Friday, December 21, 2007

I am Legendary Oncolytic Virus

Bad news for those of us who think that oncolytic viruses show great potential as cancer therapeutics is coming out of Hollywood. I haven't seen it but apparently the plot of 'I am Legend' starring The Fresh Prince revolves around an cancer curing virus mutating and killing almost everyone except his Freshness.
From wikipedia (I am Legend):

A genetically reengineered measles virus called Krippen Virus or KV, created as a cancer cure by Dr. Alice Krippen (Emma Thompson), rapidly spreads and wipes out the population of the world by the end of 2009, leaving military virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) the last human survivor in New York City and possibly the world.

The virus killed 90% of the people on the planet; fewer than one percent are immune. The remaining survivors were infected, initially exhibiting the early symptoms of rabies, but then degenerated into an animal state driven by hunger and blind rage. Neville is watched by these "Infected" people, who react painfully to UV radiation. They therefore avoid sunlight and hide in the dark underground, and in buildings (in groups called "hives" by Neville), swarming out at night. Dogs and rats are also susceptible to the virus. By 2012, Neville has not seen another normal human being since the virus' release three years earlier, and suspects that the Infected have succeeded in killing the remainder of the immune survivors. Neville is outnumbered by the infected and running out of time as he seeks a cure.

Some pretty bad press for a treatment that's just getting out of the gates, and this might be the first time many people hear about the potential of treating cancer with replicating viruses.


kamel said...

I haven't seen the movie (which sounds like a cross between 'Pitch Black' and '28 Days Later') but is it just me or does Will Smith seem about as credible a virologist as Denise Richards' nuclear physicist Christmas Jones in 'The World is Not Enough'? Clearly this is a work of fiction.

Bayman said...

good thing it sounds like such a bad movie that it is unlikely to influence many people's thinking regarding therapeutic viruses. that and the fact that the story is so fantastical that you'd have to take complete leave from reality to believe anything like this could really happen.

i think it makes the point quite nicely of how far-fetched are fears that a virus employed in a therapeutic context will somehow instigate an apocalyptic disaster.

what i would be curious to know is how much big pharmas (interested in the sale of chemical cancer drugs) invested in the production of this movie...

conversely, how many sensational hollywood blockbuster movies have been made, for example, about anti-depressant drugs that psychologically enslave the world to greedy pharmaceutical companies and eventually lead the human race to apocalyptic mass suicide, leaving only the Prozac-resistant Will Smith to fight off armies of drug-addicated zombies?

Anonymous said...

to Kamel and Bayman

Never doubt the gullibility of your fellow men(and women)

Anonymous said...

no, this is actually a really good movie. Will Smith is in incredible shape and does a nice job carrying on the meat of the film in the first hour or so, when he is all alone.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

It's interesting to see how Hollywood portrays military scientists as heroes who are ready to save the day when everything goes wrong.

Does anyone even wonder what their day job is?

Bayman said...

following orders?

Bayman said...

Wow! Will Smith is in really good shape? I gotta see it! I follow his personal fitness regime quite closely.g

kamel said...

Well, I just saw the movie the other day. The ridiculous oncolytic virus stuff takes all of 2 minutes at the beginning of the movie before giving way to other ridiculous science and action. Still, people don't go to a sci-fi zombie movie for accurate science and it was quite entertaining. Worth at least a rental (but if you just can't watch Will Smith play the military virologist or cope with a mutant oncolytic virus, go for the book or one of the previous incarnations of this movie instead).

It seems to me that fears that this is part of a big pharma plot, or that it's damaging to the reputation of a promising therapeutic are as far-fetched as the movie itself. They even explicitly state that the virus cured cancer in 10009 of 10009 trials so even the most credulous of viewers (the ones who will avoid this kind of treatment based on the movie) will be forced to leave the theatre thinking "wow, that seems like a great treatment if only they can do something about the zombie-ism".

(and regarding Bayman's anti-depressant drug plot suggestion, the movie THX comes to mind, as does the ST:TNG episode "The Game" - not quite the same, of course - but things viruses, being infectious and self-propagating are probably much easier to work with plot-wise)

Bayman said...

Ah yes, I remember that ST:TNg episode. There's also Huxley's Brave New World. Has there ever been a movie version? Would be strange if there hadn't.

Regarding any big pharma plot, I agree such a thing is highly unlikely - and unnecessary. What is perhaps more likely is that a given would-be film backer would be unlikely to finance a script that cast a negative image upon a type of product in which they have invested or from which they derive profit. Conversely, I doubt they would have any problem funding plots that fueled fears of technologies they viewed as competition to their own. Whether this type of reasoning played any role in this particular case I have no idea, but the point is it doesn't take a conspiracy for bias and trends to emerge in hollywood films or other big business. All it takes is common decision-making tendencies amongst billionaires (ie probability of supporting product X over Y), driven by the motivation to maximize profits, to get statistical trends in behavior across the population.

As for whether such a film does in fact cast a negative light on virotherapy, I tend to agree with you that it seems sensational aspects of the film will not be accepted as reality, however people are still left with the idea that viruses might be useful cancer therapeutics. So maybe it's good publicity. That said I haven't seen the film.

Anonymous said...

not much into biology but the possibility of creating a man made virus isnt too far fetched.