Genentech Should Let Us See Its Herceptin Documentary

I Want So Much to Live, a 2009 documentary about the genesis of Genentech's breast cancer drug Herceptin, offers a wealth of detail about the discovery and development challenges faced by makers of would-be world-class treatments. 

It frames attempts to overcome those challenges as herculean in nature. It shares stories of patients and scientists alike, relating them empathetically. It presents as compelling an argument for the pharma industry's worth and decency as you're likely to see.

Which is why it makes no sense that Genentech doesn't want you to see the damn thing.

See also: Pharma/Payer Collaboration: A Kumbaya Moment or a Passing Trend?

I learned this the hard way when I had the audacity to try to screen I Want So Much to Live. I'd been told by several marketers that few pharma content initiatives got it as right as the Herceptin documentary.

If the company leaned on the filmmakers to relate the story a certain way, you can't tell from the finished product — witness the display of ugly signs, such as “Genentech kills women with breast cancer,” during the Phase III clash over limited clinical-trial inclusion.

The film isn't available on any streaming services. And don't look to Genentech for help. I did, only to receive a response that read in part: “While we appreciate how the documentary film may be of interest to the community and worthy of broad viewing, unfortunately, that is not possible. The film cannot be used or shown as part of any promotional initiative directed at patients, physicians, research scientists, or other potential Herceptin/Genentech customer bases.”

Because “potential Herceptin/Genentech customer bases” includes all people who might one day be treated with a Genentech drug, that means the documentary is off-limits to everyone. So why bother creating content if you're unable to share it?

Genentech's refusal or inability to share I Want So Much to Live strikes me as self-defeating, especially when pharma companies are carping about their lowly place in the eyes of pretty much everybody who doesn't work at one. In that sense, the company's policy about the documentary is almost an act of self-sabotage.

See also: Klick Health's Elliot Langerman on the Power of Persuasion

Patients, caregivers, and journalists want to understand. We want to connect.

Which leaves me with one burning question: Why? Genentech has made it clear that no further answers are forthcoming from its end. Can any of you offer insight?

Ultimately, I found the flick on eBay. In exchange for $30, I had a used DVD in my hands within 48 hours. I'd love to share the wealth. The first person who emails me with an address gets it, with the caveat it's passed on to another interested party.

Let's get this movie out there. It represents the best of pharma.



Larry Dobrow is senior editor at MM&M