Some of us figure out how to have our cake and eat it too, or in this case, our wine and drink it too.
When I came across a new pharma related start-up a month ago, I noticed right away that they were in Healdsburg, California, a hip hamlet in Sonoma County just north of Santa Rosa. The small town (pop. 11,254) is known for fine dining, upscale boutiques, and wine. Lots of wine. The town sits at the conjunction of three important wine growing appellations: Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander. AdverseEvents.com is a new start-up/website that takes all the adverse events or negative side effects from the FDA’s site and cleans this data up into a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate site for patients and pharma companies alike. What was the company doing in wine country? Obviously there was more to the story.
Brian Overstreet is the CEO of AdverseEvents.com and owner of Bruliam wines, a small winery located in the Dry Creek Valley. Brian comes from the financial sector, working as a managing director for Midori Corporation, a privately held investment bank back in the 80’s and 90’s. From there he went to the online space, becoming CEO of DirectPlacement.com, providers of the first online forum for public companies to privately sell their securities to institutional investors. This led the founding of Sagient Research Systems, a publisher of specialized research and data for pharmaceutical companies. When a partner’s wife got terribly sick and hospitalized from a bad reaction to her medication, Brian and his partner went looking for help online and came up pretty empty handed. All they found was the FDA’s site. Adverse Events, Inc. was born.
We met Brian at his small office on the main street through Healdsburg, the back suite of an old craftsman home turned swanky office. Brian works in walking distance to some of the finest dining in Sonoma County, including the Dry Creek Kitchen, Charcuterie, and Scopa. The office was a bit dim and we wanted to do some filming with Brian, so he suggested we head off to the winery. No problem there. On the way to the Dry Creek Valley (ten minute drive) Brian told me about the site.
“The FDA’s database is basically unusable,” Brian said matter-of-factly. “We take the data, and through a 17 step process we call RxFilter(TM), we make it usable for patients and the pharma industry.” According to Brian, over 500,000 adverse events are reported to the FDA each year. Harmful side effects to the over 4,000 drugs out there. Even this number, Brian says, is estimated to be only 10% of all adverse events experienced. Not hard to believe. I’ve never gone on and reported any. Brian feels that his new website will make it easier to report these events as well as clean up what’s already reported.
So what’s an example, I ask as the scenery turns to rows of vineyards, deep green in the Sonoma sun. “Look at Ambien,” he says, “it’s listen in over 400 ways on the FDA’s site due to misspellings and a host of other reasons. We take all of that and put it under one name. So the data is much more usable.” “So if someone misspells the name Ambien on your site,” I ask, “then it won’t come up.” “Ah ha, it will come up. But it will be the same data which shows.
Bruliam Wines is not far down the Dry Creek Valley and housed in a sort of wine co-op. Brian acknowledges that his outfit is small, but he beams with pride as he carts around a bottle of his vintage. He buys his grapes from the famed Rockpile appellation at the end of the valley. The vineyard is elevated and so gets a fog inversion from Lake Sonoma. According to Brian, it’s terrible soil, and dry farmed. So there is low yield, but oh so intense fruit. Brian sounds equally excited talking about terroir as he does about Topirimate. “It wasn’t easy to get grapes from Rockpile. My wife basically stalked the Mauritson family for months. She made cakes and breads and would take them by. Then one year, we were in. And once you’re in, you can count on fruit each year” We entered the wine tasting room. He’d been packing a bottle of the Bruliam Zin along with us. The label read: Wine is elemental.
After a brief tour, we filmed Brian next to the winery. I like Brian’s story. It’s the entrepreneur saying to government, hey we can take this and do better. It’ll be good for the patient, good for big pharma, and there’s some money to be made in the process. During the interview Brian shared his Zin and let me just say there were no adverse events. Unfortunately, it was a heavy work day and there was all kinds of motor activity around so the video didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. We’ve edited a version here to give you some pictures of Brian and the place.
We’ve re-taped an audio podcast with Brian speaking about the website and his wines. Listen here.
As we returned to the office, I asked Brian if he’d had any surprises curating the drug data. “Oh, yeah, for sure. Ever hear of sildenafli citrate? (I waited for him to speak English.) Otherwise known as viagra.” Where was this going to go? “So there’s quite a few reports sent in about viagra. Those stories you hear are true. There are folks who have to go to the hospital because, well, let’s say the drug works too well. They can’t get it down. We’re talking 10 hours, 12 hours. It’s called priapism.”
Too much of a good thing. I wonder about Brian’s life in beautiful Healdsburg running an online company that can be done anywhere. How could one have too much of that lifestyle? Perhaps the answer came last week. Brian officially launched his company at Health 2.0 in San Francisco and because of an oncoming early rainstorm, all of the grapes had to be harvested the same week. “It was a mad rush,” he told me recently during the podcast. “My poor wife was at the winery from five in the morning ‘til 10 at night getting he fruit in.” What was the secret to living one’s dream? I asked. “Hey, you only live once, right?”