“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.