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“I’ve had kids say it feels like there’s 1,000 piranhas chewing at my stomach all the time.”

That’s Janalee Heinemann and she’s speaking as the director of Research and Medical Affairs at the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association, and as a mother with a son who has the disease.

Prader-Willi syndrome is a rare genetic disease associated with obesity that causes insatiable hunger. For people with Prader-Willi, the impulse to eat is so strong that they often have to live in controlled environments where food cabinets and refrigerators are locked.


This is the story of the biotech company trying to create a cure for the disease — and for severe obesity in general. Things were going well for Zafgen, until they stepped into every drug company’s nightmare. A patient in the drug’s clinical trial died.

This week on Signal we bring you a parable of how the stock market can react to the news of life and death in medicine. It’s a story of the vast uncertainties that come with drug development — of the mysteries of medicine that can take months, if not years to unravel.


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The Signal podcast is produced by Katie Hiler.

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