Our guest Bill Powers had a successful career working in the Big Pharma world as a toxicologist with a Ph.D. He is now a full-time thriller novelist.
Coming to you this time from the podcaster’s pharm pasture.
In his former career, he was a guy who worked on making drugs safe so nothing bad happened when you took them. But, he’s always been interested in writing and stories.
He tried penning a Sci-Fi novel in grad school, but it was “horrible” and he put it aside. Ten years ago, he tried again while still working his Big Pharma job and published his first book called “The Pharm House.” It’s a thriller set in the pharmaceutical world. The main character is a toxicologist (like Bill) who is trying to raise a child alone and grow his business after becoming a widower. He gets mixed up in a plot to take over the company which would make him the fall guy and puts him in danger of losing his job or going to jail.
The Big Pharma World
We were curious to find out what it was like working as a toxicologist and asked him to explain about all the scary side-effects we see in drug commercials. He said you rarely ever experience the side-effects because the drugs are tested extensively. However, since it’s possible, all side-effects must be listed.
We also wanted to know why drugs are so expensive in the U.S. He told us most drugs are discovered and developed by big pharma companies in the US and Western Europe. The cost of research and development (R&D) has to be absorbed by them. They exist to make a profit for shareholders and not just for the good of mankind. He did a write up recently that states the cost of developing a drug in the U.S. is approx. 2.8 Billion dollars and takes 10-12 years before it’s available. The entire process is resource intensive.
The Canadian government caps the price of drugs. The drugs they purchase are made in the U.S. but are sold for a lower price in Canada.
If too many limits are put on the cost of development, drug companies will lose their investors and go elsewhere. Limits also have an impact on research and development. It’s a balancing act.
His new books
Bill’s second book, “The Torch is Passed” is already out and a third “The Lost Codicil” is in the works. All three are part of a trilogy based on “The Pharm House.”
Self-publishing for aspiring novelists
Getting his books published was a long process. At first, he got stuck, so he locked himself away for 2 weeks until he finished his first book. He tried going the traditional route of getting an agent and collected 30 rejection letters. Frustrated, he put his book aside, then rewrote it and tried again 5 years later. This time, he got another 30 rejection letters, but they were all electronic so he felt he made progress.
Then, he signed a deal with a small independent publisher. They published “The Pharm House,” but the deal wasn’t good, so he broke his contract and self-published the book himself. Since then, he has stuck to self-publishing.
Self-publishing vs. traditional options
Amazon has changed the traditional publishing route entirely. There used to be 15 main publishing houses and now there are only 5. Also, it can take 6 months to find an agent, 6 months for the agent to find a publisher, and then with editing and scheduling it can take 1 – 1 ½ years before the book actually comes out. That’s over 2 + years in time. Bill says if he were 20 years younger, that would be okay, but now he doesn’t want to wait that long to get a book out.
He likes that self-publishing gives him complete control. The process requires him to hire people himself such as an editor, publisher, (he works with Book Baby) a professional cover designer, someone to set up both the book and electronic book, and a publicist.
More on big pharma
We asked Bill what his scariest (most toxic) experience was as a toxicologist. He said there’s one class of drugs on the market called “quinolones,” which are antibiotics. They can cause lesions on the bone. At one point in his career, he was working with quinolones and he and his colleagues had to stop an on-going clinical trial because of bad outcomes.
What kept him up at night was having to give a new drug to people for the first time after testing it on animals. Sometimes deaths occurred. Fortunately, for him, it didn’t happen while he was on the job.
15 years ago, drug companies tested on people in third world countries to cut corners. Even though there was no market there for the drugs, because they couldn’t afford them, it accelerated research and development. Thankfully, that practice has mostly been eliminated.
We asked Bill about his most exciting experience with drugs
Erythropoietin (EPO) stimulates red blood cell production and allows people with debilitating anemia to live normal lives.
Some of the new cancer therapies being developed use gene therapy and are incredible. Jimmy Carter’s brain cancer was not only treated but actually cured because of it.
A diagnosis of HIV used to be an automatic death sentence. Now, in the Western World, new HIV therapies make it a chronic manageable disease.
From what Bill’s been reading about cancer treatment, it will be similar to HIV and many forms of the disease will be chronically manageable within the next 5-10 years.
There are always new ailments popping up like the Zika virus. We discussed the upcoming Olympics as this show was recorded before it occurred.
Bill says there are superbugs out there that no drugs can touch. There are still one or two drugs that can cure MRSA but the way the disease evolves, they may not work in 1 or 2 years.