Wed, Jun 02, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Ford fails to honor Taiwanese hero

By Dan Bloom 丹布隆

As one of the great popular actors of our time, Harrison Ford, is much admired by filmgoers in Taiwan and overseas. However, in a Ford-produced movie that sees him playing the role of a Midwestern medical researcher looking for a cure for a rare muscle disease, released earlier this year in theaters in the US and now worldwide on DVD, titled Extraordinary Measures, Ford neglected to give credit to the actual scientist who found the cure for Pompe Disease — Chen Yuan-tsong (陳垣崇) of Taiwan.

Chen did the original research that led to finding the cure in the 1990s while he was at Duke University in North Carolina. A writer for the Wall Street Journal, Geeta Annand, wrote a series of newspaper articles about the search for the cure and later turned her stories into a book titled The Cure.

Ford bought the film rights to the book, asked his scriptwriters to turn Chen into a white lab scientist named Dr Stonehill and completely left any mention of Chen’s work out of the picture. Not one part of the movie’s dialog mentions Chen’s name at all and even the opening and closing credits fail to mention the doctor’s name.

Ford and the Hollywood studio that bankrolled the movie need to explain themselves. Sure, movies are movies and Hollywood is Hollywood, but to take the real-life medical work of a Taiwanese scientist and turn it into a Hollywood medical thriller “inspired by true events” that does even mention the name of the man who inspired the movie is an affront to medical researchers everywhere.

When Chen recently attended a press conference on the sidelines of the release of the DVD version of the movie, the Central News Agency (CNA) in Taipei reported that he had “mixed feelings” about the movie.

When this reporter recently asked Chen to explain his feelings about the movie, he told me: “What the movie failed to show was who actually developed the drug that the characters Megan and Patrick in the film eventually received. There were many scientists behind the scenes that helped to find the cure.”

However, Chen was gracious in his remarks, adding: “However, I still appreciate Harrison Ford bringing the Pompe story to movie audiences worldwide. This kind of Hollywoodized medical drama helps create public awareness of rare devastating diseases such as Pompe, and hopefully the film will create support channels for helping those children who suffer from Pompe and their families.”

Despite Hollywood’s neglect, Chen is now being recognized in Taiwan for his medical research on Pompe Disease.

“Regardless of how Hollywood decided to recast Chen, his contribution to helping find the cure is well established,” CNA said. “He developed the treatment with colleagues at Duke University Medical Center. His R&D was mostly done in the United States, but Chen conducted his clinical trials for the cure — later named Myozyme — in Taiwan, at National Taiwan University Hospital.”

“Myozyme, which took Chen and his team 15 years to research and develop, was introduced in Taiwan by US pharmaceutical company Genzyme and included as a drug covered by Taiwan’s National Health Insurance program in 2005. Myozyme was sold in Europe and the United States after it was approved by the US government and the European Union health authority in 2006,” CNA said.

Chen’s work has resulted in saving over a thousand lives of those with Pompe Disease worldwide — also known as “acid maltase deficiency” — including 34 children in Taiwan, the CNA said.

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