Skip to Main Content


The Quest for Life-Changing Medicines

Published by Oneworld Publications
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
See More Retailers

About The Book

Meet the doctors, scientists, patients and campaigners tackling the world’s worst diseases

We often hear about the dark side of the pharmaceutical industry – from extortionate pricing to the opioid epidemic. But there’s another story to be told.

Through the story of eight revolutionary treatments, Dr William Pao cuts to the innovative heart of medical science and celebrates the tireless work of those fighting for better care. Behind each of these medicines – whether a potentially life-saving new treatment for cancer, or something as commonplace as paracetamol – there stands a cast of characters and a wealth of stories.

The trajectory from the laboratory to the local chemist is rarely a straight line. Eureka moments are few are far between. Drug hunting demands leaps of imagination and lateral thinking, the accumulation of the knowledge and expertise of many, and – nearly always – a hefty dollop of luck.

Breakthrough documents these journeys and grants a privileged look at the stories behind the medicines that improve – and very often save – our lives.

About The Author

Dr. William Pao is a physician-scientist whose career has spanned academia and industry. He was previously Chief Development Officer for Pfizer, and prior to that, Head of the Roche Pharma Research & Early Development unit, where he oversaw the discovery and early development of a portfolio of new molecular entities to treat a range of diseases, from cancer to rare blood disorders.

Before joining industry, William was Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he held the Cornelius Abernathy Craig Chair in Medical and Surgical Oncology. Internationally recognized for his ground-breaking work in translational medicine and for his leadership in cancer genomics and personalized medicine, William is also the co-founder of MyCancerGenome, an indispensable online tool designed to enable a genetically informed approach to cancer medicine.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (January 14, 2025)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780861547340

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning how new therapeutics are created and should also appeal to the curious reader fascinated by innovation, popular science, biology and medicine.’ —Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner The Emperor of All Maladies

'It is a miracle that any drug ever gets approved. Pao uncovers years of research, flashes of insight and gruelling clinical trials to explain how some drugs succeed against all odds. This celebration of human ingenuity shines a light on the relentless resilience behind medical breakthroughs that have transformed patients’ lives. Utterly compelling.' —Dame Kate Bingham, former chair of UK Vaccine Taskforce and author of The Long Shot

'William Pao’s book vividly brings to life the people involved in medical research and development to find new ways to advance clinical outcomes for patients. The perseverance; intuition; iterations required to engineer that "sweet spot" are narrated in a very readable way. Over my decades in Life Sciences I have seen with each new approach in medicine that it is a miracle that it reaches licensure. As John Davey, the US philosopher, said last century, "Every great advance in Science has issued from a new audacity of imagination". Our thanks should go to the wide variety of skilled people and to patients who join us in exploring better outcomes for the diseases we face' —William 'Bill' Burns, Former CEO of Roche Pharma

'An essential read for anyone interested in how basic science is translated for human benefit. Breakthrough: The Quest for Life-Changing Medicines delves into the fascinating and often surprising journey of drug discovery, unraveling the fascinating biology and convoluted research paths that lead to the development of new game-changing therapies. Authored by an acclaimed doctor, cancer scientist and drug developer; this book tells the captivating stories that bring the world of biomedical research and drug discovery to life.' —Dr Norman E. Sharpless, Former Director of the National Cancer Institute and Former Acting Commissioner of the FDA

'In this book you will look over the shoulder of unsung heroes as they labour at minute, molecular scales and against all odds to create medicines with outsized impact on human suffering. Miracles in the making. You will never again take for granted that seemingly simple little white tablet you take (or will inevitably take) each morning. Awe-inspiring.' —Michael N. Hall, Professor at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Switzerland, and winner of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research

'A truly enlightening journey through many of the most important medical advances of the last few decades. The science underlying the discoveries blends seamlessly with personal insights into the researchers, physicians and patients who brought the work to life. All written in a style that will engage the curious lay person to those of us who were fortunate to witness some of these miracles firsthand.' —Howard A. 'Skip' Burris III, MD
President, Sarah Cannon Research Institute (SCRI) and Past President, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images