Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My brief thoughts upon a binge reading of Barry Werth's "The Antidote"

"The Antidote" is:

- Fast-paced, eminently readable, dramatic
- A long record of Josh Boger's deepest thoughts about Vertex, a company he cares deeply about
- The inner thoughts of much of Vertex's C-suite-level executives
- Rather self-indulgent towards Vertex management's thoughts on its own culture (dude, the Garrison section?)
- The story of the manufacture of Incivek API, including the revelation that two of the five segments were manufactured by WuXi early on.
- A record of the formulation research behind Incivek, including a fairly detailed look at its spray-dried dispersion technology.
- A fantastic look behind the completely over-the-top preparations required to go in front of the FDA's advisory boards
- Towards the middle and end of the book, mostly about Invicek and Vertex's stock price and how Vertex management dealt with the ups-and-downs
- A really gripping account of one CF patient and the absolute elation/desperation that he felt with getting Kalydeco (Vertex's cystic fibrosis drug) and then not having it.

"The Antidote" is not:

- Nearly as great at telling the human stories of scientists, compared to "The Billion Dollar Molecule."

A good read, not quite as good as "The Billion Dollar Molecule", but still worth the ~$13 I paid for it.

[Two of the main protagonists of BDM, John Thomson and Mark Murcko, play a role in the story as they're now managers within Vertex's organization. There are two layoff-related episodes in the book -- I find it sadly ironic that both of these characters from the first book are intimately involved with them.]


  1. Agreed! Quite readable but not as great and pulse-pounding from the human perspective as "The Billion Dollar Molecule" which reads like a combination of a romantic novel and a Tom Clancy thriller. I too was very intrigued by the accoutn of the formulation difficulties, something that was obviously missing in the previous volume.

  2. I guess I have to buy the hardcover edition so both Free Radical and I can read it. He's still not finished with "The Billion Dollar Molecule." I have no idea why he's reading it so slowly.

  3. @ChemJobber or others who have read both, should Antidote be treated as a sequel to BDM, or are they mutually exclusive reads? Haven't read BDM yet, but being in the API business Antidote seems like it may appeal to me more.

    Would I be missing out by reading Antidote before reading BDM?

    1. They're basically mutually exclusive. While there's a lot of coverage of what happened in the interim years (the first quarter of the book?), it does not pick up immediately where BDM left off. Also, some of the main characters are the same (Boger in particular), the science/medicine is very different.

      I don't want to oversell the API section too much; it's not a huge portion of the book (5-10 pages in total at most?). BUT, assuming that Werth got his details right, it is a remarkably revealing look at the supply chain for a single drug, from starting material to finished dosage form.

    2. What BDM is, (that almost no other molecule is not): a book written in the ~modern pharmaceutical era by a popular writer where bench-level scientists are absolutely the protagonists of the book.

    3. Thanks for the clarification, I think the look at the supply chain will be interesting. Looking forward to reading it!


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