Monthly Archives: January 2013

Episode 26: The Shinola Cure

“So remind me,” said Rupert. “Why is the FDA raising a stink about our new therapeutic transplantation program?”

“Because we propose transplanting fecal matter into patients,” said Dr. Buttinsky.

Rupert’s response rudely sent his coffee across the conference table. He mopped up the mess with rapid dabs of a tissue while several others in the room ran for paper towels. Rupert grabbed a towel and pressed it to his face. His muffled voice said, “Doctor, do not ever tell me something like that while I sip coffee. Or anything else.”

Dr. Buttinsky pulled his face in and looked around the room. “Something like what?” he asked. His eyebrows were raised in a startled expression as if he had his third facelift just that morning.

Rupert stared at him. “You’ve been our veepard for a month now and you have no clue?”

“Veepard?” Dr. Buttinsky asked.

“VP of R and D,” Dr. Horrible said. “You are our fifth in four years. Don’t make us regret hiring you.”

Rupert looked at his hands and pulled his shoulders back. “As Chief Science Officer here, I expect Dr. Horrible to know exactly what is going on.” Rupert paused and looked at the seven scientists at the table. “Yet Dr. Horrible could not tell me what you are proposing here.”

“Marlene?” said Dr. Buttinsky as he looked at a young woman at the table. She poked at her computer and said, “We plan to make curing C. difficile easy.”

“Marlene,” Rupert said, “you should be in marketing. That’s good, very good.”

The projector switched on and a bright patch of light proclaimed, “Difficulties with difficile? Shoo it away with the Shinola cure!”

Marlene stood up. And up. And more up, towering above the table. “Several Canadian groups have been studying fecal transplants from healthy patients into people with persistent C. difficile infections. These are people suffering for years and who do not respond to antibiotics. We can cure them within one or two days.”

“Well, that’s a pretty tall order,” Rupert said. He clapped his hands over his mouth. “Sorry.”

Marlene rolled her eyes, then changed the projector display. Rupert read “Clinical Trials” and “The ‘Ick’ Factor.” Marlene said, “We are all aware this sounds most unpleasant, and cannot imagine how difficult it is to recruit patients for clinical trials. We must convince the FDA of safety and efficacy. But why is patient recruitment so difficult?”

“Because no one wants someone else’s poop put in them,” Rupert said. “You’ll never get anywhere with this.”

Marlene smiled and straightened up another few inches. “Wrong. All the patients want the treatment. None of them want to be the Control arm with standard antibiotics treatment only.”

Dr. Buttinsky said, “The disease is that bad. People will do almost anything for a cure.”

Rupert’s eyes glowed. “And pay almost anything? We can charge big bucks to sell them sh-”

“Shinola,” corrected Marlene.

“Wasn’t there some old saying about Shinola?” Rupert asked. “It used to be some shoe polish or something, wasn’t it?”

Dr. Buttinsky flipped through his notes and pointed at one page. “Someone recently revived the name. They trademarked all sorts of things including shoe polish and cosmetics. And wine.”

“But not therapeutic treatments,” Marlene said. She sat down and smiled across the table at Rupert. “It’s a natural.”

“Yes,” said Rupert. “I know a natural when I see one.”

Other scientists presented slide after slide of data, charts, tables, and diagrams until they heard Rupert snore. His head bobbed sideways and he sat up with a jolt. “I’m on it!” he shouted. “Yes, I’m – I…”

“So you have no objections to us proceeding with development?” Dr. Buttinsky asked.

Rupert shook his head. “I wasn’t sleeping, I was pondering.” He drummed his fingers on the table and looked at Dr. Horrible. “Come on, Dr. H, what is the obvious question here?”

Dr. Horrible glanced at his notes and said, “Two questions. First, if the data you showed are so compelling, who is our competition?”

“Just about any hospital can generate their own, um, transplantation material,” Dr. Buttinsky said. “What they can’t offer is, um.”

“Quality control and consistency of product,” Marlene said.

“What about quality control and consistency of product?” Dr. Horrible asked.

Dr. Buttinsky said, “There are researchers in Canada who are cultivating a simulated fecal product. That eliminates – sorry – the problem of screening donors for diseases.”

“Do you realize there are thousands of bacterial species in the human gut?” asked Dr. Horrible. “Which ones will you use?

“Um,” said Dr. Buttinsky.

“I took care of that,” Marlene said. “Besides contacting the original researcher, we can matrix out the likely candidates.”

Dr. Horrible turned away from Dr. Buttinsky and faced Marlene. “Very good. Any final questions, Rupert?”

Rupert’s face was very pale. “Isn’t there some more palatable way of delivering the, um, you know?”

“Well, as you saw from slide number 74, it’s usually a pint of donor material piped down the nose right into the patient’s intestine.”

Rupert’s face changed from pale to green. “Urgh,” he said.

“Researchers are interested in partnering for a freeze-dried capsule delivery,” Marlene said. “No losing anyone’s appetite, no mess.”

“Where can we work on that?” Rupert asked. “I wouldn’t want that research lab anywhere near our other facilities.”

There were unprofessional snorts of laughter from around the table. “He said ‘facilities’,” said one junior scientist.

Marlene did not so much as smirk. “There is a company called InnuEndo Solutions that is closing a research facility on Long Island. They plan to lay off everyone there, so we can have an instant workforce with incentive to deal with the less savory parts of this project.”

The research team stood to leave, Marlene towering above the others by almost a foot. As she left the room, Rupert noticed her shoes must have had at least eight-inch heels.

Later, in Rupert’s office, he saw that in bare feet she was still a foot taller than he.

Episode 25: Elevator Pitch Goes Foul

As a CEO in the Candybar Building, Rupert Madasheck had privileged access to the secret Executive’s Elevator. He stepped inside the elevator car and noticed on its display that one other exec would join him. He poured himself a glass of 1995 Araujo cabernet from the cache and settled into his favorite stuffed chair. Glancing at the keypad on the chair’s arm, he entered his floor number.

As he swirled and sipped his wine, the door opened and an elderly gentleman stepped in. The new arrival opened the 15th Century globe and poured himself a snifter of brandy. To Rupert’s surprise, the man gulped the brandy and poured more. Shutting the globe, the man sat down and entered his own floor number.

Rupert spoke first. “Rupert Madasheck, Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals.”

The other man raised his eyebrows and said, “Gary Cortescu, Pfuztercluck Pharmaceutics. Glad to share a ride with you.” The elevator began to move with a barely perceptible bump.

Gary inhaled the aroma of the brandy with a studied sniff, eyes closed. “Ah, delightful. I hate rushing these things.”

“But you did,” Rupert said. “We’re here to relax for a while, aren’t we?”

Gary sighed heavily and sipped. “Oh, yes, of course. I haven’t belted down a shot since the last disaster. Doubtless you’ve heard the news.”

“Your donations to the Heartless Institute? I won’t feign total ignorance.”

Gary sighed again. Is he going to do that a lot? Rupert wondered.

The elevator hummed softly and the walls glowed and pulsed with warm swirls of color. Gary stared at his glass and sighed again. Finally he said, “I suppose it’s my own fault. We did want to make some corporate charitable donations and I was willing to overlook some of their more controversial positions.”

“They believe global warming is a hoax, as I recall,” Rupert said.

“Well, of course it is. But that is irrelevant to us. Let the energy sector worry about that. Our industry has its own issues.”

“Don’t they oppose evolution to the point that they think bacteria don’t evolve?” Rupert asked.

“Oh. Um, well, yes. But leave that to the education sector to worry about.”

“Remind me how they explain bugs mutating around antibiotics.”

Gary rubbed his chin. “I believe it’s cosmic rays according to one statement.”

“Which don’t exist, according to another.” Rupert sipped his wine and recalled a recent news flap. “Didn’t they declare that the Higgs Boson was also based on junk science?”

Gary chugged the rest of his brandy and coughed. “I’d almost forgotten that. But again, education sector. Not my department.” He stood up shakily and moved back to the globe. “Let us not dwell on these things. We are here to relax for a brief moment on our rush through an unrelentingly hostile world, are we not?”

Rupert sipped his wine and let the taste linger. He wished the elevator would never arrive at his floor. Yet he could not let go of the topic without asking. “But why did Pfuztercluck donate to the Heartless Institute at all?”

“Like any sensible business, we agree with their push to eliminate price controls and reduce regulation.”

“You know that they also want to eliminate corporate subsidies,” Rupert said. “Wouldn’t that include research grants?”

Gary looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure we need research grants, do we? That’s for the small companies. Our competition, so to speak.”

Rupert set his glass down and leaned forward. “We often rely on those small companies to invent. Then we license what looks promising. I don’t understand why, but the startups are where innovation happens. So isn’t Heartless working against your own interests?”

Gary sat down and delicately sipped his third snifter of brandy. “Ah, my lad, you are young indeed. We support only the one advocacy arm of theirs that supports us.”

“Of course, of course.” Rupert took another leisurely sip. “But what is that?”

“Why of course they believe that all FDA rejections are based on junk science. Now, outside this elevator I could never admit that we support their ‘Freedom to Pick Your Meds’ initiative.” Gary leaned back in his chair and sighed yet again. “Ah, what a world it would be if people could decide what medicine worked for them without any government stooges getting in the way.”

Rupert was aghast. “Are you suggesting we do away with the FDA altogether?”

Gary closed his eyes and smiled. “Ah, you may say I’m a dreamer…” His voice trailed off. Rupert sipped his wine. The elevator hummed softly and the colors swirled.

The door opened and they both looked up. “Good to meet you, Gary. This is my floor.” Rupert put his glass in the collection grip and walked out to the hallway and his day’s destiny.

That evening, Betty and Rupert met at a single malt tasting room and chose suitably snooty single malts. Betty said, “I got a letter addressed to the Chair of Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals today.”

Rupert said, “That would be fitting since you are indeed the Board Chair.”

“It was from a group of investors concerned about contributions to one entity known as the Heartless Institute. What do you know about them?”

Rupert downed his single malt in one gulp and gasped for breath. “Never heard of them.”

Copyright ©2013 Bixogen, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any process without prior written permission. Continue reading

Episode 24: From P to Z

Betty sat in her office working on the evaluation report for prospective client BaryNucular Pharmaceuticals when she heard a strange chirping noise.  After a few chirps, she realized it was the rarely used landline.  “Who would be calling me on that old relic?  Good thing I have a SilenTouch keyboard,” she thought.  “I need to get this report done.”  Her fingers danced on the keyboard as she answered with the hands-free set.  “Betty Batter Buxholme and Bucolix,” she said.  “This is Betty.”

The high-pitched whiny voice of Beekman Byrdkowski replied, “Hi, Betty, how are you?”

“Beeky Byrd,” Betty chirped.  “How are you these days?  Any new schemes for success?”  Her fingers paused, then continued to dab and poke at the keyboard.

“Doubtless you heard about the Chinese lab that turns urine into brain cells?” Beeky said.  “It was in Scientific American so you know it must be true.  First, they isolate kidney cells out of urine.  In less than two weeks, they can grow stem cells.  In four weeks, they can turn these into neurons.”

Betty stopped typing.  “That’s amazing.  Are you thinking of gearing up a program to study neurogenetic diseases or autism spectrum disorders?  Beeky, that could be huge.”  She briefly thought about all of Beeky’s previous schemes as he sought her help in raising capital.  “For once, I think you have a medically valid concept,” she said.

Beeky’s chuckle clucked in her ear.  “Oh, I can’t be that ambitious all at once,” he said.  “I have a plan for generating food for zombies.”

Betty laughed.  “Zombies, indeed.  Yes, I see, grow and harvest brain cells to keep your army of zombies fed.”

“Well, actually, you poison the cells and leave them outside to kill rampaging zombie mobs,” Beeky said.

“Ha ha,” said Betty.  “Very witty.  Now seriously, what can I do for you today?”

Beeky inhaled deeply and sighed.  “Raise about twenty million for development, sterile bottle and filling, and marketing under the name ‘Zombie Zapper.’ There are ten zombie movies slated for release in 2013.  We need to get ready.”

“Ten movies?” asked Betty.  “Says who?”

Beeky sniffed.  “Surely you keep tabs on the Zombie Zone News?  IMDb lists twelve for 2013 release in the US, plus two more in 2014.”  Beeky’s voice began to climb in pitch and urgency.  “This will be huge, much bigger than global warming or the economy.  This is about life as we know it.”

Betty rolled her eyes, glad that it was not a video conferencing call.  “Beeky, we invest in biotech.  You are talking entertainment, not our field at all.”

“Entertainment?  You call rampaging hordes of zombies entertainment?”  Beeky choked as he gasped for breath.

“It’s movie tie-ins, it’s entertainment,” Betty said.  “None of this is real.”

“Then why is the CDC issuing videos to train medical personnel what to do during a zombie attack?”

“What?” asked Betty.  “Oh, for heaven’s – that’s not true.”

“Is so.  Look it up, it’s called Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic.  I’ll wait.”

Betty spoke the title and her computer brought up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  She stared at the site offering the government-sponsored training to prepare for a zombie apocalypse and thought, ‘My tax money!’  “Beeky, that’s not real.  It’s a joke.”

“Your government spies on and renders its own citizens with impunity.  It does not joke,” Beeky said.  “And neither do I.  You know what this means.  It’s fact wrapped up to look like fiction to avoid panic.  Yet when the panic comes, they can claim they gave us all fair warning.”

Betty moaned.  “Okay, we have gotten far off the topic of isolating cells from urine and turning them into neurons.  Are you collaborating with the Chinese group?”

“Not yet, I need to develop a serious proposal and line up some serious funding commitments.  Think about it.  All those neurodegenerative diseases together are a small patient population.  Zombies affect us all, the whole seven billion people’s worth.”

“What will you use as the poison?” Betty asked.  “Since zombies are already dead, what harm could poison do to them?  How will you conduct the trials to demonstrate efficacy?  Do zombies need to sign informed consent forms?”

There was silence from Beeky.  Followed by more silence.  Then he uttered something more fowl than birdlike.  “Okay, okay,” he said finally.  “I’ll focus on feeding your very own zombie army.  Keeps the bad guys out of your yard.”

“Stick to those neurons and their medical uses,” Betty said.  “Diseases like Parkinson’s need better options.  Leave the zombies to Hollywood.”  She pulled a kitchen timer off her desk and set it to one second.  When the alarm went off, she said, “Oh, sorry, I need to go now.  Good luck, Beeky.”  She broke the connection quickly to avoid any awkward pleadings and goodbyes.

After a pause, Betty called another number.  A voice said, “Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals, this is Rupert Madasheck.”

“Really?  Are you mad as all that?”

“Betty, good to hear from you,” Rupert said.  “How are things going at BBB and B?”

“Stranger than you think,” Betty said.  She briefly described her conversation with Beekman and said, “I don’t think we will spend time trying to raise capital for him on this one.”

“Good plan,” said Rupert.  “Those urine cells were transplanted into rat brains.  Make sure you know those rats actually exist.”

“Of course they exist,” Betty said as she glanced at her monitor.  “I see at least one other paper published a year ago from the same group.”

“Well, not to be overly cautious or anything,” Rupert said, “but there was already a recent report of misconduct.  Apparently someone published work on cardiovascular disease in diabetic patients.  Important stuff, and there were about ten papers over the last decade, all using a strain of mouse that never existed.”

Betty gasped.  “Oh, Rupert!  That’s terrible.  It’s not anyone at Cappuccino, is it?”

“No, of course not.  It was some university guy.  Just not a smart thing to do.”  Rupert tapped on a keyboard, then said, “Oh, yes, opera night tonight.  Shall we meet at the Met?  According to the calendar, they are doing a special fundraising performance of Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera.”

Copyright ©2013 Bixogen, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.  No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any process without prior written permission.

Episode 23: What’s In a Name?

Rupert Madasheck was not the only CEO in the club’s cherrywood paneled room that day.  Gazing up into the distance at the crystal chandeliers, he eased himself into an overstuffed chair next to fellow CEO Gjioughneh Kqueuerillieux.  As he glanced around the room at the executives lounging at the Jonathan Club, Rupert asked Gjioughneh how things were going.

“Terrible,” Gjioughneh said.  “We were just informed that the PMA for our OctoPlex gel was rejected.”  Gjioughneh stared down at his folded hands and sighed.  “I just don’t understand it.  You can’t ask for better clinical trial outcomes.   It’s been on the market outside the US for a decade.  The manufacturing profile is top notch.  What else do they want?”  His fingers gnarled around each other in a knot.

“What exactly does this, um, this Octomom do?” Rupert asked.

“OctoPlex, not Octomom,” Gjioughneh said without looking up.  “It lessens the pain from failed surgery, particularly botched jobs to relieve Restless Third Leg Syndrome.”

“Oh, yes,” said Rupert.  “The syndrome that’s not just for congressmen anymore.  There’s surgery for that?”

“As a last resort,” Gjioughneh said.  “The drugs available for it just can’t stop all the scandals, so people need to take drastic surgical measures.  But surgery has a lot of problems and high chance of lifelong pain.  Too bad there’s a political angle.”

At the word ‘political,’ Rupert hunched his shoulders as if leaning into a rainstorm.   He remembered the never-ending stream of politicians sending lewd photos of themselves to would-be mistresses.  “Don’t tell me Congress wants your gel all to themselves.”

“No, it’s worse.  Congress wants to save money by cutting funding to the FDA.  So they are retaliating to make the House of Reprehensibles feel the pain.  We really believe the rejection is bull,” Gjioughneh said. “I’ve decided we’ll file a petition for reconsideration.”

Rupert looked up with a startled expression.  “You could do that?  Won’t it just annoy them?”

“We’re going with the ‘creates jobs in the US’ angle.  Once we get approval we can put a dent in the unemployment rate.”  Gjioughneh’s eyes glazed suddenly in rapt attention and he pulled out his vibrating YouPhone.  After fumbling for a second, he held it to his ear and said, “Gjioughneh here.”

Knowing that cell phone use is frowned upon at the Jonathan Club, Rupert looked away and twiddled his thumbs patiently while Gjioughneh listened to his call.  Should he edge away and leave Gjioughneh in peace?  Should he pull his own phone out for a quick game of Sudoku while pretending to work?  Would Gjioughneh be escorted to the floor with the phone booths?  Before Rupert could decide, Gjioughneh put the phone down.

“Rupert, I want to get out of this business,” Gjioughneh said.  “Turns out the FDA denial was based on the fact that no one at FDA could figure out how to pronounce the name of our company.”

Rupert’s eyebrows shot up.  “They couldn’t pronounce ‘FzGnque’ so they rejected Octomom?  I can’t believe that.”

“OctoPlex.”  Gjioughneh shook his head sadly.  “You’re close.  It’s pronounced ‘FzGnque.’  But it’s true.  They were too embarrassed to contact us.”  He frowned and looked around the room.  “We can change our name to FrzeuQ if they want.  And who are they to complain anyway?” he added.  “Is it ‘FDA’ or the FDA?”

Yes, this story was inspired by an actual news article.  Brownie points for finding the original source! –      The BixoBrat

Copyright ©2013 Bixogen, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.  No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any process without prior written permission.