The Drug Hunters

The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines

Foreword by Madelyn Fernstrom
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About The Book

The surprising, behind-the-scenes story of how our medicines are discovered, told by a veteran drug hunter.

The search to find medicines is as old as disease, which is to say as old as the human race. Through serendipity— by chewing, brewing, and snorting—some Neolithic souls discovered opium, alcohol, snakeroot, juniper, frankincense, and other helpful substances. Ötzi the Iceman, the five-thousand-year-old hunter frozen in the Italian Alps, was found to have whipworms in his intestines and Bronze-age medicine, a worm-killing birch fungus, knotted to his leggings. Nowadays, Big Pharma conglomerates spend billions of dollars on state-of the art laboratories staffed by PhDs to discover blockbuster drugs. Yet, despite our best efforts to engineer cures, luck, trial-and-error, risk, and ingenuity are still fundamental to medical discovery.

The Drug Hunters is a colorful, fact-filled narrative history of the search for new medicines from our Neolithic forebears to the professionals of today, and from quinine and aspirin to Viagra, Prozac, and Lipitor. The chapters offer a lively tour of how new drugs are actually found, the discovery strategies, the mistakes, and the rare successes of drug hunters from the US, UK, Germany, and other nations. Dr. Donald R. Kirsch infuses the book with his own expertise and experiences from thirty-five years of drug hunting, whether searching for life-saving molecules in mudflats by Chesapeake Bay or as a chief science officer and research group leader at major pharmaceutical companies.

About The Authors

Dr. Donald R. Kirsch has been a drug hunter for thirty five years, holds twenty-four drug-related patents, has written more than fifty papers, has been a reviewer for prestigious journals, a director, research group leader, and chief science officer at Wyeth, Cyanamid, Squibb, and Cambria Pharmaceuticals, and currently teaches drug discovery at Harvard Extension School. He lives in Bedford, MA.

Ogi Ogas, PhD, is a professional science writer. He is the coauthor of A Billion Wicked Thoughts and Shrinks and has published articles in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Wired, Glamour, Seed, and Psychology Today. He lives in Boston, MA.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Arcade (October 2018)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781628729863

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Raves and Reviews

"A well-written and highly informative book . . . Recommended for The ASCO Post readers, especially as a travel companion."—ASCO Post

"A must-read for a 'behind the scenes' look at new drug development.” —Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, NBC News Health Editor

"Dr. Kirsch brings a lifetime of experience to bear in separating common misconceptions about drug discovery from the reality, in which skill and luck combine to bring new medicines to the public."—Dr. Eric Gordon, Adjunct Professor, Stanford University, and CSO of Arixa Pharmaceuticals

"The Drug Hunters is an entertaining account of how new medicines are discovered. Fascinating stories and important lessons abound, and readers will be amazed and delighted to learn where and how some drugs with which they're familiar originated. Kirsch says that discovering a new drug is more like making a new movie than designing a new tablet, and I agree."—Dr. Richard B. Silverman, inventor of the Pfizer drug Lyrica

“Kirsch, a veteran drug hunter, and Ogis, a talented science writer, expertly chronicle the search for lifesaving medications . . . A fascinating read full of surprising facts and intriguing connections."—Booklist

“This lucid, anecdote-rich book covers familiar ground for specialists but offers a bright overview for the rest of us of humankind's hunt for medicines . . . Kirsch tells the fascinating stories of historic drug discoveries over the centuries . . . Highly informative.” —Kirkus

“A lively and sweeping look at the history of drug discovery and how difficult, expensive, and pivotal the search has proven to be. It’s an enlightening, if ominous, survey.” —Publishers Weekly

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