The best books about how new prescription drugs are discovered, developed, and sold

Frank S. David Author Of The Pharmagellan Guide to Biotech Forecasting and Valuation
By Frank S. David

The Books I Picked & Why

The Billion-Dollar Molecule: The Quest for the Perfect Drug

By Barry Werth

The Billion-Dollar Molecule: The Quest for the Perfect Drug

Why this book?

This account of the early years of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, from its inception as a scrappy start-up to its early work in HIV, is a must-read classic for anyone interested in how science turns into new drugs. Barry Werth’s journalistic play-by-play is a cinematic, true-to-life picture of the strategic decisions, real-world challenges, and larger-than-life personalities that underlie modern drug development. His riveting follow-up, The Antidote, continues the saga by taking readers through Vertex’s pathbreaking work to transform the care of patients with hepatitis C and cystic fibrosis.


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Malignant: How Bad Policy and Bad Evidence Harm People with Cancer

By Vinayak K. Prasad

Malignant: How Bad Policy and Bad Evidence Harm People with Cancer

Why this book?

Since Nixon’s "War on Cancer," oncology treatment has seen some great advances, but also the approval of scores of over-priced drugs that do little to improve patients’ quality or quantity of life. Oncologist Vinay Prasad has written a broad, accessible overview of the flaws of modern cancer drug development that spans clinical trial design, conflicts of interest, regulatory policy, and more. His unabashedly anti-pharma stance gets preachy in places, but most of the challenges he identifies are spot-on and provide a thought-provoking roadmap for the future.


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The Great American Drug Deal: A New Prescription for Innovative and Affordable Medicines

By Peter Kolchinsky

The Great American Drug Deal: A New Prescription for Innovative and Affordable Medicines

Why this book?

What do we mean when we say “drug prices are too high” – and how can we fix them? In clear prose, Peter Kolchinsky, a successful biotech investor at RA Capital, clarifies the difference between list, net, and out-of-pocket drug costs, and explains how various parts of the system – drug companies, insurers, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) – fit together to determine them. He also includes several detailed and timely suggestions for reform that would reduce the burden on patients and sustain biopharma innovation.


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The Right Price: A Value-Based Prescription for Drug Costs

By Peter J. Neumann, Joshua T. Cohen, Daniel A. Ollendorf

The Right Price: A Value-Based Prescription for Drug Costs

Why this book?

A key issue about drug pricing not covered in Kolchinsky's book relates to value: even if a new therapy is affordable, is it "worth it"? Health economist Peter Neumann and his colleagues have written an authoritative, insightful, and extremely accessible history of efforts to align drugs' prices with their benefits to patients and society. This is a must-read guide for both insiders and non-experts to a topic that will be at the forefront of the drug pricing debate in the coming decade. 


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