Wesleyan Women of Distinction – Dr. Karen (Gurwell) Lutz ’91

Dr. Karen (Gurwell) Lutz ’91, through her passion to help patients with unmet needs, is making a profound difference in our world in the pharmaceutical industry.

Executive Director of Medical Writing in Clinical Development with a focus on non-viral chronic liver diseases including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and several cholestatic diseases, Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

B.S., Chemistry, Kentucky Wesleyan College M.S. and Ph.D., Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Kansas

Resides in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Why did you choose Wesleyan?
“When deciding on where to continue my education, I knew I wanted to be at a college that had a preeminent science department and supported its students in and outside of the classroom. I was drawn to Kentucky Wesleyan due to the liberal arts principles it teaches and due to the small college atmosphere. After visiting Wesleyan, I knew I would receive a state-of-the-art education at a school where I could cultivate strong, intimate relationships with professors and students.”

Tell us about your career path.
“I began my career at a local biopharmaceutical contract research organization in the chemistry division. Within months, my ability to write succinctly, cohesively and strategically was quickly realized by my supervisors. As a result, I moved from the chemistry division to the clinical division with a focus on summarizing data from clinical trials for New Drug Applications.

“While working at the contract company in Kansas City, the parent company in San Diego approached me, expressing that they needed my talents to help this team get an important drug approved. It would go on to be the first drug approved by the FDA to treat type 1 diabetes since the advent of insulin.

“Over the years, I have continued my passion to help patients with unmet needs by authoring, providing clinical and regulatory strategy and evolving into the clinical lead of several drug programs. I have been fortunate to be involved in approvals for several first-in-class diabetes and metabolic indications as well as treatments for rare life-threatening diseases such as congenital lipodystrophy and primary biliary cholangitis. I serendipitously started and continue to work remotely from Kansas City for the last 20 years ago, having earned multiple frequently flyer miles to San Diego.”

How did Wesleyan prepare you for your life and career successes?
“Wesleyan provided me a strong background in chemistry. Drs. Magnuson, Connor and Nancy Flachskam provided me the best foundation in chemistry. The professors at Wesleyan had the unique ability to clearly teach the theory and basic principles of science. This background has allowed me to seamlessly understand new topics and how they relate to the overall science.

“Most importantly, I believe the liberal arts education and communication principles I received at Kentucky Wesleyan are the biggest assets to my life and career successes. I have seen the most brilliant scientists; however, a technical background alone in the absence of the ability to communicate will only get you so far in this world. I will always be appreciative of professors, such as Dr. Bob Darrell, who taught me to effectively communicate complex thoughts in a simple, yet impactful, manner, constantly refining my writing skills and always pushing me to write with conviction.”

Who mentored you while you were a student here?
“Dr. Magnuson was one of the most influential mentors I had at Kentucky Wesleyan. His mentorship promoted careers in chemistry to me and introduced me to the Kansas Jayhawks, where he did his Ph.D. in chemistry. My junior year, I completed a summer internship that eventually led to my acceptance into the pharmaceutical chemistry Ph.D. program.”

What other experiences helped mold you while you were at Wesleyan – and what other special memories of your Wesleyan years would you like to share?
“Other experiences that were integral to my time at Kentucky Wesleyan include being a member of Kappa Delta and the cheerleading team. Both experiences allowed me to surround myself with strong, influential women who wanted each woman to succeed in any situation. The small campus size allowed me to build lifelong relationships with people from various backgrounds.”

“My high school sweetheart and loving husband, Scott, and I have been blessed with three wonderful children. My oldest daughter, Katelyn, always looked up to my career in the pharmaceutical industry and went on to receive her doctorate of pharmacy degree in 2017. My son, Scottie, completed a certificate degree in the THRIVE program; a program designed for adults with special needs to learn life skills. Madison, my youngest daughter, is graduating this May from Baker University, the KWC of Kansas, with an education degree, and she is eager to begin her career teaching students with special needs.”

“One of my favorite past times is trivia. I enjoy testing my knowledge and learning about new subjects each week. Trivia has allowed me to spend quality time with family and meet new friends. Most importantly, it continues to show me how different each person’s knowledge is and to appreciate how each person can uniquely contribute to a team. My other hobbies include wine tasting with my friends and spending time with my German shepherds.”

What did it mean to you about return to campus a few months ago and receive the Alumni Achievement Award at the Alumni Dinner?
“Returning to the KWC campus was truly an experience I will never forget. Relationships made at Kentucky Wesleyan are so strong, and conversations with professors and old friends quickly picked up as if I had never left. It’s hard to believe it has been 27 years! I also enjoyed exploring both new and renovated parts of KWC and conversing with current and former students. It was fun meeting a large group of Kappa Delta alums who were there for their 50th anniversary – a true testament of the strong lifetime friendships made at KWC.

“Receiving the award was a humbling experience. Although I was being recognized, I consider the award a testament to the achievement of all professors and staff at KWC who instilled the knowledge and life skills in me that have allowed me to succeed in the pharmaceutical industry.”

What does Wesleyan mean to you today, and why would you recommend Wesleyan to students today?
“Wesleyan was the first building block to becoming an adult and provided me with skillsets for intellectual, professional and spiritual growth. Wesleyan remains part of my family and provides lifelong relationships with fellow students, professors and alumni, both old and new.

“I would recommend Wesleyan to prospective students given the small sample size of classes, the ability to have one-on-one contact with professors rather than graduate students, as well as more flexibility and access to growth opportunities compared to students from large universities. Wesleyan provides the necessary skills to navigate and adapt to the changing world, and this foundation will provide students the best chance of success irrespective of career path chosen.”