Converse's Reviews > The Drug Hunters: The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines

The Drug Hunters by Donald R. Kirsch
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bookshelves: medicine, science, biology, business, history

My strongest impression from this excellent book is that finding an effective drug remains a very hit or miss affair. I expected that to be true in the past, but didn't expect it to still be true. Our greatest advance is that we can now automate some of the laborious searching through large numbers of chemicals or gene sequences. A second strong impression is that when a new source of potential pharmaceuticals is discovered, such as when soil fungi were explored for antibiotics starting in the 1940s, a small number of effective drugs are found quickly and then it takes much longer (if ever) to find additional drugs from the same force. The analogy that came to my mind was a oil well that is quickly tapped out. The authors analogy in the conclusion between the pharmaceutical industry and the movie business seemed apt, down to the tendency for everyone to copy the most recent blockbuster.

Another conclusion I drew is that there is an imperfect alignment between the profit-maximizing of a private industry and the ideal outcome from the patient's perspective. My idea of an ideal drug is one you take once and which cures the illness, full stop. A company is much better off with a pharmaceutical that one takes repeatedly to render an illness tolerable. One consequence of this misalignment is that private firms are largely out of the search of new antibiotics, which is most unfortunate given the large number of resistant bacteria species these days. A solution that occurs to me is a continuous government subsidy of research in this area, with the government licensing any successful drugs that result at a low cost to commercial produces.

I also concluded that side effects are likely to always be with us, as there are so many naturally-occurring chemicals in our bodies that may react with a pharmaceutical between entering the body and reaching the target area, and that in addition there are likely to be multiple chemically similar receptor molecules, besides the intended target, for the drug to cross-react with.

I listened to the audio version of this enjoyable book. I earlier posted the first part of this review on Amazon.com.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 29, 2017 – Shelved
November 29, 2017 – Shelved as: medicine
November 29, 2017 – Shelved as: science
November 29, 2017 – Shelved as: biology
November 29, 2017 – Shelved as: business
November 29, 2017 – Shelved as: history
November 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

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