Eleven or twelve years ago, Kevin spent his days working on making a little chemical compound that he hoped might one day help make sick people better. He told me that most people in his field go through their careers without inventing something that becomes a drug, but that he had a good feeling about this one.
Last year it was approved as a drug by the FDA and has been prescribed to thousands of people whose blood doesn’t clot properly. It may have saved a life or two.
Tonight it was awarded the Prix-Galien Medal, which “recognizes the technical, scientific and clinical research skills necessary to develop innovative medicines, and is now considered the industry’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the highest accolade for pharmaceutical research and development.”
When Kevin started work on this project they were collaborating with a company in La Jolla, California, which involved regular trips out there. While I was often fascinated by the way he talked about the details of what he was doing, I did often lapse into seeing this project as a potential ticket to my first Californian vacation. The weather defeated me on one planned trip, but I did finally make it out there to spend a weekend in San Diego being wowed by the weather and the foreignness of it all, and asking him nothing at all about his work. Then again, he had been away from home for over two weeks and we were still young and virtually-newlyweds at the time. Nothing was going to stop me making it on that trip.
Shortly after that, my job moved and I started taking the train every day. When Kevin’s ancient second-hand car finally died, we went back to being a one-car couple. Kevin would drive me the 20 minutes to the station, stopping at Starbucks on the days we were up early enough — to the point that the baristas missed us if I lingered too long in the shower. In the evenings I would text him from deep underground in Market Street station to let him know what train I was on and he’d be there to meet me.
On the morning drive we mostly listened to the radio (because really, who was talking at seven-something-ay-em?). In the evenings, though, we would talk about all kinds of stuff, including work. I remember learning more about small molecule chemistry and drug discovery on those drives than should really have been possible for someone with a decade-old O’Grade in Biology and not a moment of formal Chemistry training in her background. But I was quite spellbound by the drama as he tried new things, and waited for test results, seeing if tweaking it this way or that would have the expected result.
And then, sort of suddenly, it was over.
After an eventful trip from concept to shelved-and-furtively-worked-on-as-a-side-project and back to fully-fledged project again, I had lived with this little invisible creation for years. But then, like a child going off to college, Kev’s creation passed into the hands of the scale-up people, then the safety people, then the clinical trials people. I would get occasional updates, like postcards, but because it was no longer a daily update I was a bit more at sea when Kevin reported its latest travels through the approval process. It was lovely to hear about it, especially as it started to be tested in people who were healthy (it did what they expected and no-one got sick, hooray!). When they started to test it in sick people, the news was not only good, it was moving: patient reports came in from people who talked about how it was changing their lives. Kevin relayed them to me (again, in the car) and both of us blinked furiously and stared hard at the passing scenery.
All the time our lives moved on. Kevin worked on other projects; I left my job; went freelance; we started a family; the family started school…
There was a long silence while the Food and Drug Administration considered the application. Then suddenly, last winter, the word came down: the drug was approved. It was shipping out the next day and one fine day before Christmas Kevin came home with a bottle of very fancy champagne and a hand-written note from the head of Research and Development.
Tonight I made dinner, bathed the boys, cleared up, played board games with the visiting relatives, and wondered how his night was going.
At 10pm my phone pinged, and Kev’s sister grabbed her phone. We competed to figure out what Kevin’s cryptic messages from actually meant, but yes, they had won the biggest prize in drug discovery.
It seems a very long way from our two-door Mitsubishi and the Norristown train station parking lot, to the basement of the Natural History museum in New York and a reception where Eli Weisel is only one of several Nobel Laureates giving presentations.
(But then again, there are a lot of stories I could tell you about Kevin that would seem even less likely to end up at a Black Tie do in NYC!)
I hereby declare that Kev should be known henceforth as: Doctor Awesome.