SAJA Author Q&A with Geeta Anand, WSJ reporter & author of "The Cure" via Skypecast
[ Listen to a recording of the Q&A here. Below you can read a report on the Q&A, written by Shurjendu Dutt-Mazumdar, a NY-based freelance writer.]
On Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006, SAJA held a Q&A with Geeta Anand, Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter and author of "The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million--And Bucked the Medical Establishment--In a Quest to Save His Children." It was her first major interview about the book. Anand, a investigative medical writer at the WSJ, discussed how she pulled together the book, her life at the WSJ and shared her investigative reporting techniques. She was oined by the book's lead character, John Crowley, the father who fought the medical establishment. More on the book here (including an excerpt); here is the Amazon link. The WSJ ran a major excerpt on Aug. 30.
Read Shurjendu Dutt-Mazumdar report below and post your comments...
Tuesdays with Geeta
By Shurjendu Dutt-Mazumdar
NEW YORK, NY, August 31, 2006 – The Wall Street Journal's Geeta Anand spoke via live Skypecast with SAJA president Deepti Hajela and co-founder Sree Sreenivasan for her first major interview since the publication of her first book, “The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million--And Bucked the Medical Establishment--In a Quest to Save His Children.” She gave listeners some background on her journalistic career and philosophy, how she came to conceive of and ultimately realize the project, and her subsequent relationship to the story. John Crowley, the protagonist of “The Cure,” also joined the interview. The book grew out of an A1 story in daily.
Writing books had never been
on Anand’s radar before she learned about Crowley back in 2001. Though
she was free to write on any “unusual, interesting, [and] important
stories” for her job at the WSJ, she tended
to write mostly on healthcare and biotechnology, particularly as related
to the financial markets. Writing on corporate corruption in biotech
and helping WSJ garner a recent Pulitzer, Anand has exploited her
versatility to earn herself the roles of both feature article/front-story
writer and investigative reporter. The two functions, though traditionally
held to be distinct in journalism, sometimes find extraordinary synergy
in stories written in her favorite format, the narrative-style long
According to Anand, one can successfully bring out the subjects’ “emotions and decisions” (the feature format) only in the light of rigorous and thorough research (the investigative technique).
“The Cure” is about John Crowley and
his family’s fight to find a cure for a muscle disease the medical
market had pretty much ignored over the years due to its relatively
small afflicted population (and accordingly unattractive economic
appeal to many larger pharmaceutical companies); it is a situation that
is common with many rare diseases. Anand learned about the story
through a representative of Crowley’s company, Novazyme, which he had
joined in order to save his children’s lives. With her extensive and
impressive background in journalism, Anand was more than qualified to
pursue this extraordinary human interest story, leading her through a
logical, albeit difficult, transition from the long-feature article to
the full-length, nonfiction book.
She mentions her early mornings spent at Starbucks and long workdays isolated in her office just focusing on her book; she even took a hiatus from her regular beat at the WSJ in order to pursue her goal.
Crowley, who joined the interview midway, spoke to SAJA and its listeners about his story, revealing both why and how Anand became its expositor. Crowley and his wife, Eileen, were told by doctors back in 1999 that their children, Megan and Patrick, had Pompe’s Disease, one of a small number of leukodystrophies, rare muscle disorders that are frequently fatal. (Many readers may be familiar with a more famous relative of Pompe’s called adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, made famous in the movie Lorenzo’s Oil.) Crowley, prompted by the lack of any current treatment for Pompe’s, his children’s deteriorating health, and the urging of his wife joined a four-person startup in Oklahoma City called Novazyme, for which he eventually raised well over $100 million in venture capital and private funding, not to mention for which he engineered a buyout by industry-leader Genzyme to facilitate further and even more comprehensive funding for research.
Although Crowley had utilized
his Harvard MBA and enlisted, among others, the intrepid scientific mind
of Dr. William Canfield, head of Novazyme’s Pompe’s research project,
the battle would not end there. Even as clinical trials of Novazyme’s
new enzyme replacement therapy began on select patients, he found out
that Megan and Patrick’s participation could be considered a conflict
of interest, due to his executive position in Genzyme-Novazyme. So,
with the support of Eileen, he eventually managed to find a way to include
his children in another set of trials.
As Anand put it, John exemplified
“the depth of a parent’s love…[she could now] understand better
why he went to such lengths and why he was willing to at times go behind
his company’s back trying to set up a trial to save his kids.”
The genesis of “The Cure” can be traced back to a few months before Anand published her first article on the Crowleys in August of 2003. She began her research by meeting Crowley once a week on Tuesdays, spending mornings speaking to him about his experiences and struggles. It is telling about Anand's professional experience as a reporter and her commitment to truly knowing her story that Crowley recalls thinking, “I can’t imagine that you’re actually going to spend the better part of a year meeting with me on Tuesday mornings! There’s just not that much to tell. [And a] year later, we were scrambling till about 11pm at night to get in the last of our version of events just for her first manuscript.” These weekly sessions between Anand and Crowley, which formed the foundation for the narrative, were soon jokingly referred to as "Tuesdays with Geeta," after the book "Tuesdays with Morrie." These get-togethers seem to this writer to idealize the heart of journalism which is, after all, a communicative art.
Crowley, in response to a question regarding his feelings about being the subject
of a full-length narrative and the fatigue and doubt which may have
set in, said, “It’s sometimes difficult to have our lives referred
to as a story or a great story, to see all of it in black and white.
We shared the good times and some of the very difficult times, but the
story wouldn’t have been complete without it. And there
were times that the kids weren’t feeling particularly well, or
in the middle of about two years ago, once I decided to again get back
into genetic diseases and start another biotech company with all the
challenges there… that it was difficult to go through all of
that again during the day – starting a business, the medicine, the
doctors and all of that – and then to have to sit down with Geeta
and recount how we did it all a couple of years earlier.” But,
like Anand, and as he had done with Novazyme, Crowley never lost sight
of his goals and worked through his emotions to get the job done.
It is interesting here to note the many
parallels and common themes that exist between Crowley and Anand, many
of which emerged during the interview. Both had to rely heavily on
their “trump cards,” as Geeta calls her spouse, to be sure that their
children were taken care of while they focused on their respective
missions. Anand also describes how she began her research on enzyme
replacement therapy, discussing her research in journals and on the Internet, but primarily, how she “mostly relied on [her] reporting
techniques and… called various scientists [and] spent several days with
[Dr. Bill Canfield, head scientist for the Pompe program] going over
the science to make sure [she] understood correctly what he was
saying.” Crowley had a similar experience engaging with a whole new
world and vocabulary; he provides a succinct and powerful lesson
applicable to not only those in business, but also in journalism and
any given pursuit, describing his experience getting into the science
of Pompe’s disease:
“When we first came into it, we didn’t know anything… there was a huge learning curve. In fact, I think you can probably read the first ten chapters of Geeta’s book and figure everything we did wrong in learning [about Pompe’s]…And unfortunately, there’s no one master resource you can go to [in order] to figure it out; it is just surrounding yourself by experts in the field to become as enmeshed [as possible] in all of it. I hired a tutor to teach me biology, I read a bunch of books, and I used to go to seminars… eventually at Novazyme I would sit in the labs and listen and get into the science.”
Total commitment to one’s work is
clearly the key to great journalism and successful entrepreneurship,
but according to both Anand and Crowley, it is incomplete without great
passion. Passion is a theme that recurred throughout SAJA’s Q&A
session. His is a story that inspired Anand herself, who unequivocally
states that she “wasn’t looking for a book, [but] just felt that this
story was so powerful” it needed to be written. Throughout, Anand
strived to maintain journalistic objectivity as best as she could by
talking “to enough people and all of the people who were involved,”
going to as many different sources
as she could, keeping her writing as honest as possible. Writers and
subjects always bring a lifetime of experiences to an in-depth story
and that was the case here as well. Anand's extensive background in
journalism and her experience as an international-level swimmer in the
Asian and Commonwealth Games, along with Crowley's years spent studying
business and moving up in the corporate world, most recently at
Bristol-Myers Squibb, created the framework for their subsequent work
In reflecting on Anand's
book, Crowley calls it first and foremost “a true story of human struggle.
[Taking the] better part of three years [for research], [Geeta] not
only technically captured everything that happened, but also kind of
the essence of it all; the good and the bad and all of the lessons
learned…” As for the kids, “[Today] Megan and Patrick are
doing fine; [though] they still struggle pretty significantly with Pompe’s
disease, it’s been three and a half years now…[the enzyme therapy
has had a] great impact on their heart…” Moreover, the advances
which Novazyme has made in enzyme replacement therapy has opened the
door to exploring similar treatments of other related disorders. While
a cure, as such, for Pompe’s, as John mentions, is not yet a firm
reality, the progress that’s already been made has been extraordinary.
Crowley hopes that “The Cure,” 10 percent of whose revenues will go to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), will help teach others who are going through similar situations how important it is that they “be the advocate[s] who’[re] going to find the best science, even if there’s only one doctor in the world working on that research, do the best [they] can to make sure that that doctor and those centers have the resources they need to focus on [research on therapies for rare diseases].”
In the following weeks and months, Geeta Anand and John Crowley will continue to promote “The Cure” and are looking forward to a possible Hollywood film adaptation of the book. Those interested in learning more about Anand, the Crowley and the book can visit www.thecurebook.com.
SAJA Author Q&A with Geeta Anand, WSJ reporter & author of "The Cure"
via Skypecast - (basically a conference call using free Skype software; 100 people can be on at any one time; audio will be recorded and available later in the day)
Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006
Noon-1 pm New York time
(9 am in California; 5 pm in London; 9 pm in Pakistan; 9:30 pm in India; midnight Friday in Singapore)
See the local time in your city: http://tinyurl.com/ofjtk
Join the next SAJA Skypecast and listen into a Q&A with Geeta
Anand, Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter and author
of "The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million--And Bucked the Medical
Establishment--In a Quest to Save His Children." Meet Anand, an investigative medical writer at the WSJ, as she does
her first major interview about the book, discusses how she pulled
together the book, life at the WSJ and shares her investigative reporting techniques.
She will be joined by the book's lead character, John Crowley, the
father who fought the medical establishment. More on the book here (including an excerpt); here is the Amazon link. The WSJ ran a major excerpt on Aug. 30.
You will be able to listen to Anand being interviewed by SAJA members Deepti Hajela and Sree Sreenivasan and they will take your questions - in advance at sajaHQ@gmail.com or via the comments section below or live during the session.
The session will last for about an hour. A recording of the Skypecast will be available later in the day for downloading right here on SAJAforum.
To participate, create a free Skype account at http://www.skype.com (and download the PC or Mac software).
At the appropriate time, go to the following link and hit "Join This Skypecast" - https://skypecasts.skype.com/skypecasts/skypecast/detailed.html?id_talk=30500
[ Skypecast FAQ: http://support.skype.com/?_a=knowledgebase&_j=subcat&_i=42 ]
Skype is very useful beyond just these group chats. Free computer to computer calls anywhere in the world; free computer to landline or cell in the US or Canada till year-end.
See the local time in your city: http://tinyurl.com/ofjtk
Please send us your questions via e-mail in advance or post your questions in the comments section (one-time, free Typepad registration required) below!
If you have suggestions for future Newsmaker or Author Q&As, please let us know via e-mail: sajaHQ@gmail.com