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1 Man Does It Faster, Cheaper Than Big Pharma

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1 Man Does It Faster, Cheaper Than Big Pharma


1 Man Does It Faster, Cheaper Than Big Pharma

1 Man Does It Faster, Cheaper Than Big Pharma

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Drug companies aren't the only ones making money inventing new medicines for the market. A man in Massachusetts has brought three drugs to market almost on his own. His process is the same as the big drug makers, but he farms out each aspect of the process to independent labs and specialists. When the drug starts to succeed in trials, he sells it to one of the big companies.


And in a tough economy like this one, rather than fighting for a job, some people are simply starting their own companies. A pharmaceutical business might not sound like an easy one to set up, but there is a growing number of one-person drug-making companies cropping up across the country.

From member station WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch has the story of one man who's already developed three prescription drugs on his own.

CURT NICKISCH: This is not what you picture when you hear corner office. Dennis Goldberg runs a drug company out of one corner of his living room.

Mr. DENNIS GOLDBERG (President and CEO, neXus therapeutics Inc.): It's very different from the hermetically-sealed office buildings where, you know, you can't open the windows. Here I can open the windows and get the fresh air coming through and it's nice.

NICKISCH: Goldberg's home nudges a cranberry bog. Each morning someone picks up his giant schnauzer so he can work in quiet for a few hours. The drug he's testing is a cholesterol drug, for people for whom statins such as Lipitor don't work. But Goldberg says he doesn't need fancy corporate headquarters to develop another blockbuster.

Mr. GOLDBERG: Do we really need to build another big company? We need more drugs. So we're just focusing on the drug part.

NICKISCH: Goldberg, backed by a few investors, is taking a drug that was discovered at a university in Alabama through the first round of human testing. To do this, you need scientists, you need laboratories, you need lawyers. So normally, Goldberg says, you build a building, outfit it with labs, and hire expensive people to fill it.

Mr. GOLDBERG: Normally you get this into a big company and you get all the bells and whistles and you're spending all this stuff on overhead. You can spend easily 60, 80 million.

NICKISCH: But Goldberg's only spending $6 million, and he's not building anything. He's the only full-time employee. So how does he do it? Well, he's contracting out each step in the drug's development process to someone else.

(Soundbite of bubble wrap)

NICKISCH: At Charles River Laboratories outside Boston, a worker is tending to a six-foot-long plastic bubble. Inside, a medical experiment is being run on mice. This isolation chamber is just one of hundreds in this warehouse.

CEO Jim Foster says his company runs experiments for people like Dennis Goldberg.

Mr. JIM FOSTER (CEO, Charles River Laboratories): And they're basically renting a bubble or a whole row of bubbles, or we hope a whole building of bubbles. But they don't have to own the bubbles themselves. They don't have to own the building, and they don't have to employee the employees. We do that for them.

NICKISCH: So when Dennis Goldberg, the one-person drug company, is getting his drug researched at one of these contractors like Charles River Laboratories, he sits at home and works on other stuff. He files paperwork with the FDA. He negotiates with a manufacturer to make more of the drug, which he'll need later on. He starts lining up medical clinics to do the human trials. So he doesn't have to have all those folks on staff. He just cuts them a check.

That's how Elizabeth Higgins got paid recently by someone like Dennis Goldberg. She's the CEO of a contract research lab called GlycoSolutions.

Dr. ELIZABETH HIGGINS (CEO, GlycoSolutions): And we received the check in the mail a personal check from his Charles Schwab account. He's paying for it out of his own money.

NICKISCH: Now, obviously this isn't one of those work-from-home schemes you see advertised in the Penny Saver. Dennis Goldberg and most of the people doing this are former drug company executives. They've been through this whole process before. And you can't do this just anywhere either. Most of these virtual companies are cropping up around Boston, where there's a big pharmaceutical industry.

Mr. MIKE WEBB (Virtual Office 4 U): From top-flight intellectual property attorneys, project managers, labs, facilities - it's all here available, really at a moment's notice.

NICKISCH: Mike Webb is a former corporate drug executive who's now providing services to a growing number of these virtual companies.

Mr. WEBB: We're bringing people together at the right time at the right place. And then eventually we're passing them on to much bigger companies that get them to the patients.

NICKISCH: Those much bigger companies happen to be desperate right now. Many are watching the patents on their best-selling drugs run out, and they need to bring new ones to market.

As a one-person drug company, Dennis Goldberg says he can not only bring a promising drug through the process cheaper, he says he can do it faster.

Mr. GOLDBERG: If it works, great. And if not, you know, the company just goes away.

NICKISCH: Well, Goldberg also loses the $6 million he and investors put into the cholesterol drug. But for the chance to develop a drug that will be sold to people around the world, that's a risk he's willing to take.

For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston.

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