Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"The Cell Game" by Alex Prud'homme - Review

Republished with some modifications.

When I started reading this book I would never have guessed that one of its main characters would be Martha Stewart. I thought the book was about the biotech company Imclone (and it is).

I did not know much about Imclone before this book. However, I do remember that when I arrived in USA in 2004 to start my postdoctoral studies, one of the main news on TV was about Martha Stewart going to prison for insider trading. Who knew that she ended up in prison because of her connection to Imclone's boss (both are of polish origin).

This book is more like a biography of Imclone's co-founder Sam Waksal, a very charismatic person. It describes his personal life with great details. The author portrayed Sam Waksal as a habitual liar, someone who is hungry for money and luxurious living, who could easily attract people and used to get what he wanted (of course, until 2003, when he went to prison for insider trading and related charges).

Sam Waksal had been running Imclone for almost 20 years. The fact that he managed to keep the company alive for so long without having a single product does indicate that he did has an extraordinary qualities. People thought he was a great scientist with great social skills. In late 2001, Imclone made headline news in USA by revealing its $2 billion deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb to develop and commercialize cancer drug erbitux (EGF-R antagonist). It was the largest deal in biotech world at that time. However, within next 2 years, almost all of the Imclone's top executives were either in prison or no longer with the company.

What happened? Imclone's story is a classical example of corporate hype. After reading this book it becomes clear how easy it is to manipulate media and investors. Imclone's story reminds us about the disconnect between making science and making money.

But I also want to point out that science behind Imclone's drug Erbitux was ahead of its time and later discoveries in cancer field vindicated Imclone's management's position regarding some of Erbitux [failed] trials (for example need for patient stratification based on cancer genetic makeup). In fact, few years later after Imclone's debacle Erbitux was approved by FDA for use in cancer patients.          

posted by David Usharauli      


No comments:

Post a Comment