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for blood and money biotech book review

By the Sick Economist


How, exactly, does one get filthy rich in the biotech business? 

For Blood and Money, Billionaires, Biotech, and the Quest for a Blockbuster Drug answers just that question. The book recounts the real life tale of the discovery and commercialization of a new class of drugs for blood cancer. It’s a gripping real world account with more twists and turns than a mystery novel, but principally, the book’s narrative serves as a sharp educational tool for any aspiring biotech investor. 

Biotech for Beginners 

The book’s author, Nathan Vardi, is an experienced financial journalist who writes the book starting with the assumption that the reader knows nothing about the world of biotech. This rudimentary starting point is really what makes the book such a valuable learning experience. Vardi takes nothing for granted; while constantly striving to paint captivating portraits of the book’s main characters and add life to high stakes financial gambits, he never jumps to conclusions or leaves readers wondering about basic principals or concepts. The author does a masterful job of weaving together clinical explanations with bare knuckles business tactics, which is exactly what any successful biotech investor does on a daily basis. 

Conflict and Competition 

The biology behind biotech can sometimes seem dry or bewildering to the casual observer. That is why this is not just a book about biology. While Vardi doles out an impressive quantity of biological knowledge, he makes sure that the story is really about people. 

He focuses on the real life power players that built twenty first century hematology/oncology. But you might be surprised by who has had a hand in those miracle therapies that have been curing lymphoma patients for more than a decade now. 

Vardi draws a sharp contrast between the scientists and the business people who work together, and sometimes against each other, to give birth to new medicines. We are introduced to Robert Duggan, a mercurial “jack of all trades” business man whose previous experience consisted of cookie shops and medical devices before he decided to take a big gamble in the world of biotech. Another character on the business side of the ledger is Joseph Edelman, a high flying Wall Street money manager who decides to bet everything on an unproven molecule he bought for pennies at the biotech discount bin. 

Contrasting against these non-technical, non-scientist movers and shakers are an array of Phd’s , MD’s and thought leaders in the world of cancer. The two very different types of players are forced to form an uneasy alliance to move their drug forward. Unsurprsingly, these two very different kinds of executives bring different viewpoints and ideas to the table, and that dynamic tension drives Vardis’s narrative. 

The scientists and the rough and tumble entrepreneurs could be described, at best, as “frenemies.”  But when push comes to shove, who will get their way?  Who will walk away with the lion’s share of the profit? The scientists with decades of clinical experience whose vast scientific knowledge led directly to the breakthroughs, or the hard nosed business people who somehow manage to find hundreds of millions of dollars to fund these studies and slow research projects? 

The answer wil teach the reader a lot about the world of business, and the world of biotech in particular. The reader will be both entertained and informed, two words that rarely go together in the same sentence. 

Q & A 

Mostly, the book is invaluable because it answers so many nagging biotech questions. If you are a true biotech rookie, you don’t even know what questions to ask, but the information offered will help start you off on the right foot. However, if you already have some biotech experience, then the book will be even better, because the narrative will hit on questions you may already have. Questions such as:

  • Why is it that biotech founders often end up owning less than 5% of the company that they founded? 
  • What are the different stages of drug development, and what are the pitfalls and promises of each stage?
  • What are the considerations in the design and execution of a clinical trial? 
  • What are the challenges that must be overcome to run a successful clinical trial? 
  • What are the clinical and business considerations a biotech management team faces when formulating a commercialization strategy for a drug? 
  • How do partnerships work between small biotechs and major pharmaceutical giants? 
  • When, why, and how do small companies get sold? 
  • How is it possible for biotech entrepreneurs to make so much money from a drug that hasn’t even been approved yet? 

These are only a few of the topics that Vardis addresses as his narrative winds through the long and complicated history of a new blockbuster drug. Rather than running an MBA class or a technical manual for PhD’s, the author always keeps it interesting by focusing on people, purpose and conflict; he keeps his yarn fresh by ramping up the suspense around risk and reward. 


For Blood and Money might be the closest the average biotech investor ever gets to being inside of the laboratories and board rooms where medical innovation is forged. Think of this book as “Game of Thrones: Biotech Edition” with a few covert science lessons from Mr. Wizard baked into the drama. Once you start, you may not be able to put it down. I certainly couldn’t.


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