Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner *****

Science Non-Fiction at its best. The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner tells the story of the development of the cancer drug Gleevec. This book works on so many levels: science, business, people, but first of all it is an exciting story, a page-turner that can not be put down, especially parts 2 and 3 about the design and testing.

This book is readable by both the many people who work in the pharmaceutical industry and all the others who are just consumers of drugs, and know for sure that all of us are or will be such consumers.

While surgery (cutting people open) is an ancient practice, medicines that provide more than palliative or placebo relief are recent, maybe starting with penicillin less than 100 years ago. Modern drug discovery is where cures will come from and where improvements in the general well-being of humankind will derive in the 21st century. Contrast this is the 20th century where preventative measures lead the public health mission with the successes of clean water, some say the greatest life saver of all time, antiseptics, and vaccines.

The book gives a celebratory story of science, the fifty year quest from basic research to saving lives. While following a one of those rare success stories, the reader also getting hints of the many difficulties behind successful drug development --- from biological complexity to corporate and governmental bureaucracy.

Thirty years ago The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder told the exciting story of the development of a computer. (Full disclosure: I still have this book in my library.) This was another book for insiders and outsiders alike to revel in the brilliance, energy and determination of the many people working together to bring something complex and new into the world. Back in the day, it was a book I recommended to the many people interested in careers in the promising field of computers.

Now for the 21st century, the excitement of discovery has moved from computers to biotech and The Philadelphia Chromosome is the book that should be read by everyone.

 I received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.

No comments: