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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Layoffs - Again | Main | Doctorate or Not? »

April 13, 2007

Deep Breaths

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Posted by Derek

I've been out of the research labs for over two months now, and you know what I miss the most? No, not the safety meetings (hah!) or the smell of the solvents - what I miss is getting fresh data on experiments. Waiting for results on something crucial is hard to take, but it's also exciting, and there's nothing I've found outside of science that compares.

I've sat at my desk holding a warm printout from an LC/MS, or with a newly arrived e-mail from the biologists, and I swear, I've closed my eyes for a moment before I've looked at them. That's the last moment of not knowing; after that you're living in the new world that the experiment made. I don't know what I'd do with a job that didn't have that feeling in it, and honestly, that's one reason I'm still looking.

It occurs at all sorts of levels - checking the NMR to see if your reaction worked or not, waiting for the PK results to see if your idea raised the blood levels, holding your breath when the compound goes into two-week tox testing. And beyond that things get really terrifying, when human data start coming in from the clinic.

Ask Vertex. I wrote here about their antiviral compound (telaprevir, VX-950) for hepatitis. It's a huge market that really needs a better drug, and a lot of people have taken swings at it. Well, on Saturday night in Barcelona, the company is presenting their latest clinical data, and investors are checking their heart rates. The drug's success would be the biggest event in the history of the company (and a huge advance in hepatitis therapy), and failure (the antiviral norm, unfortunately) would be very, very hard to take.

The company's top clinicians already know the answer, of course, because a person's got to have time to make slides. They've had the experience I was talking about, on a scale that few people have ever felt. You click a button, turn a page, and the future writes itself out there in front of you. . .

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Clinical Trials | Infectious Diseases | Who Discovers and Why


1. eugene on April 13, 2007 10:59 AM writes...

It's a little different in grad school though. Because the exciting trepidation of wanting a good result is mixed in with the fear that your boss is going to ream you out at the next meeting if this NMR ends up looking like a concentrated IR sample again and you don't figure out what the hell is wrong with your reaction... A good result can make you live like a king until the next group meeting.

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2. Brian at on April 13, 2007 11:18 AM writes...

Excellent post Derek; I couldn't have said it better myself although I think I enjoy the finding out of the result a lot more than the anticipation. I've been known to run up a flight of stairs in the morning just to get to the incubator quicker.

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3. Jose on April 13, 2007 11:22 AM writes...

Anyone have any guesses on how many more shots at fame and glory Vertex has in it, if VX-950 doesn't pan out? They've been bleeding money for eons now...

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4. Rev. Mike on April 13, 2007 11:27 AM writes...

This anticipation of results is really the best part of science. I especially like when I am doing a first-in-man study and I get the data after the first dose. It is an amazing thing, to know something no one else knows...

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5. milkshake on April 13, 2007 2:08 PM writes...

hehe, our main biologist on the project had a trouble last week - his assay stopped glowin' and it took him a week to figure out which actual component of his assay was screwy. Meanwhile untested compounds were accumulating and the poor guy got HOUNDED in the hallways by the unpatient chemists...

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6. George on April 14, 2007 10:31 AM writes...

My personal favorite was watching GC traces come off a chiral column, doing methodology work. The first peak would always look massive due to the scaling function, and then it would be a terse few minutes for the other enantiomer to make itself known.... "rockstar, or hack? rockstar or hack? rockstar or hack??"

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7. daen on April 14, 2007 4:37 PM writes...

Looks promising for Vertex ( ... good for them.

"The data from PROVE 1 demonstrated a high rate of rapid viral response (RVR) in the telaprevir groups and a low rate of on-treatment viral breakthrough, and suggested that 12 weeks of telaprevir-based therapy enabled some patients to clear the virus ..."

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8. bootsy on April 14, 2007 7:34 PM writes...

I appreciate the anticipation, becuase until the resuts are in, there's still hope that it all worked perfectly. There's still a chance. Once the result is known, reality comes crashing in and then, more often than not, it's back to the drawing board.

If the reality is as good as hoped, then there's no feeling like it. If I'm lucky, that happens once a year.

And it's worth it.

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9. M on April 14, 2007 11:09 PM writes...

As a biologist I can say there have been a few big experiments in my life that when the result come in there is a profound sense of satisfaction and on one or two occasions even awe. To see data and something no one else has ever seen before is an amazing rush. It is of course paid for by years of blood, sweat, and tears.

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10. Wavefunction on October 4, 2007 2:21 PM writes...

So what happened to this? Any updates?

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