Welcome to Peter Rost’s World!

I first learned of Dr. Peter Rost, as most of us did, back in June, 2005 when he appeared on the 60 Minutes news show where he laid into the drug industry about drug re-importation, which is an issue often discussed on this blog.

One statement he made on that show was “You have certain drugs that cost 10 times more in the U.S. We’re talking about exactly the same drug, made in the same plant, by the same manufacturer.”

It was incredible! A VP at Pfizer, the world’s largest and most powerful drug company, was attacking the industry’s long-standing practice of charging US citizens the highest prices in the world for vital medicines.

Of course, both Rost and CBS included the disclaimer: “Rost is an executive for Pfizer, but he’’s not speaking for the drug company.” Little did I realize, however, that this might have been merely the opening salvo AGAINST Pfizer!

It’s not that I don’t think Peter is sincere. But he has embarked on a mission few of us would care to be on — that of a whistleblower in the pharmaceutical industry! I spoke of this mission in an article published in Pharma Marketing News in May, 2006, soon after Peter started his blog on Huffington Post (see “Peter Rost: Whistle Blower, Pharma Blogger, ???“).

I used triple question marks for a good reason — I suspected other shoes were going to be dropped, but I didn’t know what they were going to be or when they would drop.

I stayed tuned to Peter’s trials and tribulations through his personal e-mail contact list, through his blog, and by recruiting him to participate in a panel I am moderating on “Disease Mongering” at an upcoming industry conference. So, Peter will be part of my life at least until then, or until he reads the rest of this blog.

“King Arthur” Strikes the First Blow!
Soon after Peter’s expose appeared on 60 Minutes, Pfizer turned off his cell phone and he was denied access to his corporate email account. Yet, he was not ready to admit any wounds nor defeat. “Tis but a scratch!” as the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail says after his left arm is chopped off by King Arthur in a duel; Peter said, “I’m not that worried.”

Recently, BrandWeek ran a story entitled “Pfizer Victorious in Whistle-Blowing Case,” which reported on the dismissal of Rost’s whistleblower case against Pfizer. As ever, Rost was the optimistic Black Knight, even after his second arm had been chopped off. “Just a flesh wound,” said the Black Knight; “For me personally,” says Rost, “it is a complete vindication of the false accusations Pfizer repeatedly made against me in the press.”

Today, Peter has dropped another shoe — his announcement of his new book, “THE WHISTLEBLOWER: Confessions of a Healthcare Hit Man.”

It’s Good to be the King!
CONFESSIONS is essentially a blow-by-blow chronicle of Peter’s joust with Pfizer, which plays the role of King Arthur to Rost’s Black Knight.

The book may or may not have been Peter’s “last resort” as he claims in the Prologue. Certainly, I and others suggested early on that he write a book.

Unfortunately, this book is not the one I would have advised Peter to write. He should have written a “fictionalized” version as he says he originally wanted to do. He claims the publishers demanded a “tell all” type of book. The result is a book too much focused on Peter’s travails and legal maneuvers than on the issues.

In 234 pages, I counted about 1500 I’s or about 6 per page, or 2-3% of the total words. I don’t have any statistics to compare with this number, but that seems like overusage of the first person singular.

I think it is appropriate for a blog to use “I” a lot, but not for a book (I’ve used the first person singular “I” about ten times so far in this post — that’s about 1.5% of the words).

That’s the other problem I find with Peter’s book — it’s really a blog put into a book format. Peter’s blog makes great reading in small, daily doses, but when blog posts are collected into a book it can be — how shall I say — boring?

There is some dirt — such as hints about who’s sleeping with whom at Pfizer. How much more interesting this would have been in a fictionalized format with characters and details of trysts in corner offices! It definitely would have offered some relief and human interest interspersed between the legal documents, maneuvers and counter-ploys that fill the pages of the book.

Here’s an example of what I mean. In the following passage, Peter is describing a meeting with Pfizer people at Pharmacia in preparation for Pfizer’s takeover of that company.

“A third meeting took place when one of Pfizer’s HR people, dressed in a red leather skirt, visited Pharmacia. Apparently, she had worked as a lawyer in a prior life, and she came off as fairly arrogant to the assembled Pharmacia crowd. When pressed with more and more pointed questions, she yelled to the packed room, ‘You should realize that it is Pfizer taking over you and not the other way around.’ The wolf had just dropped her sheep’s clothing.”

How much better this would have been rewritten in fictionalized format giving us deeper insight into the Pfizer HR woman in red as she prepared for her day trip to Pharmacia:

“Bernadette felt a tinge of pleasure as she tried on the red leather skirt, smoothing it out with her hand along her hips and thighs. It was the same skirt she wore making love to Brad, Pfizer’s US marketing chief, late that night last week in his corner office on the 23rd floor. The lights were out and the blinds completely open as they made love against the cold floor-to-ceiling window facing 42nd Street. Who could see them way up here, she thought. Only the birds atop the distant Williamsburg bridge, if they cared about such things!”

Instead, we get:

“He [an HR manager, not given a name] had spent many years working at Pfizer and believed the rumors were true — a group within Pfizer’s management had been in and out of bed with each other for a number of years. In one instance a senior person allegedly dated a direct report while he was married. Soon after, that direct report turned and dated a guy reporting to her. And then this guy dated several women in his department.”

I know Peter would have loved to take the fictionalized approach and liven up his book with steamy scenes of sex. He’s often touched upon sex in his blogs and often displays revealing images! That’s part of what makes reading his blog so much fun. The book could use some fun stuff as well.

But, Peter has another agenda: it’s to win.

“…a single individual can win if he allies himself with the press or with law enforcement. Obviously, ‘winning’ is a matter of definition. That individual may never work in the same industry again, nor may he ever get same kind of income, but he may win in the eyes of the public opinion.”

Like the Black Knight, Peter may not win, but he will never admit defeat. “All right,” says the Black Knight’s armless and legless torso to King Arthur, “we’ll call it a draw.”