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The Billion Dollar Molecule: The Quest for the Perfect Drug

The Billion Dollar Molecule: The Quest for the Perfect Drug

5.0 1
by Barry Werth

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Freelance writer Werth has taken two complex industries--biotechnology and high finance--and woven them into an intriguing story. The subject of his book is Vertex, a start-up firm headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., that set out to be among the first companies to successfully create and improve drugs through structure-based design, a goal that if attained could mean millions, if not billions, of dollars in revenues. Werth's wide access to Vertex and its executives is evident in his detailed account of what he describes as the ``blood sport'' of big-time science. Vertex is guided through the scientific and financial jungles by Joshua Boger, the founder of the company who is also very much the driving force of Werth's narrative. A compelling side-plot is Boger's relationship with Stuart Schreiber, a Harvard chemistry professor who turned from a colleague into a competitor. While the scientific jargon sometimes slows the pace of the work, most readers will stay the course to learn if Boger achieves his goals of raising funds (he does), discovering an important design-based drug and making a lot of money (coming close on both). (Feb.)
Library Journal
Werth, a freelance writer on science and business issues, chronicles Joshua Boger's start-up of Vertex, a biotechnology company dedicated to the discovery of new drugs. Boger, a successful organic chemist with Merck, left his position as a senior director to establish Vertex. He recruited an exceptional group of researchers with the aim of integrating the most advanced disciplines in molecular biology to develop an immune-suppressing drug used in organ transplants and a potent HIV protease inhibitor to help thwart AIDS. Werth also discusses Vertex's financing and initial public stock offering. Recommended for science and business collections in public libraries and for special libraries in the pharmaceutical industry.-- Bruce Slutsky, New Jersey Inst. of Tech. Lib., Newark
Barbara Jacobs
In a prose style emulating the speed and freneticism surrounding a marathon, Werth reveals the guts of the not-so-new field of biotechnology by focusing on a Cambridge, Massachusetts, company called Vertex. The company's story reads not like a thriller but like a clash of childish egos. It was started by a biochemist; recruiting top talent, Vertex then found its employees, products, and progress impeded by things both human and not. What began as a search for the ultimate immunosuppressant soon shifted into a drive for venture capital funds and partnerships; a major scientist then defected, and Vertex discovered its future promise lay in developing AIDS, anticancer, and anti-inflammation medicines rather than in immunosuppressants. The behind-the-scenes machinations make riveting reading.
Journalist Werth draws on interviews and research to tell the story of Joshua Boger and the pharmaceutical research company he founded and, more broadly, to reveal the human, financial, and scientific dynamics of the whole drug industry. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A you-are-there account of the turbulent early days of Vertex, a high-tech, high-risk biotechnology firm. Werth (a freelance science and business writer) spent nearly four years following the travails of Vertex, where he seemingly had considerable access to its inner workings. His story begins in 1989, shortly after the company was launched with $10 million in venture capital—and with a plan to design superior new drugs, atom by atom if necessary. Vertex's chief, the brilliant and exuberant chemist Joshua Boger, is convinced that the company can design a safer immunosuppressive drug and capture the multimillion-dollar-a- year transplant market. Doing so will require brains, time, and lots of money, but Boger brings together the brains and raises the money that buys the time. Negotiating with pharmaceutical firms in England (Glaxo) and Japan (Chugai), he gives Vertex temporary financial security by striking a deal with Chugai and, in 1991, he takes Vertex public. Meanwhile, back at the lab, it turns out that the scientific side of the firm's endeavors aren't as straightforward as Boger's presentations to would-be investors might suggest: There are complications, rivalries, disappointments, and no end of technical problems, and, at the conclusion of the narrative, Vertex still has no product to sell, although its expectations remain high. Throughout, Werth—adept at explaining both science and business—provides enough history to anchor the present, and peoples his story with memorable characters: Besides the energetic, charismatic Boger and his crew of talented, eccentric, overworked chemists and biologists, notable are Harvard researcher StuartSchreiber—exasperating as a colleague, devastating as a rival—and aging transplant-wizard Thomas Starzl (The Puzzle People, 1992). Colorful, packed with facts, and delivering a clear message: that the risks of investing in biotechnology aren't just high—they're stratospheric.

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Simon & Schuster
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Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

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