“From Controversy to Cure” documentary chronicles the biotech boom in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, houses the greatest concentration of biotechnology organizations in the field. Once a salt-marsh in the Charles River, the now-bustling enclave surrounding the MIT university has actually evolved from the desolate wasteland of vacant parking lots and crumbling warehouses when you look at the 1970s to a vibrant ecosystem of innovation: the beating heart regarding the nation’s biotechnology industry today.

But how performed this metropolitan rags-to-riches tale start? How did among Cambridge’s least-appealing areas — one residents avoided at night for many years — turn into a beacon for titans of business and revolutionary startups working on remedies for devastating conditions like cancer tumors, Alzheimer’s, and diabetic issues?

“From Controversy to Cure: in the Cambridge Biotech Boom” is an innovative new documentary film by MIT movie Productions premiering recently with showings at MIT. It informs the story of this lengthy, mostly unplanned, and often haphazard group of activities in Cambridge and beyond that ignited a “bio boom” in the greater Boston region.

“This isn’t nearly Kendall Square: it’s a story of exactly how, in a very strange neighborhood, clinical breakthroughs were translated into societal advantages … the procedure and control over condition,” says MIT Institute Professor Phillip Sharp, whose revolutionary analysis on split genes earned him a Nobel Prize in 1993.

In 1978, Sharp and Harvard University biochemist Wally Gilbert founded Biogen, a company making use of the brand-new area of recombinant DNA to develop remedies for diseases such as leukemia and numerous sclerosis. The business became the foundation on which biotech ended up being integrated Kendall Square, but that development took time — and community feedback. 

“It had been essential that this neighborhood was supportive of this technology while the universities,” claims Sharp, adding your unprecedented research occurring in molecular biology during 1970s made many in Cambridge uncomfortable.

Within the film, he sheds light in the June 1977 Cambridge City Council hearings to go over DNA experimentation, which led to the town council’s decision to regulate the. Sharp recalls Mayor Alfred Vellucci’s unique hearing to grill boffins from MIT and Harvard about possible risks of hereditary manufacturing.

“Our response to Mayor Vellucci had beenn’t [Sturm und Drang] … it absolutely was, let’s use him. We have nothing to hide, but we think this research is very important. We believed, let’s utilize the town and persuade all of them that individuals work within a prudent, clear means. That fundamentally brought united states to a spot where in fact the neighborhood acknowledged this technology and biotech.”

Those tight hearings, and also other scenes of Kendall Square’s transformation, tend to be taken to life in the MIT movie through well-preserved archival footage. The MIT Video Productions team dusted off hours of archived movies to simply take its audience back in time so that it, also, could witness the change of an urban district and a market.

This ambitious project, 2 yrs in the creating, was initiated by Larry Gallagher, the film’s manager producer and previous senior director of MIT Video Productions. “We had recently completed a number of documentaries to get the MIT2016 gathering so we were hoping to find various other opportunities to create content of historic significance. Kendall Square ended up being booming and we also knew there clearly was a rich and fascinating tale on how it all came to be,” Gallagher states. “For a long period, we had been applying a big gift by Neil and Jane Pappalardo to make content that highlights the quality of MIT, in most its types. In This Situation, Ann and Phil Sharp joined up with the Pappalardos in financing the most important documentary we now have had the nice lot of money to make.”   

The film’s director, Joe McMaster, a former tv producer at WGBH’s Nova, claims advances in research and technology had been just part of this tale. “Even the storyline regarding the land here in Cambridge is essential: People most likely don’t understand that this area ended up being once cleared to produce means for a part of NASA in the future and perform electronic devices analysis the area race, a project that moved away. So many unexpected factors added on introduction of biotech. It’s very easy to tell an account of A led to B generated C … but that has been incorrect right here: It’s an infinitely more difficult, therefore interesting, story.”

The MVP team conducted above 40 interviews during the documentary procedure, and film features a variety of voices, from biotech executives to industry newcomers. Future programs consist of an archive to comprise all of that footage, plus the film itself, a resource that Gallagher hopes will inspire Kendall Square’s after that generation of innovators.

The type of interviewed is Susan Whitehead, vice-chair and life board member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, which told the story of her parent Jack Whitehead’s $150 million share to your institute. She credits the film with shining a light on biotech’s early innovators and investors. “Biotech is sluggish technology,” Whitehead explains. “And sluggish technology found a hospitable environment here. Twenty-five years ago, Kendall Square had no Novartis or Pfizer or Bristol-Myers Squibb — but there is an appetite for study as well as the persistence to nurture it — and industry has used.”

“People want when you look at the history of societies,” says Sharp. “Here is a major fundamental advance within our science and just how our community solves issues. It’s lucky that within era, with news and individuals living much longer, that video clip has-been capable capture that minute — to demonstrate exactly how science had to move through some occasions generate brand-new methods for solving problems.”