COLUMN

A doctor’s profitable struggle

Diane Francis April 25 1988
COLUMN

A doctor’s profitable struggle

Diane Francis April 25 1988

A doctor’s profitable struggle

COLUMN

Diane Francis

The two-storey red-brick building is on the corner of Marmaduke Street and Roncesvalles Avenue in a working-class section of Toronto’s west end. Frann’s Fish & Chips is a few doors away, as is the storefront office of the weekly Polish Voice newspaper. On the side door of the building, a sign reads: “Dr. M. P. Shulman, Physician and Surgeon.” Inside, up a few stairs and to the right, is a storage room where a computer terminal allows him to call up stock trading results from around the world in seconds. To the left is a small waiting room. This is where Morty Shulman—financier, author, politician, television personality, philanthropist and now pharmaceutical magnategoes to work most days of the week.

Despite a lifetime of accomplishments, fame and fortune, Shulman, 63, says that one year ago he was ready to commit suicide. “I had had Parkinson’s disease for five years,” Shulman told me. “I was so sick, I went to my doctor and said if something doesn’t happen, I am blowing my brains out. He told me about these pills that were used throughout Europe. A friend flew over to London for me the next day, and I got the pills the day after. Within 24 hours I was back to normal. Some patients have actually gotten out of their sickbeds as a result of this.” Shulman also said that preliminary results from U.S. clinical tests sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., indicate that the drug, Deprenyl, has also helped certain patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the brain disorder whose symptoms include premature senility.

In fact, Shulman liked his cure so much that he bought the Canadian rights to it. Now, in the basement of his medical office, Shulman is onto his next career, running a mini-pharmaceutical corporation that dispenses Deprenyl— not yet approved in North America—to doctors who have received special permission from health authorities to prescribe it to their patients. On Feb. 9, when Shulman began selling over-thecounter shares in his new firm, Deprenyl Research Ltd., he was dispensing 200 pills a day and the stock cost $3. Now, he is selling close to 6,000 daily, and the stock is trading in the $9 range. Shulman’s physician, however, is cautious in describing Deprenyl’s effects. “Dr. Shulman was significantly disabled when he came to me,” says Toronto neu-

rologist Dr. Anthony Lang, an expert on Parkinson’s disease. “But this is not a miracle drug. It does wonders for some people, but not everyone.”

The drug has an interesting history. In 1980 Donald Buyske, an executive with S. S. Johnson & Son Inc. (the makers of Johnson’s wax), was presented with a golden business opportunity. After years of negotiating, Buyske, a member of the U.S./Hungarian Trade Council, had helped convince the U.S. government to return Hungarian crown jewels brought to the United States after the Second World War. Buyske was invited to Budapest to a special public exhibition of the jewels, which the United States had returned two years earlier. He managed to get Hungarian officials to grant Johnson first option for 20 years to the Western Hemisphere rights for all drugs made by Chinoin, a large Hungarian pharmaceutical company. Among its stable of products: Deprenyl.

Morton Shulman has bequeathed his stake in Deprenyl to the Toronto Western Hospital Movement Disorders Clinic

When Johnson decided against going heavily into the drug business, Buyske and some associates broke away to launch Somerset Pharmaceuticals Inc. in February, 1986, in New Jersey, took over the option from Johnson and bought the rights to Deprenyl. But they found it difficult to support a sales and distribution network without approval from the slow-moving U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Then Shulman came along last August. “Somerset was losing $200,000 a month,” he said. “I gave them $1.9 million for 15 per cent of Somerset, and then got 100 per cent of the Canadian rights in exchange for $1.3 million plus 600,000 shares of [newly created] Deprenvl Research and warrants for another 300,000.”

Deprenyl still cannot be generally prescribed in North America, although it is available in Britain and other European countries including Germany, Austria and Hungary. However, Canadian laws allow it to be distributed by physicians if they request special written permission on compassionate grounds. And according to Shulman, full approval of Deprenyl may be given as early as May

in the United States, and later this year in Canada. Still, Ottawa has already cautioned Shulman about promoting the prescriptive effects of Deprenyl before approval is obtained.

In Canada, the public and many of Shulman’s friends have been able to invest in his latest bright idea. When Deprenyl Research stock began trading over the counter in February, it nearly tripled in price in weeks. By the end of the year it may be listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. “If it’s not $100 in a year, I’ll eat my hat,” declared the doctor, whose nose for investments is legendary and mostly correct. “This has done wonders for my social life. I have made a lot of people rich.”

But although Morty Shulman may have a penchant for promotion, this time it is all for a good cause. Shulman has bequeathed his stake in Deprenyl and all share proceeds—he owns about five per cent of the shares issued so far—to the Toronto Western Hospital Movement Disorders Clinic run by Dr. Lang. “He has done well, and he has shown he is going to be grateful,” said Lang. “I am grateful.” And if the drug is half as effective as Shulman maintains it is, it could prove as profitable as Pablum baby food royalties were to the Hospital for Sick Children or insulin to the University of Toronto.

In fact, Shulman says that the sky will be the limit if Deprenyl also proves effective with Alzheimer’s patients. “There are three times as many people with Alzheimer’s as Parkinson’s,” he added. “Trials show that it stops antisocial behavior cold in half the Alzheimer’s patients. This could be of tremendous importance to a lot of people.” But Lang, for his part, describes Deprenyl as “a useful drug, not a miracle cure. There are no miracle cures available for Parkinson’s. As for Alzheimer’s, I do not know anything about Deprenyl and its use in that disease.”

Deprenyl’s success is not assured, but it certainly combines Shulman’s two biggest passions: money machinations and medicine. He also says that he has no desire to run a huge pharmaceutical company and adds that there have already been nibbles from giants to buy Deprenyl Research outright to get the rights. If so, it will be just another chapter in a remarkable, charmed life. “It’s all about seizing opportunities,” said Shulman. “But this is not about money. This is like being God and waving a wand and making some people feel better. It is exciting.”