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Quest for the Cure: The Science and Stories Behind the Next Generation of Medicines [Kindle Edition]

Brent Stockwell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

After more than fifty years of blockbuster drug development, skeptics are beginning to fear we may be reaching the end of drug discovery to combat major diseases. In this engaging book, Brent Stockwell, a leading researcher in the exciting new science of chemical biology, describes this dilemma and the powerful techniques that may bring drug research into the twenty-first century.

Filled with absorbing stories of breakthroughs, the book begins with the scientific achievements of the twentieth century that led to today's drug innovations. We learn how the invention of mustard gas in World War led to early anti-cancer agents and how the efforts to decode the human genome might lead to new approaches in drug design. Stockwell then turns to the seemingly incurable diseases we face today, such as Alzheimer's, many cancers, and others with no truly effective medicines, and describes cellular and molecular barriers thwarting scientists who use tools from traditional pharmaceutical research.

Scientists such as Stockwell are now developing methods to combat these complexities—technologies for constructing and testing millions of drug candidates, sophisticated computational modeling, and entirely new classes of drug molecules—all with an eye toward solving the most profound mysteries of living systems and finding cures for intractable diseases. If successful, these methods will unlock a vast terrain of untapped drug targets that could lead to a bounty of breakthrough medicines. Offering a rare, behind-the-scenes look at this cutting-edge research, The Quest for the Cure tells a thrilling story of science, persistence, and the quest underway to develop a new generation of cures.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stockwell, professor of biology and chemistry at Columbia University, claims that the success drug companies have had developing specific chemicals to combat disease is likely coming to an end. According to Stockwell, the techniques scientists have used to fight disease up to now, binding drug molecules to proteins, may have reached its limit, as most proteins, it seems, cannot bind with drug molecules; they are "undruggable." But genes are "druggable." Stockwell is impressive in describing a new paradigm of pharmaceutical research that could open a host of new possibilities for currently untreatable diseases involving advances in genomics, molecular biology, and chemistry. By providing accessible explanations for the underlying biological and chemical principles that apply to the complex solutions he describes, Stockwell enables even the scientifically unsophisticated reader to gain a wider perspective on what future disease treatment might entail. He also brings to life the excitement of scientific research by highlighting classic experiments that have shaped our understanding of biological systems and profiling major players in the field. Illus. (June)


The dearth of promising new treatments for many a serious disease remains a major challenge not just for the pharmaceutical industry but for all of society. In this exhaustively researched book, Brent R. Stockwell surveys the history of drug development and offers insightful suggestions for innovative new approaches. This is critical reading for the many involved in and concerned about this urgent issue.

(Robert Bazell, chief science correspondent, NBC News, and author of Her-2: The Making of Herceptin, a Revolutionary Treatment for Breast Cancer)

This is a terrific book! Stockwell's writing is clear and engaging as he presents a thoughtful analysis of drug development that can be understood and appreciated by a diverse readership. Stockwell beautifully combines scientific history and personal anecdotes with clear explanations of the principles and practices of chemical biology to make a fascinating story of the past, present, and future of drug discovery. His book is informative, accurate, and a good read all put together.

(Geoffrey Cooper, Boston University, author of The Cell: A Molecular Approach and Oncogenes)

This is a truly wonderful book. Stockwell's writing will open the door to a universe that many readers may know little about. Drugs are born, biotech companies are created, scientists' careers are made and unmade, egos are raised and dashed. This book is so readable, it is an absolute page-turner. Yet it is also authoritative and scientifically sophisticated, managing to distill a complex, changing field into a beautifully written, well-crafted story.

(Siddhartha Mukherjee, Columbia University, author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer)

By providing accessible explanations for the underlying biological and chemical principles that apply to the complex solutions he describes, Stockwell enables even the scientifically unsophisticated reader to gain a wider perspective on what future disease treatment might entail.

(Publishers Weekly)

This very readable, even exciting work takes us through the medical breakthroughs of the past century.

(Globe and Mail)

This book deserves a readership, and there is certainly a need for it. As a drug companyresearcher, I have often wished that more people understood what the field was likeand how simultaneously fascinating and frustrating it can be.

(Derek B. Lowe Cell)

In this well-researched look into the complexities of making medicines, a chemical biologist gives a history of drug making and details innovative methods of drug discovery.

(Science News)

Despite our current political paralysis, government leaders should listen to Stockwell and be certain to advance our capacity to generate the drugs that our society and the world need.

(Harvard Magazine)

The book is well organized and includes many interesting, clever analogies to explain what can be complicated scientific problems.


An engaging and rewarding read...

(Donald C. Lo Journal of Clinical Investigation)

The reader is not only left with a satisfying overview of the proud history and future challenges of finding new medicines but also encouragement that Stockwell and his contemporaries are creatively committed to academic drug discovery.

(David Kroll Nature Chemistry)

Stockwell writes well -- his prose is accessible to the educated reader, irrespective of his or her background. All of the personalities, errors and successes in contemporary drug discovery are presented. Stockwell enlivens their stories with anecdotes...

(Garrett A. FitzGerald Nature Medicine)

It is impossible to read this relatively short book...without being captured by the author's optimism about the future of drug development.

(Robert C. Young, M.D. Oncology Times)

Product Details

  • File Size: 811 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (May 3, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,134 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative (and dense) account of drug discovery May 16, 2011
Drawing heavily from his research & academic backgrounds, Stockwell provides an informative account on drug discovery challenges and ongoing/potential approaches to address them. For a reader with medical background, this is an excellent read while a general reader will struggle with the details. (3.5*)

(Review adapted from my blog; free advance copy provided by the publisher)

At the very outset, Stockwell provides a succinct explanation of why drug discovery is far more challenging than what one may imagine - by focusing on the actual mechanics of "small drug molecules" and proteins involved in disease progression. (A reader can easily grasp this complexity when Stockwell highlights that only 2% of the proteins are now considered "druggable" and the generally risk-averse scientists typically tend to focus only on this minority due to commercial considerations.) The discussion on how drugs actually work may be of interest to the average reader. He then describes (with various examples) various drug discovery mechanisms and a history of cancer drugs. The role of luck in discoveries, of course, is well known...but through these discussions, one gets to appreciate not only the role of luck but also of perseverance and a systematic approach to design experiments. A subsequent chapter on the author's entrepreneurial experience provides some insights on the potential of studying combinations of approved drugs - but the narration is too focused on the company history, a reader is likely to be distracted.

The second part starts with an introduction to promising emerging techniques of drug discovery including structure-based designs, virtual screening, and fragment-based screening.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book of Insights into Drug Development June 11, 2011
Modern medicine has immensely improved and in many cases dramatically changed our lives. Many diseases that have until relatively recently been considered incurable have been tackled and overcome. Mapping of the entire human genome at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as well as many novel techniques for developing and testing of the new drugs, have all contributed to the sense that even greater medical breakthroughs are just around the corner. However, this promise has remained not much more than hype. In fact, truly new medicinal drugs are becoming more and more rare, and the time between their development and when they hit the market is ever increasing.

This book aims to give the reader an idea what are drugs from a molecular point of view, and how they affect our bodies. Drugs are relatively small molecules that bind to specific cell proteins and change their function. Coming up with the right kind of small molecule that would do the job is immensely difficult. There is an innumerable amount of potential drug candidates, and choosing the right ones is as much of an art as it is science. Even so, there is a very real possibility that the vast majority of proteins might be "undruggable," i.e. there are no small molecules that would bind to them. The book explores these possibility in some detail, and it offers possible alternative approaches to drugs that could go around the current impediments.

The book is a great mixture of science, medical technology, and business. It provides invaluable insights into the development of new drugs, and the limitations of the current approaches. It also introduces the reader to the world of medical research startups, and the way that these small companies are redefining the drug discovery business.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great treatment of an interesting topic August 31, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A great book. The author writes accessibly for the lay person and makes his tale interesting. My son is studying chemical engineering and is interested in biomedical topics, so we are enjoying reading about current happenings in the search for cures to difficult diseases. I appreciate the level of detail presented with the care taken to explain things as directly as possible. I have learned a lot. It is instructive and inspiring to learn of the author's early ambitions, lessons learned and his successes.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An engaging book on the future of drug discovery May 29, 2011
By BLehner
Introducing the reader to the fascinating and important topic of the future of drug development, Brent R. Stockwell explores how scientists are trying to find new treatments for seemingly uncurable diseases and the need for innovative new approaches in his book The Quest For The Cure.
With an in depth look at both the medical angle, as well as the crucial role of the pharmaceutical industry, this is, for the most parts, a comprehensibly written book on the matter. Aimed at a general audience the narrative of the book is unfortunately varying strongly between easily to comprehend chapters and chapters in which I admittedly had troubles when it came to understand all the chemical and biological details the author provided. You could say, a little medical background knowledge certainly won't hurt when reading the book.
From the scientific achievements of the twentieth century, to the proteins involved in the search for medicines, straight to new approaches in drug design and promising emerging techniques of drug discovery, Stockwell gives the reader a wide overview on the topic. The author also shares his entrepreneurial experience with insights on the potential of studying combinations of approved drugs, giving the book an autobiographic touch. Personally I would have wished for less scientific details and a closer look at the industry as such. Nonetheless an interesting read in which I learned quite a few new things!
In short: An engaging book on the future of drug discovery!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant read....
An excellent and accessible look at the history of cancer cure. Filled with interesting facts presented with clarity with appeal for scientists as well as laymen.
Published 5 months ago by Manish Kumar
4.0 out of 5 stars this is a god book, and with little effort by the author it could be...
I bough the book so that I can introduce some examples in my lectures on insilico drug design. I enjoyed reading the book, and I have learned something. Read more
Published 7 months ago by ane
5.0 out of 5 stars very good
This book is interesting and was in great shape upon arrival. The author writes in a very current style and I was able to follow along just fine.
Published 13 months ago by Shelley
1.0 out of 5 stars Self-promoting, name-dropping garbage
The author seems to have used this book as a vehicle to promote his own apparent stature in academia. Not at all compelling reading. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Asher Schachter
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of hope
This is just a wonderful book! It is a delightful reading that will take you from the beginning of the drug discoveries to the latest researches in molecular biology. Read more
Published on May 15, 2012 by J. C. Arpirez Vega
4.0 out of 5 stars it is a fine book
I like the way Brent writes; my recommendation is to focus on less known stories in drug development. Read more
Published on February 19, 2012 by Dr. Michael J. Storek
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn about the technology that makes drug discovery possible
Many books have been written about the development of new pharmaceuticals. It seems that a majority of these books focus on the scientist and business people involved in the... Read more
Published on November 20, 2011 by jostmey
5.0 out of 5 stars "The future of medicine is balanced on the fulcrum of the undruggable...
This book is on the Rorotoko list. Professor Stockwell's interview on "The Quest for the Cure" ran as the Rorotoko Cover Feature on July 25, 2011 (and can be read in the Rorotoko... Read more
Published on October 8, 2011 by ROROTOKO
4.0 out of 5 stars Drugging the UnDrugable
This is a well written history of drug discovery and future prospects for drugging the undrugable. In summary, there are a lot of drugs but they target only a small percentage of... Read more
Published on September 29, 2011 by Vigyanik
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More About the Author

Brent R. Stockwell grew up in Bayside, New York. He is Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Chemistry at Columbia University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist. He serves on the editorial board of Chemistry & Biology, has been awarded ten U.S. patents, and has published fifty-four scientific papers. Among his recent honors are a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface and a Beckman Young Investigator Award. His research involves studying mechanisms of cell death relevant to cancer and neurodegeneration. He lives in New York City.

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