7 Biotech-y Blockbusters to Chill Out With…

biotech films movies science fiction

Tired of seeing a mini Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone – again – this Christmas? Don’t panic, here is a Biotech related film selection me and Nuria (our Events Manager) came up with for the sake for your survival’s sake this holiday…

1. Gattaca (1997)

Directed by Andrew Nicole, with Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law

Set in a future society in which most children are conceived in vitro and disease is pre-determind using genetic selection techniques, one of the last naturally conceived children born with a heart defect is considered ‘an invalid’ – literally, a second citizen.

His dream of space travel is almost Cinderalla-esque, as he is discriminated against the a career in the Stars. That is, until one such ‘Perfect’ example of the elite decides he wants out of the program…then all he would need to do is fool the rigorous biometric police tests to take their place.

2. Repo-Men (2010)

Directed by Miguel Sapochnik starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker & Alice Braga

Set in the near future when artificial organs can be bought on credit, Repo-Men revolves around a man who struggles to make the payments on a heart he has purchased. He must therefore go on the run before said ticker is repossessed by his own company – ‘the Union’.

Such bionic organs already exist in the Biotech world – although admittedly to a far less sophisticated design (although this is Sci-fi, so hey!). But with patents, heavy demand and expensive manufacturing processes (in sourcing biological materials), is this avenue in Regenerative medicine really sustainable?

And in the time period between now and the future where ‘Cyborgs’ like Neil Harbisson are the norm, how will the Artificial organ business model adapt for healthcare services like the UK’s NHS?

Some of the Union’s credit available ‘products’ include an artificial liver, heart, lung and more.. (Source: Repo Men / LightWave)

3. Extraordinary Measures (2010)

Directed by Tom Vaughan, with Brendan Fraser, Kerl Russell & Harrison Ford

We interviewed the CEO of Lysogene earlier this year, on her incredible journey to found this clinical stage Gene therapy biotech after her daughter, Ornella, was diagnosed with the deadly rare disease Sanfilippo A Syndrome (which has a median survival age of just 13…).

Her story was truly inspiring as someone from an entirely non-Biotech background being driven to push a gene therapy to clinical trials, which her daughter is participating in.

John Crowley is another such Biotech figure, famous for his founding of Orexigen Therapeutics after 2 of his children were diagnosed with Glycogen storage disease type II (also known as Pompe’s Disease). In a management role at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Crowley also came from a non-scientific background, but was inspired to start Biotech to help his children. Since then a book and film (Extraordinary Measures) have been made about his story.

An awesome movie based on a true story.

Learn more about Rare Diseases and the Biotech Industry by reading a panel discussion with Lysogene and Co.

And the Space Genre…?

Researching how to bring sustainable life support systems from Earth to the moon or Mars is the first move by the European Space Agency in making Space livable on the longer term scale. The MELiSSA Project from the ESA has also brought Green tech innovation to the Biotech industry through funding and design of such ‘cycling’ and sustainability pods.

4. Sunshine (2007)

Directed by Danny Boyle, with Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne & Chris Evans

In Sunshine, the Sun is soon about to die. Therefore, a group of astronauts is sent to the star aboard the spaceship Icarus II to install an explosive charge which will try to bring the star back to life.

This mission would last 7 years, and indirectly portrays topics like space travel sustainability, linking the idea of Greentech cycling (i.e. their ‘Oxygen Greenhouse’ and growing food through hydroponics) to make long-term space travel possible.

5. ‘The Martian’ (2015)

Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon….and others. But mostly just Matt Damon.

Another film which explores this in great detail is the The Martian. I mean, if you’ve read the book (recommended) it’s the most scientifically thorough piece of Sci-Fi i’ve ever come across, exploring the real challenges of growing biomass (specifically potatoes – which is a real thing if you read on IFLS yesterday) when stranded on Mars…

There’s also a great article on the science in more depth by Tech Insider.

Matt Damon in the Ridley Scott Sci-Fi Epic ‘The Martian’, cultivating potatoes in the planet surface mission space pod to ‘Conquer Mars’ and survive (Source: 20th Century Fox / Tech Insider)

6. Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Directed by Edward Zwick with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway

There are many unpopular (and to be diplomatic, perhaps not so ethical) examples of large Pharmas and Biotech partnerships which have questionable sales methods and trials.

One example of a big industry no-no is when the Swiss pharma giant Novartis  was once again fined $390M by the US Department of Justice after being caught out indirectly ‘bribing’ doctors to push their drug brand above others.

This was a big problem back in the 90’s pharmaceutical rep world, as demonstrated in Love and Other Drugs. And whilst I admit the trailer makes it seems like just a romance, really is a poignant satire about the pharmaceutical sales world (specifically Pfizer and their launch of Viagra) in the mid-90’s. The movie portrayed this snapshot in Industry history as being hugely hedonistic and unethical in order to ‘push their brand’ to Doctor’s above others.

And it’s also a love story, but really…it’s worth watching for the Pharma-backdrop (and struggle of Anne Hathaway’s Parkinson’s prognosis).

7. The Constant Gardner (2005)

Directed by Fernando Meirelles starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz

Then, there is the slightly more controversial story in The Constant Gardner based on the novel by John le Carré. A British diplomat’s wife is murdered after investigating a large Western pharmaceutical conglomerate who are fraudulently testing a tuberculosis drug (‘dypraxa’) on vulnerable Kenyans instead of thoroughly controlled clinical trials.

This begged the question, how are clinical trials regulated and monitored today to prevent such atrocities occurring?

So, as you can see Biotech is becoming increasingly relevant to…everyone, really.

And it’s important to unplug this Christmas holiday. Perhaps watching one of the above will provide a great alternative to the other rubbish on TV.


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