Monday, October 29, 2018

Interview with thriller author Daniel Welch

Author Daniel Welch joins me today to chat about his new medical-business thriller, Race for the Mind.

Dan has spent his entire career in the pharmaceutical business - decades of experience in multi-national pharmaceutical companies and smaller, US-based biotech companies. He has had a leadership role in the development and launch of several “blockbuster” medicines; some the most prescribed in the world and others, breakthrough medicines for life threatening diseases. Dan also worked in venture capital and private equity firms; essential sources of capital for developing new companies and medicines.

His experience leading over a dozen successful biotech companies includes roles as CEO, Chairman of the Board, Board Director and advisor.

Dan travels the world, loves his wife of 40 years, his two adult sons, fly fishing, ice hockey and everything about wine. He makes his home in California and Colorado.

Welcome, Dan. Please tell us about your current release.
The stakes for the Race for the Mind Couldn’t be higher
·      About 50 million people in the world have Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and by 2050 there will be well over 100 million.
·      The annual cost to care for Americans with AD is projected to be $1.1 trillion in 2050; 1 in 3 dollars spent by Medicare.
·      A patient is diagnosed with AD every 66 seconds – by 2050, every 33 seconds.
·      AD kills more Americans than cancers of the breast and prostate – combined.

Race for the Mind is a story about this enormous socioeconomic challenge and how the medical community and the high-risk, complex and controversial world of the pharmaceutical industry take it on. Race for the Mind describes the terrible odds, horrendous sums of money, the stunningly long drug development process and the courageous and dedicated men and women who devote their entire lives to helping millions of people they will never meet, live a longer and better life. The pressure and enormous stakes of the Race for the Mind expose the most noble and misguided aspects of our humanity.

Dr. Darya Rostov, one of the greatest minds of a generation is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease and she represents the 50 million people who are currently making their long journey into the night. Jack Callahan is the CEO of BioNeura, a San Francisco biotech company developing what could be the first breakthrough for patients like Darya. Dr. Nathaniel Shah, a brilliant neurologist rises to run SNS, a rival company based in Geneva, Switzerland and hides a terrifying secret. The plot tracks Callahan and Shah, each driven by very different things, their struggle within themselves and with each other. It should be all about the patients like Darya – but alas, we are human - and that sometimes gets in the way.

What inspired you to write this book?
I wrote Race for the Mind for two reasons. First, I have spent 40 years in the business of making medicines and during this time, I was often frustrated by how poorly and one-sidedly the pharmaceutical industry was treated by the media. I thought – perhaps naively hoped – that I could tell an engaging story and while telling it, stealthily educate the general public about another way the industry could be portrayed. That other side of the story would be the one of terrible odds, horrendous sums of money and the stunningly long drug development process and also, of the courageous and dedicated men and women who devote their entire lives to helping people they have never met live a longer and a better quality life. Second, my family like so many other families has been visited several times by Alzheimer’s disease and I wanted to bring attention to and raise money to address the urgent need to race for a cure.

Excerpt from Race for the Mind:

Dr. Bonner reviewed Darya Rostov’s file before he called her into his office. As he looked at her imaging test results, he could detect the telltale path of destruction of AD and imagined what her brain must look like. The damage he saw reminded him of aerial photos of Germany during the high-intensity bombing the Allies employed to break the back of Hitler’s war factories. The diseased section of Dr. Rostov’s brain looked like the dark sections of North Korea. There was no industry there. No commerce. No communication. No life. On the other hand, the healthy sections of her brain yet untouched by the ballistics of the disease were still bustling with life and purpose.
      He imagined zooming in on just one of the millions of microscopic clusters in Dr. Rostov’s brain, one holding memories of her life, another her accumulated knowledge, yet another the building blocks of her personality. He recalled from as far back as his first visit with her the joy that came to her face whenever she spoke about her father. Now Dr. Bonner imagined peering into a cluster of neurons that might contain Dr. Rostov’s memories of a living room in which a scene was unfolding— a scene holding the memory of Darya’s father - his voice, his possessions and the sweet aroma of his pipe tobacco. Darya loved her father for encouraging her intellect and her unorthodox pursuit of a mathematics career in an age when her peers were expected to pursue a husband. Her father was so proud of his Darya and she glowed in the pride that he shined on her.
      As Dr. Bonner imagined the warmth and comfort of this scene, it suddenly went black. The disease had vaporized the microscopic living room and everything in it.
      He truly hated this disease - the Grim Reaper’s colder and much crueler brother, the one who takes the essence of a life well before he actually takes the life—and leaves the un-dead shell of the person behind, unable to care for itself.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am excited about the future of gene therapy – replacing missing genes whose absence is causing terrible diseases or “editing” faulty genes that cause disease and making the faulty genes normal, functioning genes. Gene therapy will revolutionize medicine in the next 5-10 years. A medical thriller that brings a reader into this exciting new world would be fin to write as gene therapy is fraught with medical, ethical, social and economic issues that create a rich palette with which to paint a compelling and interesting story.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In my business career I wrote a lot and considered myself a solid business writer. I only considered myself a writer when I began to get positive feedback on my book and learned that I could move people to emotion: tears; anger and hope.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
When a book is under construction, about 20 hours a month – I write in my “spare time” while working.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I travelled a lot while I was writing Race for the Mind – so I wrote a lot of the book on airplanes.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A professional ice hockey player or international spy.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
100% of the profits from books sales will be donated to Alzheimer's care, support and research.

Getting my message out motivated me in writing Race for the Mind - why it takes so long, why the risks are ridiculously high, why it costs billions of dollars to bring a medicine from the laboratory to the pharmacy and let people know that there are thousands of selfless, passionate and brilliant people in drug companies who are dedicating their lives to help patients who they will never meet.


Thanks for joining me today, Dan!

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