of a steady career to pursue a very risky venture because it speaks to her heart. Many years ago, her husband had a cancer scare but he is alive and well today. Carol lost a college roommate to cancer who left behind three young children and there are countless others who have been robbed of life by this selfish disease including the colleague who gave her the business launching protocol.
When someone asks Carol Covin at a cocktail party “What do you do for a living? – she answers with confidence “I am working on a cure for cancer!” And she really means it.
Carol’s Advice and Action Steps:
- Reflect on how you want to make a difference in the world. What is the imprint you will leave?
- Look to the end goal and keep your eye on the prize.
- Assemble a great team early on.
“Identify what you need and then ask for it!” Carol Covin
The Hot Mommas Project: Case Study. “No One Else Is Going to Do It.” STEM Award 2010