THE CELL BUILDERS by H. Garrett DeYoung


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DeYoung's narrative is a trio playing on heartstrings and money strings, with a bass continue supplied by advances in biomedical technology. The heartstrings are the vagaries of life affecting a young physician, bright, arrogant, independently wealthy, who develops a non-Hodgkin's form of lymphoma (a cancer of the immune system) early in his career. The money concerns the fortunes of Damon Biotech, a comer in the field with a particular claim to fame: the company has specialized in the production of micropores, miniplastic spheres that can be used to house drugs that, upon injection, will slowly release into the body. The science concerns monoclonal antibodies, the latter-day ""magic bullets"" produced by techniques that earned Cesar Milstein and Georges Kohler a Nobel prize in 1984. Their method involves fusing a mouse cancer cell with an immune cell from the same animal and growing the fused cell (a ""hybridoma"") in culture. The cancer half allows the cell to re-produce indefinitely and does allow the proliferation of daughter clones all producing the identical antibody. Choose the right antibody and you have a bullet to attack specific enemies: an invading virus, or the body's own cells gone awry, as in cancer. In due course, patient meets experimenters meet company officials with the idea of developing monoclonal antibody treatments for lymphoma. This entails producing human monoclonal antibodies, however, which turns out to be devilishly difficult. Enter the minisphere--useful, it appears as a cell culture environment. One would hope for a proper denouement. However, the true-to-life ending is moot. Patient's cancer goes into remission. The experimenters, disgruntled by less-than-enthusiastic backing from federal agencies, take off for elsewhere and Damon Biotech undergoes a management shakeup. DeYoung is at his best in building the melodrama of characters and plot. The story turns more on the dynamics of American culture--personal and business--in the 80's, and, as such, presents a not altogether pleasing picture of ego, self-interest and profits. Alas, like it is, and therefore of interest.

Pub Date: July 18th, 1986
Publisher: Doubleday