Hope Lies in Dreams

Country/area: United States

Organisation: Nature Biotechnology

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 08/09/2021

Credit: Brady Huggett, Erin Dewalt (art), Brian Flood (sound mix)


Brady Huggett is senior editor at Nature Biotechnology, the most impactful journal in the biotech space. Erin Dewalt is senior graphic designer at Springer Nature. Brian Flood is a freelance audio producer. 

Project description:

An audio documentary. Stan Crooke rose from poverty to found a company that pioneered antisense drugs. After decades of struggle and years of public doubt, the company created a treatment that has saved thousands of children from the brutal disease spinal muscular atrophy.

Impact reached:

The project has highlighted the necessity of prenatal or at-birth testing for spinal muscular atrophy, the No. 1 genetic killer of babies less than 2 years of age, for all newborns. This can be done via dried blood spot, and the earlier these children are treated, the better. The documentary has also shown the incredible hard work and persistence required to bring a brand new drug modality to humans, and reminded drug makers that the ultimate goal is treating patients. The project also provided links in the transcript to all important academic papers that shaped the field over the years.

Techniques/technologies used:

Audio recording of every interview (either face-to-face with Zoom H6 recorder and two condensor mics, or through the audio interface Squadcast). Editing and building of episodes was done with Adobe Audition software. Final mix and theme song built with ProTools. For data, this required pulling down every annual report for Ionis (~25) and countless other companies to understand their financial siuations and pipeline progression. Also combing through clincialtrials.gov for results and analysis of human trials of various drugs.  

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of the project was distilling down the life of a man in his 70s, and deciding what to include from the 30-year history of a ground-breaking company. Also, finding sources for events that happened more than 40 years ago. In all, I ended up with a tremendous about of material to fit into 10 episodes, and link it all comprehensively and with an engaging narrative. 

What can others learn from this project?

The biotech industry is still in its infancy — truly it’s barely 40 years old. There is much to learn in its history. Antisense was an idea, and it took 30 years of scientific progress before it produced the first life-saving drug. There are lessons to learn there, and this is the first documentary that looks at this young industry. 

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