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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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« Novartis Does A Big, Quiet Reshuffle | Main | Overqualified For the Job »

February 3, 2014

A New Book

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Posted by Derek

Noted as a significant new book relevant to biopharma, but necessarily without any comment from me is Barry Werth's The Antidote: Inside the World of New Pharma, which is the sequel to his 1995 book, The Billion Dollar Molecule. The official release date is tomorrow.

Comments (23) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Book Recommendations


1. Hap on February 3, 2014 12:20 PM writes...

Maybe they'll reprint Billion-Dollar Molecule; when I read it, it was difficult to get from the library (I think they had to borrow it from Cleveland, and our library system doesn't suck).

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2. Anonymous on February 3, 2014 12:28 PM writes...

Can't wait for the movie!

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3. The Aqueous Layer on February 3, 2014 1:03 PM writes...

@Hap--You can pick it up on Amazon without any issues. $15 for the paperback new, used runs about $2.

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4. Hap on February 3, 2014 1:06 PM writes...

I think I wasn't sure if I wanted to buy it before I read it, so I tried reading it through the library, and then didn't think enough about it. Sorry.

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5. ex-Vx on February 3, 2014 2:29 PM writes...

The Cambridge (Mass) public library already has 8 people on the waiting list for the new book.

I remember a few years ago at Vertex, we got a message saying Barry Werth would be around doing research for the sequel, and that it was okay to talk to him. I think Josh was still there at the time. Then we got a new CEO, and another new CEO...I wondered once or twice whether the book was still in the works. Should be interesting.

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6. Ellen Clark on February 3, 2014 2:32 PM writes...

I read The Billion Dollar Molecule( still have the copy on shelf) and just downloaded on my Kindle, The Antidote. So I think it is available today. Now when I will have time to read the book is another story. Reading Venter's book, Life at the Speed of Light" right now. Boy, he sure wants a Nobel. All he talks about is who got the prize. You can just see him drooling.

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7. NoDrugsNoJobs on February 3, 2014 5:25 PM writes...

I too read the 1 billion dollar molecule and must say that with inflation and so on, if it were printed today would be "The 10 billion dollar protein".

Liked the book a lot, well-written. Just ordered the sequel, hope its as compelling!

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8. Anonymous BMS Researcher on February 3, 2014 7:42 PM writes...

@Ellen Clark: If there were a Nobel Prize for ego, Venter would certainly be a candidate. I never met the late Fred Sanger, who got TWO Nobels and was by all accounts a very modest and quiet person. I have seen and heard Venter at a few meetings over the years; his ego was always very much in evidence.

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9. UKPI on February 3, 2014 7:50 PM writes...

I regularly buy multiple copies of the BDM to give away (usually to master students in my lab when they graduate). I had no idea a sequel was on its way...placed the order immediately.

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10. Phillip on February 4, 2014 7:08 AM writes...

I was lucky enough to meet Fred Sanger in Cambridge. He was indeed a quiet and self-effacing guy, but with a stunning intellect and sense of humour. He did have one story of a dinner party where one guest was being quite brash about having been on TV and asked Sanger whether he'd ever been on screen. When his reply began with 'Well, when I won my second Nobel prize...' the guy quickly became a lot less boastful...

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11. F.S. on February 4, 2014 7:20 AM writes...

@ #10
Stop spreading your BS over here

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12. petros on February 4, 2014 8:52 AM writes...

Some Nobel laureates are quiet chaps. Jim Black was the same and quite happy to sit in a scruffy back street Dublin pub with fellow scientists.

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13. NoDrugsNoJobs on February 4, 2014 11:10 AM writes...

I had lunch with Barry Sharpless when he came to our grad school for a special lecture. Talk about a modest and humble guy. He truly struck me as somebody with great curiosity and friendliness with no evidence of an over stuffed ego or any of that. I tend to believe that once you've reached such a level, you don't need to impress anybody with your knowledge or wit or whatever - your life work puts you at ease and relieves the types of insecurities that drives most of the rest of us.

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14. Annon too on February 4, 2014 12:02 PM writes...

Having read (and still own) a copy of The Billion Dollar Molecule at a time when part of a group in another company working on the same target, I was disappointed by the adoration for the whole effort and the people as presented by the author. He obviously knew very little about drug discovery in general, and took so much that came from Vertex as gospel, clearly without having obtained any other perspective. In truth, Vertex was set up with many of the same technologies and approaches already in place by most big Pharma at the time. Why did JB let him do this project in the first place? Very advertising to bring attention to Vertex, and to JB. And then, the story in the book ended abruptly, much like a show on TV that has only 5 minutes left to wrap up a complicated story line for the week's episode.

While probably will get around to reading the new book, there's no hurry and won't spend my own money on it this time. Looking at the Introduction that can be seen on Amazon, there's no reason that the author has changed from his overly subscribed adoration of Vertex and the people there (few of the original ones are still there, by the way.

If the author really wanted to look at a successful "Biotech" that takes clever approaches to new drugs helpful treatment of human diseases, with a creative, modern approach, he should have gone to someplace like Gillead. But then again, they'd have the good sense not to let him in the door.

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15. NoDrugsNoJobs on February 4, 2014 12:34 PM writes...

14 annon too - I agree Gilead has done some great work but they too have borrowed much from others (or bought). Solvadi cost about 10 billion or more whereas many competitors generated their HCV suites all internally.

Vertex has done some great science and of course has borrowed as well. The reality is that an author needs a spin and simplified viewpoint to attract a broader readership so that while it might gall the insider to see such an unabashed look at a subject, it appeals to the desire of the uniformed for a clean story they can understand.

You are totally right about the FK work done at Vertex, they made their glory elsewhere as it turns out but made it from scratch and are successful nonetheless, a rare and noble accomplishment in this field!

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16. annon too on February 4, 2014 2:51 PM writes...

#15: Vertex as certainly done some nice research, but early on they didn't have the view of what it takes to make a real drug. Even with all the nice sounding science, Vertex has not done any better than other companies, big & small, in identifying new targets that would actually be useful for drug intervention. FK, ICE are two that come to mind. Plus, making potent compounds that interact with a target these days is hardly ever the problem, but making the inhibitor, antagonist, agonist, etc a real drug is something else.

I feel that if someone writes a book to give the "outsider" a view of how drugs are made, then the reader deserves a fully honest presentation....not one that is biased to make it appear that one company has a unique approach, eg, the technologies used by Vertex are available and used by other companies.

In addition to my feeling of the original manuscript, it needs to be acknowledged that today's world of "Biotech" (used to include small molecules) has moved on since the "heady" days of Vertex's formation. Now, it is not uncommon for folks to easily move between the worlds of Biotech & Pharma. And when does a "Biotech" become a member of "Pharma"? When they have certain level of sales, or profits, or market valuation, or have more than one or two products? Further, the idea of making new DRUGS can come from many types of directions, hence my very deliberate comparison to Gillead (which I knew would ruffle some feathers) with some very clever folks to have done what has been accomplished in a different way.

The "outsider" would benefit from these added perspectives too, and a good writer could include such perspectives if the purpose was to educate the audience, not simply to try to get flash, attention. Just think of all the Biotechs you know of that have mastered the art of flash and glitz, yet have never & won't deliver a drug. I'm tired of hearing, reading of "excellence" at this or that, when the accomplishment of delivering new drugs don't come from a fancy research faucet.

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17. Am I Lloyd peptide on February 4, 2014 3:00 PM writes...

anon too: I think part of Werth's goal is to shed light on the process of drug discovery which the public doesn't really hear about. Vertex may not have gotten an immunosuppresant drug to market but the book (and I am assuming the sequel) deserves to be read as an inside look at how difficult even the initial stages of drug discovery and development are. This is a very valuable perspective which the public needs to hear about. It's not all about final products, it's also about appreciating and supporting the process leading to them.

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18. Chemjobber on February 4, 2014 4:32 PM writes...

I finished the book today; it's good, but very different from BDM. Mostly about the machinations of business/clinical development surrounding Incivek and Kalydeco, not nearly as much basic science as I remember from BDM.

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19. Curious Wavefunction on February 4, 2014 5:12 PM writes...

I am halfway through so I can second Chemjobber's take on it. Pretty readable but has nowhere near the amount of human drama and scientific detail described in BDM. BDM also had some really great profiles of academic giants like Woodward.

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20. KG on February 5, 2014 12:27 AM writes...

I worked at Vertex during the period captured in the first Barry Werth book, and knew all the principals quite well. Werth did a very good job of capturing the essence of these people, although with a tendency to paint them in somewhat over broad, slightly cartoonish, strokes.

IMHO, the best part of the first book was not the recapitulation of Boger's dream to be the next Merck. It was the real world egos clashing against each other and against the need to stay in business.

If the new book veers from that towards the machinations of bringing a drug to market (as the previous two posters have suggested) I will be disappointed.

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21. Anon on February 6, 2014 6:46 AM writes...

@18 as far as I know, the base science wasn't done at the cambridge site, so that maybe why it was not covered in the book.

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22. Chemjobber on February 6, 2014 9:42 AM writes...

21: That's fair. What I loved about BDM was that bench scientists were protagonists of the story (or at least main characters (Navia, Yamashita, Thomson, etc.) That's a lot less true of "The Antidote"; directors, managers are the main characters, especially towards the end.

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23. Ex-ex-VX on April 2, 2014 1:08 PM writes...

@21 - The basic science for VX-950 (Incivek) was conducted at the Cambridge site whereas the Kalydeco research originated at the San Diego site.

@22 Many of the key bench scientists who worked on telaprevir had fled Vertex (or Lilly) by the time Mr. Werth made his rounds.

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