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The Drug Hunters Audiobook

The Drug Hunters: The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines

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Publisher's Summary

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 5,000-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.

©2017 Donald R. Kirsch and Ogi Ogas (P)2017 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"A lively and sweeping look at the history of drug discovery and how difficult, expensive, and pivotal the search has proven to be." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  • Curmud the prof
    20/05/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Aargh!"

    As a pharmacologist myself I found the book contained some interesting back stories on the discovery and development of certain drugs. The mechanisms described were simplistic to a fault in some cases. But the pronunciation of many, perhaps most of the drug and chemical names, was awful. For this and similar books we need readers with a background - or extensive tutoring in the field - so that a lay person will hear the big words properly.

    56 of 61 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    23/04/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Absolutely fascinating"

    I loved this book! It tells the stories of how different medications came to exist - a compelling mix of history, science, politics, and sociology. Good narrator. I highly recommend this book.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  • Barb
    05/08/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Fascinating"

    A very interesting book for anybody interested in medicine or pharmacy.
    It turns out we are lucky a modern medicine can successfully treat so many diseases, since discovering medicines is still and has been, despite all the science advances, a lot of luck and serendipity.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • ilkka
    Turku, Finland
    12/07/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "History of modern pharmacology"

    Very interesting and relevant!

    A a physician I use (on my patients) all of the drugs that this book covers. The book also covers pretty much all of the drug families. Should've read this much earlier.

    20 of 22 people found this review helpful
  • Emily Cramer
    10/03/17
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    Performance
    Story
    "Makes me glad I live in the 21st century"

    This is a great read for others like me who harbor a failed but absurdly optimistic scientist inside him or herself. This book highlights the immense luck involved with discovering and refining seeds of promise to produce true medical breakthroughs.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • Maria
    10/09/17
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    Performance
    Story
    "loved it!"

    Absolutely loved it. This is the type of books I enjoy - non-fiction, storytelling, history of science and discovery outlined in an easy-to-absorb manner, a series of cases (each curious, and all illustrating the changes in drug development over ~150 years).

    18 of 21 people found this review helpful
  • Gillian
    Austin, TX, United States
    17/10/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I Wanted To Love This--"

    Really, I did. Anything that smacks of history? And then you add scientific sleuthing with sociology? It should've been a slam-dunk!
    Alas, it needed editing. I realize that it wasn't even 8 hours, but it actually goes on and on here, way too in-depth there. I found my mind wandering.
    There's plenty here that should be interesting: biology, genetics, medicinal mishaps causing death, a history of how the Pill came to be and how fraught it all was at the time. And it is indeed interesting to a certain point. I just wish there was more sleuthing involved.
    Worth most of the time you'll spend on it, but I'm sorry I used a whole credit on it.

    29 of 35 people found this review helpful
  • Michael
    Baltimore, MD
    29/10/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Way more interesting than you would think!"

    A fascinating story of what it takes to create new drugs as well as a really interesting history of how some of the most common drugs were discovered. Also helps explain the high cost of medicine without making excuses for the big pharmaceutical companies. It is co authored by a former drug hunter who understands the good and the bad of the process.
    Well worth the time!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • CHET YARBROUGH
    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States
    27/10/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "THE HEART OF LUCK AND CIRCUMSTANCE"

    As a science, pharmacology survives in the heart of luck and circumstance. Donald Kirsch and Ogi Ogas recount the origin and history of drug discovery in THE DRUG HUNTERS. Kirsch and Ogas explain how drugs evolved from shamanistic ritual and magic to plant extraction and modern synthetic drug creation. They argue that the complexity of myth, elemental plant extraction, and animal metabolism make the search for effective drugs a casino exercise.

    Kirsch and Ogas reveal how scientists, entrepreneurs, and corporations make big bets; garnering wins and losses wrapped in luck and circumstance. Like gamblers, drug hunters lie to themselves about continuing research on busted bets with bigger financial and emotional investments. Sometimes they win but usually they lose--no breakthrough is made. The drug does not work as expected.

    The reasons for failure range from false expectation of drug hunters to impure abstraction (or creation) of ingredients. They add to the list of potential failures with mistaken methods of administration (topical, pill-form, or injection), chemical bonding miscalculations, and human versus animal metabolism. The paths to error outnumber the highways to success.

    So why do scientists, entrepreneurs, and corporations gamble on research? Because a win can make billions of dollars. Kirsrch and Ogas imply corporations are reducing their research departments and changing their mode of drug discovery by purchasing companies that have found new and effective drugs. A troubling implication is that new drug discoveries will not come from corporations. That leaves new drug discovery to driven independent scientists, entrepreneurs, and government agencies (funded by tax revenue).

    Kirsch and Ogas offer fascinating stories of how therapeutic drugs were discovered. From aspirin to penicillin to birth control; to psychiatric treatment, and cancer remediation, they explain how difficult, expensive, and serendipitous the search for effective drugs have been.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Elisabeth Carey
    Lawrence, MA
    20/10/17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A great look at drug development"

    Donald Kirsch is a drug hunter--a scientist who works for pharmaceutical companies working to develop new drugs. He's worked for several different companies over the course of his career, and has lived through finding new drugs, having the quest to develop a new drug end in failure, or in the development of something entirely different from what they were after. He's lived through employers not thinking a promising new potential drug was promising enough, and the frustrations of getting drugs through the regulatory approval process.

    This started out as a book about why drugs are so expensive. It wound up being about the excitement, tedium, adventure, frustration of drug development. And, oh yes, why it makes the end products so expensive.

    Initially, for all practical purposes, all drugs came from plants. This was true in the time of Otzi the Iceman, who was carrying a Neolithic remedy for whipworms when he died. It was true down to quite recent times. when new drugs were developed and old ones, such as aspirin, have been extracted into purer and more powerful forms.

    Then came, in modern laboratories, the creation of whole new chemical entities, working to produce chemicals that would attack diseases. The development of drugs from animals is the most recent approach and the hardest to make work, but from it we have, for instance, insulin, enabling diabetics to live much longer, fuller, and more normal lives.

    At every stage of this history, developing new drugs has required imagination and risk-taking. Pre-modern hunters after cures for what ailed them and the other members of their communities had no alternative but direct experimentation on themselves and those they knew. Even today, with modern methods, protocols, and precautions, eventually a new drug has to be tested in clinical trials to be sure it is safe and effective in humans, regardless of how well it performed in animal or other forms of pre-clinical testing.

    And sometimes, as Kirsch describes in a rather personal experience, the drug hunters still wind up having to test their drugs on themselves, to get to the point where they can even make a convincing pitch to their bosses, who have to approve the funding for further development and testing.

    The process of drug development is as much art as science, with intuition and imagination, not to mention risk-taking, playing at least as large a role as rational analysis.

    It's a fascinating story, and Kirsch tells it well.

    Recommended.

    I bought this audiobook.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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