Inside the World of New Pharma
In this timely and much praised book, Barry Werth draws upon inside reporting that spans more than two decades. He provides a groundbreaking close-up of the upstart pharmaceutical company Vertex and the ferocious but indispensable world of Big Pharma that it inhabits.
In 1989, the charismatic Joshua Boger left Merck, then America’s most admired business, to found a drug company that would challenge industry giants and transform health care. Werth described the company’s tumultuous early days during the AIDS crisis in The Billion-Dollar Molecule, a celebrated classic of science and business journalism. Now he returns to tell a riveting story of Vertex’s bold endurance and eventual success.
The $325 billion-a-year pharmaceutical business is America’s toughest and one of its most profitable. It’s riskier and more rigorous at just about every stage than any other business, from the towering biological uncertainties inherent in its mission to treat disease; to the 30-to-1 failure rate in bringing out a successful medicine even after a molecule clears all the hurdles to get to human testing; to the multibillion-dollar cost of ramping up a successful product; to operating in the world’s most regulated industry, matched only by nuclear power.
Werth captures the full scope of Vertex’s twenty-five-year drive to deliver breakthrough medicines. At a time when America struggles to maintain its innovative edge, The Antidote is a powerful inside look at one of the most intriguing and important business stories of recent decades.
With page-turning pace and action, Werth returns to the biotech company Vertex, spinning readers through the ups and downs of pharmaceutical research in its current state nearly 20 years after first visiting it in The Billion Dollar Molecule. Werth takes readers inside the daily operations of Vertex, profiling the efforts of Vertex scientists to develop drugs for HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, and cystic fibrosis. He dives the science behind the research, untangling dense biological problems in everyday language: "The miracle of biology," he writes, " is how chains of inert atoms receive, via other inert atoms, the operating instructions for how and when to fold precisely into bits of living matter, then interact with other bits to produce life." Werth also focuses on the corporate culture, the company's interactions with competition, and the complexity of the drug approval and regulation systems. Readers will feel the sadness when a promising drug fails in clinical trials along with the elation when years of research and trials lead to success. Recommended for those interested in the nuts and bolts of R&D in the pharmaceutical industry.