"Extreme Measures" draws attention to how health care is improved.
Recently my wife talked me into watching a little movie entitled "Extraordinary Measures," staring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford. The film had "made for TV" written all over, although the story is engaging and the lessons learned, significant. Fraser stars as a desperate father with two seriously ill children fighting for their lives. Ford plays a research scientist poised to make a significant discovery in the treatment of a terrible disease. It is inspired by a true story. The children in the story suffer from Pompe's disease, which, according to the film, those who get it as a child usually die in the 9th year. Pompe is an autosomal recessive metabolic disorder that attacks muscles and nerve cells through out the body.
My wife, Stacy, has a heart for these type of movies. We watched it quietly together and were inspired by the story. Fraser plays John Crowley, a biotechnology executive who works in the marketing side of the industry and, in the quest of saving his own children, partners with a scientist at the University of Nebraska who is on the edge of a breakthrough on treating Pompe. In order to do this, Crowley leaves a lucrative job with a major health care company in order to try and help his children. To do so he gives up a lucrative salary and will depend entirely on his entrepreneurial skills.
The movie is inspiring as Crowley first takes the developing treatment to a venture capital (VC) firm to convince them that it can significantly improve the quality of the lives of Pompe patients and that it is a worthy investment. Early stage development will require millions by the firm and assurances from Crowley that the therapy would be subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review within 18 months. He has two children who are dying, so Crowley does not hesitate to agree to the terms and to make the science catch up later. In order to meet the 18 month deadline, Crowley and company hire a team of young scientists to work around the clock to get the drug ready. It becomes clear that, in spite of the amount invested and the huge amount of energy behind it, they would not meet the deadline without additional help. The VC firm then sales the development to a larger drug company and that is when things really begin to take off. With hundreds of millions of more dollars brought to the treatment, the drug finally gets a chance to face FDA review and to be used on actual patients. Meanwhile, Crowley's daughter has suffered a couple of near death experiences, so there was little time to spare.
The goal of a drug company is to have the most effective results, so the firm decides to limit the type of patient used in the tests to infants. No one under three would be allowed to participate. Furthermore, no employee would be allowed to have his or her child participate because it could undermine the objectivity required in pursuit of such science. This is devastating news for Crowley who is now a part of the company and his children are beyond the age of three. He is desperate -- even willing to steal the drugs in order to save his children. Fortunately he doesn not have to as the head of the research makes a pitch to do a "sibling" test as part of the program because it is so rare to have family members with this disorder, than the company fires Crowley to eliminate the conflict of interest.
In the end, the medicine is very successful in treating younger patients and even leads to many having completely normal lives outside the confines of wheel chairs and respirators. Crowley's own children see an end of the disease's progression and enjoy remarkable improvement. This is a real tearjerker.
I turned to my wife who was in tears and said, "that turned out to be a great movie." She agreed, even if she could not express that verbally. I then said, "You know what impressed me most?" She put together the words to say, "the power of love when parents want to save their children." I paused, but had to get my point out. "Yes, that too, but also the power of markets when it is capable of making money to improve the lives of others." Money, and the prospect of making more money, was behind the development of this drug each step of the way. She did not like it, but that is the most important lesson of this movie for me in the times we live in. More than 90 percent of all health care drugs and treatments come from the United States. It isn't because we have more "love," it is because we have more incentives. And, as we see in the movie, "Extreme Measures," incentives really do matter.
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