The Antidote: Inside the World of New Pharma

Barry Werth. Simon & Schuster, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4516-5566-7

With page-turning pace and action, Werth returns to the biotech company Vertex, spinning readers through the ups and downs of pharmaceutical research in its current state nearly 20 years after first visiting it in The Billion Dollar Molecule. Werth takes readers inside the daily operations of Vertex, profiling the efforts of Vertex scientists to develop drugs for HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, and cystic fibrosis. He dives the science behind the research, untangling dense biological problems in everyday language: "The miracle of biology," he writes, " is how chains of inert atoms receive, via other inert atoms, the operating instructions for how and when to fold precisely into bits of living matter, then interact with other bits to produce life." Werth also focuses on the corporate culture, the company's interactions with competition, and the complexity of the drug approval and regulation systems. Readers will feel the sadness when a promising drug fails in clinical trials along with the elation when years of research and trials lead to success. Recommended for those interested in the nuts and bolts of R&D in the pharmaceutical industry. (Feb.)