This follow-up to the author’s book about upstart Vertex Pharmaceuticals (The Billion-Dollar Molecule: One Company’s Quest for the Perfect Drug, 1994) details the firm’s transition from boutique creative group to profitable prescription drug maker.
Business and science writer Werth (Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America, 2009, etc.) offers a blow-by-blow account of visionary Harvard chemist Joshua Boger’s struggle to create a pace-setting drug company to develop breakthrough drugs for serious diseases. Attracted by Vertex’s seemingly quixotic quest to put patients first in an industry dominated by profits and Wall Street, the author once again obtained unusual access to company scientists and officers and followed their passion and work as they shepherded their first drugs through discovery, development and introduction to the marketplace. Covering the years 1993 (Vertex’s fourth year) to 2012, Werth sets his story against controversies facing the massive prescription drug business, most notably public outrage over skyrocketing drug prices. Until 2009, the ambitious, Steve Jobs–like Boger held center stage, determined to make Vertex “Merck, but better,” hiring scientists who “craved the chance to compete at the forefront” and developing new drugs to treat such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis and hepatitis C. Werth provides an inside look at the setting of priorities, the making of deals and partnerships, and the complex, high-risk challenges facing research scientists whose discoveries rarely make it to market. His molecular-level descriptions of drug making will appeal mainly to science-minded readers, but his rendering of bright, quirky individuals and their determination to make Vertex sustainable will satisfy anyone seeking an exciting biotech business story. In 2011, after two decades and more than $3 billion in losses, the Cambridge, Mass.–based company launched a breakthrough drug that combats the leading cause of advanced liver disease.
A revealing, readable book about “some of competitive capitalism’s most complicated science and most cutthroat marketing maneuvers.”