Billion-Dollar Molecule: One company's quest for the perfect drug.
Barry Werth, 455 pages, Simon & Schuster, $19.00
my association with TBI over the past decade I have often fantasized
about what it must be like to be part of a start-up biotech company.
How does one go about defining a business case around the possible
success of a scientific hypothesis?
such hypothesis is not the work of any single individual. Molecular
science requires multi-disciplinary teamwork of highly qualified
individuals and considerable investment in state-of-the-art scientific
instrumentation. How are these people held together and how are
the laboratories equipped?
Werth's book "The Billion-Dollar Molecule" is a revelation
in addressing these kind of questions. On the surface it is a highly
professional journalist's eyewitness account of the maturation of
Vertex, a molecular design company located within the shadow of
was given the privilege of attending most critical meetings held
at Vertex during the early 1990s, interviewing key persons associated
with the process and conducting research so that he explains the
science and portrays the lives of the scientists; their background,
their limitations and their jealousies.
result is a blow-by-blow account of how wealth can be created from
science. Perhaps more realistically it can be described as the story
of three egos. Joshua Boger, the founder and CEO of Vertex, an un-ashamed
and totally committed scientific capitalist who knows he can succeed
where his former employer Merck can only try.
Earl Starzl, head of the Pittsburgh transplantation team, your self
proclaimed eminent clinician who believes he can save humanity through
his ability to fight off immune reactions to all kinds of solid
Schreiber, your consummate Harvard scientist, portrays himself as
the fountain of all knowledge on molecular structural design. The
only thing they have in common is the love affair each has with
molecule FK-506 and its various cousins.
these three personalities we are introduced to the rivalry and intrigue
that exist among the business, clinical and academic communities
around the "commercialization of science". A real value
of this book is the human dimension that is given to the personalities
of all the scientists involved with the embryonic stages of Vertex.
the book can only be made all the more easier if one has a scientific
education. However, it is not essential. Werth provides a very good
lay interpretation of the underlying science that is the motivating
force for driving the characters to play out their roles.
becomes evident that the traditional boundaries around chemistry,
physics and biology are less relevant. The excitement for me peaks
around my hero, spectroscopist Yamashita, and the rivalry between
crystallography and NMR.
many respects this book provides a history of the pharmaceutical
industry, which could also be construed as the history of Merck,
or as it is called
"mother Merck". Besides its appeal to TBI members this
book is a must read for all those members of the Canadian scientific
establishment who believe that good science is only possible if
it is MRC or NCIC funded.
book should be read be all Canadian science undergraduates. Hopefully,
it will inspire some of them to adopt the drive and confidence of
a Joshua Boger. To the extent that countries matter in this truly
global business, his is the kind of pioneering spirit that will
build nations in the future.
tantalizing description of trying to cut a deal with Britain's Glaxo,
as it was called then, and settling instead for Japan's Chugai,
along with the agony and the ecstasy of the initial IPO is something
Canadian civil servants who complain about the cost of drugs should
book concludes with a deal between Vertex and Burroughs Wellcome
and the saga continues via www.vpharm.com
where we find that Vertex has formed an alliance with our own Biochem
Pharma. By way of a confession, when you are on the net, check out
the discussion deck on health technology assessment in Canada at
www.infolynk.ca. I do tend
to promote publications that support my biases.
Lynch, Consultant: Health Services Reimbursement Info-Lynk Consulting
Services Inc. Send
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