As 9-year-old Vincent puts it, “That’s some pretty sciency stuff right there.”
The “right there” is talks between his physicist grandfather, Ray Perkins, 59, and biologist mother, Sarah-Ellen Leonard, 33 – who say they’ve found a way to lower the cost of drugs.
During a recent visit to his grandfather’s Frankfort home, the high-energy Vincent bounced on the furniture listening to Ray and Sarah explain their exciting discovery that “could potentially revolutionize the methods used in drug development.”
Ray and Sarah often quote this review from the National Institutes of Health, which examined their approach to testing in 2009 and gave it two thumbs up.
A year later, after perfecting their method, Ray and Sarah say they can and – given the chance – will change the way drugs are brought to market, a long, complex and costly process that winds up putting a dent in the pocket books of consumers.
“It’s not just that we have wishful thinking, we’re not incurable optimists,” Sarah said. “The more we work on it, there’s this feeling of inevitability.”
So far, there are no takers, the National Institute of Health’s blessing notwithstanding. But eventually, they say, a drug maker will use their method, which broadly deals with testing molecules before trying it out on animals and humans.
In an effort to attract a drug company, the duo recently launched New Liberty Proteomics Corporation, based in Frankfort.
Essentially, NLP is a lab service.
“It’s the survivors of our process that eventually get tested as drugs,” Ray explains.
Too many drugs are tried on dogs, monkeys, and, in some cases, humans before they’re thoroughly tested.
“What you find is they kill animals or have side effects,” Ray explains. “It’s very expensive and takes a lot of time.”
Their process is better, Ray says, because they know how to test whole molecules rather than fragments, the norm now.
Ray, a trained physicist, and Sarah officially started working together 10 years ago while she was pursuing a biochemistry master’s at the University of Illinois. She now works in a bioengineering lab at the university.
Unofficially, they teamed up when Sarah was born. Ray’s a teacher at heart, and he started early.
“When Sarah was young, and we went to restaurants, I’d turn over the placemat and draw chemical structures on the back for her,” Ray said.
By age 4, Sarah knew such things as the molecular structure of gasoline, the orbit of electrons and a host of scientific tidbits most people never learn – let alone see jotted on a restaurant placemat.
“It’s hard to differentiate between study and play with us,” Sarah says.
Their love for family and passion for science have kept them close, and this project has made them closer.
“We have conversations with each other that we can’t have with anyone else,” Sarah says.
The duo jokes that together, with Ray as the physicist and Sarah as the biologist, they make one good scientist.
Through private support mostly from the Owen County community where Ray grew up, he and Sarah spent 2010 in the lab, where they perfected their method.
So far, they’ve worked with drugs to combat HIV, and Ray says they’ve identified the source of two known side effects.
Currently, they’re contacting drug companies, but none have taken interest.
“There’s the initial hurdle of someone has to try it first,” Sarah says. “Until that happens, they’re just taking our word for it.
Once someone does make that leap and makes use of our technique, if it then works, which I have every confidence it will, that is much more concrete proof.”
Thursday, Ray will speak about his project at 7 p.m. at the Frankfort Country Club. Ed Roberts, former head of the Kentucky Department of Transportation, will host.
“Everyone’s welcome,” Ray says.
He’ll be doing the explaining this time. And no “sciency” stuff. Ray makes it simple.
“Better tests up front make drugs cheaper.”
Now that’s something we all can understand.
For more information, contact Ray Perkins at 502-223-6467 or RayPerkins@newlibertyproteomics.com, or visit newlibertyproteomics.com.