Barely a week goes by without some expose regarding Big Pharma hitting the press. “How can they charge $10 a pill when the manufacturing cost is pennies” the investigative reporter asks? Even fiction writers have an axe to grind about Big Pharma, in John Le Carre’s fine novel The Constant Gardener he paints them as the coming of the next Anti-Christ. Is Big Pharma the bad actor that we are led to beleive? According to Robert Shook the answer is a clear and resounding no.

His new book Miracle Medicines – Seven Lifesaving Drugs And The People Who Created Them reveals a very different story from the ‘News at Six, Video at Eleven’ segments that we see on the TV. Contrary to popular belief, today there is no simple drug; it takes years of research and hundreds of millions of dollars to move from concept to prescription.

It is one thing to mix up an exotic cocktail in the laboratory, it is an entirely different thing to jump through the clinical trials, the exhaustive documentation (truck loads), and finally the FDA hoops to get the drug approved for use. Miracle Medicines is a fascinating read, it is not just one book, rather it is several different viewpoints of disparate aspects of a subject.

The drugs selected for discussion were developed by different companies. By way of introduction to each of the drugs Mr. Shook first gives us a short history of the company. He does an excellent job of chronicling the early beginnings, and many of these now household names started from very humble beginnings. He also gives us an idea of the current corporate mindset, and corporate image. Yes, drug companies have an image, for example most people think of Johnson & Johnson as being a baby product company, which makes powders, soothing salves, and ointments to fix scrapes and scratches. But they also make Tylenol and Remicade, two very important drugs.

Mr. Shook next introduces us to the scientists, chemists, biologists, and other people who are the inventors that create the magic cocktail. We get to know these men and women on a first name basis; we get to share their hopes and fears. While they are all completely different in background, education, and interests, they all share one facet, and that is passion: a passion to make a difference. Often their ideas end up in the incinerator, but they keep pushing for what they believe in. And once in thousands of different attempts they come across a compound that shows hope.

Even if a drug looks good in the laboratory, there is no guarantee that it will work in the real world. It now faces a series of rigorous tests, and a failure at any juncture will result in the project being cancelled. Robert Shook could have stopped there, but he took the story one step further, for each of the drugs discussed in the book he found people that were using the drugs. Actually he found people that were alive as a direct consequence of those drugs. Those stories could make a book all on their own.

I found Miracle Medicines to be a very educational and enjoyable read. I even know how GlaxoSmithKline got its name. With over 50 books under his belt, Robert Shook knows how to create an absorbing read.

Miracle Medicines is available through Amazon

Simon Barrett  



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