By all accounts, Oklahoma City-based IPS Research Company, which conducts clinical trials on potential new drugs to treat mostly mental illness, has a lofty vision statement:
“To rid the world of suffering caused by illness.”
It may be a grand goal, but it's not overstated, owner Louise Thurman said.
“We're looking for solutions to the most difficult problems in life,” Thurman said. “Some trial participants have felt awful for years, and many don't know that it's not normal to feel that way.”
Clinical depression can keep sufferers from holding jobs for any length of time, Thurman said, while severe attention deficit disorder causes others to forget appointments and constantly lose things.
Currently, her 17-year-old firm is running 35 trials for Eli Lilly and Co., Pfizer Inc., Forest Pharmaceuticals and 14 other sponsors. Each trial has 15 to 20 participants who are taking a drug being tested or a placebo; they don't know which.
“It's amazing the altruism people have,” Thurman said. “They hope that if they're not helped, their participation in clinical trials can help someone else down the road.”
From her fourth-floor offices at 1111 N Lee, Thurman, 52, sat down Wednesday with The Oklahoman to talk about her personal and professional life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in Oxnard, Calif., in Southern California, when I was very young. But when I was about 12, we moved to the Fresno area where my parents still live. My father worked in life insurance sales, and my mother worked at a newspaper, in a largely male-dominated newsroom, and later, as a nurse. I'm their only child, aside from my dog siblings.
Q: What defined your school days?
A: Music. I played the flute and the piccolo in the marching, classical and jazz bands. The experience was invaluable, teaching me how to compete (for first chair) and lead others (as section leader).
Q: And college? How did you settle on medicine and psychiatry?
A: While at California State University/Sacramento, I studied chemistry and biology, and worked in the county coroner's office, assisting with autopsies. I learned I wasn't queasy at the sight of blood. In fact, in med school, at UC Davis, I was fascinated with my surgery rotation, but I liked my sleep more. I hated the specialties female students were encouraged to pursue then — pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology. Meanwhile, in psychiatry, there was a growing curiosity about meds and neurochemistry. And CT scans were just starting to be used for diagnosis. Unlike physical ailments, mental ones — from severe depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia — affect people's entire lives. I enjoy helping them find their way back to health. It's challenging, but rewarding.
Q: What brought you to Oklahoma?
A: I'd married my first husband and I took some time off after med school to have our two sons. When I completed my residency, they were 4 and 5, and I believed Oklahoma, who'd recruited me to teach on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, would be a good place to raise them. My father, incidentally, is from Morris. Military service took him to California, where he met my mother. But I didn't grow up visiting here. In 1993, I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Edmond. Today, I live in Heritage Hills — just three blocks from work.
Q: How did you move from teaching to owning a business?
A: I taught for three years and loved it — breaking down complicated concepts into understandable and meaningful ones for students. But academia can be slow to change, and I'm not a person who does well with that. Meanwhile, more and more pharmaceutical clinical trials were being conducted in private settings. Through 1990, they were conducted solely at universities. I founded IPS — which stands for Integrity People Service — in 1996, and grew quickly to six or seven employees by the end of that first year. Today, we have a staff of 20.
Q: What are some popular brand-name drugs that your company helped test?
A. Cymbalta, which is used to treat depression and muscle and joint pain associated with fibromyalgia, and Abilify, taken for depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Q: I love your snakeskin fabric jacket and orange jeans tucked into your rider cowboy boots. Do you ever wear a white doctor's coat?
A: No. I find them stiff and uncomfortable, and I'm anti-stiff. I do have a cool white leather jacket though. I put my pants on one leg at a time, like everybody else. My pants just happen to be orange. Yesterday, they were purple.