International Honor of 2020 “Patient Advocate Leader” Given To Dr. Cara O’Neill

September 30, 2019

Chief Science Officer Cara O'NeillThe thought leadership of Dr. Cara O’Neill, Chief Science Officer at Cure Sanfilippo Foundation, a pediatrician, and mother to a daughter with the rare disease Sanfilippo Syndrome (MPS III), in the rare disease space is being recognized at an international level.

Each year, WORLDSymposium recognizes one individual for their patient advocacy leadership in the field of lysosomal disease. Dr. O’Neill is the recipient of the 2020 Patient Advocate Leader Award, which will be presented WORLDSymposium 2020 on Feb. 12, 2020.

The award, which began in 2016, recognizes an individual for their direct contribution to lives of patients and families dealing with a lysosomal disease through disease awareness and education, community mobilization, non-profit development and/or good governance activities, patient care, and support programs. Past recipients include remarkable leaders such as Barbara Wedehase, former Executive Director of the MPS Society (2016); Christine Lavery, Group Chief Executive for the UK Society for Mucopolysaccharide Diseases (2017); Jack Johnson, Executive Director of the Fabry Support & Information Group (2018), and Mark Dant, Chairman of the EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases and founder of The Ryan Foundation (2019).

“It is a great honor to receive this award, and I am humbled to be among past recipients of such high caliber and contribution,” said Dr. O’Neill. “Cure Sanfilippo Foundation has found many great partners interested in collaborating with us on new clinical strategies, improved patient input, and pathways for faster diagnosis, which benefits all families dealing with Sanfilippo Syndrome, as well as patient communities in other diseases.”

Dr. O’Neill’s uniquely-paired career and life experiences allow her to bridge gaps between scientists, clinicians, industry, and families, helping foster patient-centered research and future translational paths for rare disease treatments.

She leads patient-focused research efforts within Cure Sanfilippo and has presented at international conferences and authored peer-reviewed journal articles. In addition, she collaborates with other non-profit groups on mutual advocacy and research interests, as well as oversees the Foundation’s funding of external scientific programs.

Dr. O’Neill leads in developing innovative integration of patient perspective and technology into study design and pioneering support for pediatricians in diagnosing rare diseases early, such as:

  • Conducting the first-ever Sanfilippo Caregiver Preference Study;
  • Piloting The GAPP Project, using cutting-edge facial recognition technology in pediatric clinics to accelerate accurate diagnosis and access to specialized geneticist for a wide range of genetic conditions;
  • Collaborating with Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation (Australia) to create Global Clinical Management Guidelines for Sanfilippo, a crucial clinician tool as there is only scarce, fragmented management guidance currently available; and
  • Leveraging technology, such as wearable devices and video capture of disease symptoms (gait, motor skills, speech, social interaction), to improve the quantity and quality of date used to evaluate experimental therapies.

“Her work has broader application than just Sanfilippo Syndrome. Many of the clinical and scientific strategies that O’Neill leads could be applied to multiple diseases, even beyond rare diseases, making her contributions to the scientific community exceptional,” said Dan Fraley, Chair of Cure Sanfilippo Foundation.

This is fantastic news and a well-deserved honor for Dr. O’Neill. It has been a true inspiration to work with her on initiatives to improve the lives of patients with Sanfilippo Syndrome and their families,” said Wayne Pan, MD PhD MBA, Medical Director/Global Medical Affairs for BioMarin. “It is wonderful to see the lysosomal storage disease community recognizing her for all of your contributions.”

Created in 2014 by O’Neill and her husband Glenn, Cure Sanfilippo Foundation has already raised more than $8 million through grassroots and viral fundraising which has helped fund more than 20 research projects, including the first-ever gene therapy clinical trials for Sanfilippo Syndrome. A complete list of funded projects can be viewed at

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