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The Billion-Dollar Molecule raises the curtain on the fascinating and tumultuous drama of a radically new start-up pharmaceutical company. That company, Vertex, is trying to design a lifesaving new drug that - if it works - will prove the potential of a brand-new drug-making technique and also fulfill the vision of Vertex's founder and chairman, Joshua Boger, one of the most promising scientists of his generation.
In early 1989 the thirty-seven-year-old Boger set out to revolutionize the drug industry, the most profitable industry in existence. Trained at Harvard and at Merck, the premier biomedical firm and perennially most admired corporation in America, Boger established Vertex to design drugs atom by atom.
Barry Werth takes readers inside Vertex from its first days to profile the driven, obsessive scientists who work around the clock in pursuit of scientific breakthroughs. One member of Vertex's scientific advisory board, Stuart Schreiber, is a full professor at Harvard, younger even than Boger, and determined to win a Nobel Prize and to create new molecules that will elucidate the workings of the human cell. Schreiber, however, soon becomes Boger's chief rival in a competition between emerging scientific titans.
The immediate goal for both Vertex and Schreiber is to explore the workings of a new immunosuppressant, a drug that prevents organ transplant rejections and that could have potentially wider uses. Only one approved immune-suppressing drug exists, and it has serious side effects. If Vertex can create a better drug, it will indeed be a billion-dollar molecule.
But to succeed, Vertex needs money, lots of it. Every biotechnology story is also a Wall Street story, and Boger spends much of his time raising capital. With the assistance of the dean of venture capitalists, Benno Schmidt, Sr., Boger and his colleagues woo foreign companies eager to find American partners to help expand their presence in the U.S. pharmaceutical market. Eventually Boger decides to take Vertex public in an anxious initial public offering where, characteristically, he dominates his financial advisers.
Meanwhile, the scientific story of the elusive target molecule proves to be more complex and surprising than even Boger imagined.
This is a no-holds-barred, brilliant and compelling look at one of the key industries of our future.