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5.0 out of 5 stars
9

TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 June 2011
This is the story of the first few years of Vertex, a bioventure that sought to create drugs that were constructed molecule by molecule - it is supposed to be "rational drug design". In exchange for allowing the company to check his work for accuracy and proprietary disclosures, Werth was admitted into the inner circle of the company, with both executives and scientists, for four years.

Werth offers masterful descriptions of both the science and the intricacies of the busisess deals. The work is similar to that of Tracy Kidder in "The Soul of a New Machine" and, in my opinion, of the same quality.

At the center of the story is Vertex's founding visionary, Joshua Boger, formerly a researcher at Merck. He reasoned that instead of screening soil samples and insect secretions in a hot or miss approach in thousands of petri dishes, he could design drugs atom by atom to bind to - and thus inactivate - molecules instrumental to the disease process. In theory, these drugs would be without side effects: because of the precision of the design, they would adhere to their target alone, allowing beneficial enzymes of other chem reactions to go on unimpeded.

Boger's first target molecule was FKBP, which he believed was a crucial agent of the immune system. By blocking it, he hoped to prevent the host's body from rejecting transplanted organs. While Boger was out raising money (eventually reaching $60 million), Vertex's researchers hunkered down to isolate and analyze FKBP, whose molecular mechanic remained poorly understood.

Unfortunately, what happened is a great example of the difficulties in marrying business to cutting-edge science: after over two years of pushing themselves to the brink of nervous collapse, Vertex scientists found difficulties with FKBP. Even worse, Boger's arch rival, a prof at Harvard, discovered why. The prof beat VErtex, Werth argues, because he remained outside the venture capital game and could thus concentrate totally on the science and could openly collaborate with them rather than hide proprietary results.

Nonetheless, driven and confident as ever, Boger turned his scientific team onto the new problem. Thru all of this, Boger comes off as a fascinating character: the son of a suicide, he is unshakably convinced that he can bend nature as well as the business world to his will. The reader sees what lies behind the herculean efforts of him and his team.

Warmly recommended as a riveting tale of human endeavor that embraces the true complexity.
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on 22 March 1999
I read this book a couple of years ago and enjoyed it very much. Over time I have forgetten about it. But lately I've been doing research into new business creation and remembered this well written book. Many of the dry lessons of academic research are presented in a case study that reads like fiction.
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on 6 January 1999
A well-told, vivid story about real life drug development, executed with a sharp observer's eye and an even hand. Hardly a gushing account of medical miracles in the making, but by no means industry bashing either. Rather, an inside look at real people in a fascinating world. This book never quite got the critical acclaim that it deserved.
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on 3 May 1998
Barry Werth has managed in this book to capture the essence of the excitement, frustrations, suffering and satisfaction of being in a successful high-tech startup company. Having had unprecedented access to staff at Vertex and its collaborators, he has managed to reconstruct events from all angles. Werth presents his story in a compelling dramatic style, from the heady heights of scientific discovery, to the depths of VC capriciousness.
This book is highly suggested reading in our new startup!
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on 24 March 1998
I first read this book nearly two years ago as research for a novel I was writing. Recently, I turned to it once more to pick up a few terms and found myself reading chapter after chapter!
This non-fiction tale has enough twists and turns and drama to match any thriller on the market. An informative and engaging tale of a pharmaceutical start-up and the people involved. Joshua is interesting enough that the book could have been solely about him, but he isn't the only one. All of the players in this ego-driven mega-drama are interesting on many levels.
Who would I reccomend this book to? Anyone who likes a well-told story. A background in medicine is not needed, and neither is a knowledge of business practices. All you need to enjoy this book is a brain . . . and a night light because you'll be reading this book deep into the night.
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on 12 January 1998
Barry's Werth spent several years with the scientists and bio-venturers who formed Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The work paid off in an insightful and entertaining book. The Billion Dollar molecule is the holy grail of the researchers in today's pharmaceutical world, and this book shows how they go about attaining it. A remarkably easy book to read even if you don't know a protein from a Springsteen. The reader can find something valuable from all angles. Read it as a science book, a thriller, a business narrative, or a straight novel, you'll find delight here.
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on 13 April 1998
I read this book a few years ago and mention it to many of my associates in academia. It is a must read for people who are professors at pharmacy schools.
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on 18 November 1998
This book captures the complex relationship between academia and industry. It manages to give a realistic account of what it takes to "make it" both in academia and in industry. Although the descriptions of the scientists in the book tend to be overstated in order to sell novels, they do reflect a kernel of truth (I have met Stuart Schreiber and will work in his labs for my doctorate). This book also manages to capture the excitement of scientific discovery and how hard people in the lab must work to do cutting-edge scientist. The science has always and will always exist--it's a race against yourself to get the essentials truths of Nature.
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on 14 October 1998
Good info. on biotech, too, for the educated layperson
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