A Summer Reading List for Biotech Pros

A Summer Reading List for Biotech Pros

[Updated: 7/17 9:15 am PT] Summer is here, so there’s a bit of a lull on the average biotech pro’s schedule. If there’s ever an opportunity to take a breather from the relentless scientific, medical, and investor meetings that dominate the industry calendar, this is it. Time to catch up on reading a few good books.

The good news is there’s no shortage of people writing thought-provoking things today about biology, healthcare, the global economy, and other topics that are bound to appeal to creative folks in the biotech industry. Here are a few books that I’ve heard recommended recently on my travels in biotech. Thanks to Jim Sabry of Genentech, Carol Gallagher of AnaptysBio, David Shaywitz of Theravance, consultant Stewart Lyman, and biotech entrepreneur Katrine Bosley for their thoughts.

If you have other books you’d like to add to the list, please send me a note at [email protected] with a short explanation of why you liked it. I may update this column throughout the week to beef up the list.

The Emperor of All Maladies” by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. This book has gotten loads of critical acclaim over the past year, including a Pulitzer Prize. It’s written with the scientific and medical authority of a physician, the big picture context you’d expect from a historian, and a human touch that can only come from someone who wrestles with the challenges of treating terminally ill patients day-to-day. As someone who writes regularly about advances in the treatment of cancer, I’d say it’s probably the best book I’ve read this year.

Carol Gallagher,

Carol Gallagher, the executive chair of San Diego-based AnaptysBio, agrees this is highly-recommended reading for biotech executives. “Dr. Mukherjee, an oncologist who trained at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is a beautiful writer who provides a sense of the scientific and human struggles as well as the mistakes we have made in our efforts to make better treatments for patients with cancer,” Gallagher said via e-mail. “It captures the Don Quixote swinging at windmills sensation that we often all feel as we try to reverse the march of cancer. He incorporates the perspectives of patients when faced with being part of the real-time experiment of evaluating new treatments. An important perspective we should all keep as we try to develop new cancer agents.”

The Eighth Day of Creation,” by Horace Freeland Judson. This is a classic, first published in 1979, which Genentech’s Sabry recommended as fascinating and well worth reading in 2012. When Judson died a year ago, his obituary in the New York Times said this book was “regarded as the definitive account of the breakthroughs that transformed molecular biology in the mid-20th century.” I have to confess I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on the list now.

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock” by Evelyn Fox Keller. This is another biology classic that Sabry recommends, which I haven’t had a chance to pick up. But this biography of a Nobel Prize winning biologist sheds a lot of light on not just the history of molecular biology, and also the challenges women face in science—many of which sadly still endure long after McClintock died in 1992.

The Creative Destruction of Medicine” by Dr. Eric Topol. Quite a few doctors are irritated by the changes going on in their world, as their autonomy and incomes are being limited by various healthcare reforms. Topol takes a different tack, with … Next Page »

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