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Storytelling In The News: #115

Story of biotech research: role of individuals in innovation

April 10, 2004

Further to an earlier story in these pages on the tension between big organizations and innovation, BusinessWeek reviews a new book, The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs by Merrill Goozner (University of California, 2004) and highlights a couple of examples where the persistence of an individual researcher made the difference between success and failure:

* Amgen Inc.'s (AMGN ) blood-boosting EPO, the world's best-selling biotech drug, was based on decades of work by an academic scientist -- and the collection of 2,550 liters of urine from Japanese patients.

* Novartis (NVS ) is reaping plaudits and billions of dollars in revenues right now from its cancer drug Gleevec, but the treatment would have never come to market without Brian Druker at the Oregon Health & Science University. The company originally thought that the market -- patients with a rare leukemia -- was too small to justify developing the drug. Druker, however, lobbied hard for human trials after showing that the medicine worked in a test tube. He even gave Novartis an ultimatum. "Either get it into clinical trials or license it to me," he said. Now, Gleevec is a blockbuster. It took a dedicated researcher before a reluctant drug company delivered on the promise of its proprietary product.

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