Friday, June 5, 2015

Huh, no kidding

From a Bloomberg Businessweek story about Gilead and the cost of Sovaldi and Harvoni, an interesting little story about the CEO of Gilead, John C. Martin: 
The son of husband-and-wife chemists, Martin received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago and then, before the age of 30, invented a drug that proved helpful in ameliorating certain HIV symptoms. He has received the prestigious Isbell Award from the American Chemical Society and in 2008 was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering. In an interview in his Spartan corner office at Gilead’s headquarters south of San Francisco, the media-averse Martin slouches, swallows his words, and rubs his head until his brown hair resembles a well-trafficked bird’s nest. 
He gets up from the conference table to retrieve a visual aid: Several chapters in Nucleotide Analogues as Antiviral Agents, a 1989 collection he edited, describe research that has since contributed to FDA-approved drugs. Picking up a green marker and moving to a whiteboard, Martin, 64, seems to relax. He sketches the intricate molecular structure of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. Useful for treating HIV, he explains, this “reverse transcriptase inhibitor” put Gilead on the map in 2001. Using the drug’s trade name, he adds: “That’s Viread!”
Of all the Big Pharma chemist CEOs, somehow I'm not surprised that Martin can still draw structures. Think John Lechleiter can do the same? 

11 comments:

  1. You are assuming the structure he drew is correct: correct resonance forms and appropriate formal charges included.

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    1. Are you really going to critique a talking dog for poor grammar?

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    2. Well, he appears to be disheveled, which is always a good sign of competence of writing good structures.....

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    3. I would assume that the structures he drew were correct, is there any reason to assume the contrary? You don't get to be the richest organic chemist in the world (which I'm pretty sure he is) by making foolish errors.

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    4. Indeed. I'm probably just projecting- I'm just a silly biochemist (but will be teaching Org Chem this summer-yea, scary...).

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    5. @CJ: Fast-forward to 4:30

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vttuonfu2BM

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  2. Why would you seem to even doubt that John Lechleiter would not be able to accomplish this feat as well? Martin was reproducing a compound he likely directly worked on and then directly promoted/monitored for several years to lock firmly in his brain cells. Although probably less ability to correctly write out accurate structures of some of Lilly's present clinical candidates I would guess Lechleiter, with a process chemist background, probably has a few molecules from his career that are strongly fixed in his memory where could fully recreate upon certain prompts (I know I have a few such I can recall even from 10-20 years ago). That said based on actions under his watch and articles about Lilly I have wondered if Lechlecter has converted to the commonly held MBA mindset that devalues R&D personnel as expensive risks rather than investment in potential future. Like Martin he does come from a science background that may be a positive whereas the vast majority of today's Pharma CEOs are Business/Legal/Marketing types who have little appreciation for any science or the drugs being discovered and developed.

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  3. Except that they licensed their money-making phosphonate drugs from Communist Czechoslovakia....

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    1. @milkshake:
      Don't forget Emtricitabine from Liotta's lab at Emory! Yeah, I once shared a bumpy parking lot with Pharmasset..never would have expected Gilead to drop $11 billion for Sobosbuvir. At least there was solid science behind Sobsobuvir, unlike glorified resveratrol in that GSK-Sirtis debacle...

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  4. Gilead employee here - - Drawing some of the structures of the drugs isn't that difficult if you're a Gilead employee---the structures are literally etched in the frosted glass on office windows throughout the company. As far as Viread, it's a fairly simple structure compared to some of the more current behemoth drugs that are coming out these days. If you can draw a phosphate group and a nucleic acid 80% of your work is already figured out and you just have to remember the particulars.

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    1. Anonymous: The sad thing is that most CEOs won't be able to draw structures *even if* they're sketched out on frosted glass all around the company.

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