Friday, June 25, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell on drug research

From Malcolm Gladwell's article, "Why is it so difficult to develop drugs for cancer?":

An early financial backer of Chen's was Michael Milken, the junk-bond king of the nineteen-eighties who, after being treated for prostate cancer, became a major cancer philanthropist. "I told Milken my story," Chen said, "and very quickly he said, 'I'm going to give you four million dollars. Do whatever you want.' Right away, Milken thought of Russia. Someone had told him that the Russians had had, for a long time, thousands of chemists in one city making compounds, and none of those compounds had been disclosed." Chen's first purchase was a batch of twenty-two thousand chemicals, gathered from all over Russia and Ukraine. They cost about ten dollars each, and came in tiny glass vials. With his money from Milken, Chen then bought a six-hundred-thousand-dollar state-of-the-art drug-screening machine. It was a big, automated Rube Goldberg contraption that could test ninety-six compounds at a time and do a hundred batches a day. A robotic arm would deposit a few drops of each chemical onto a plate, followed by a clump of cancer cells and a touch of blue dye. The mixture was left to sit for a week, and then reexamined. If the cells were still alive, they would show as blue. If the chemical killed the cancer cells, the fluid would be clear.
Read on.

*Buy books by Malcolm Gladwell at Amazon.