Biotech Goes Hollywood Again as Jennifer Lopez Set to Produce New Show About CRISPR Gene-Editing

Biotech Goes Hollywood Again as Jennifer Lopez Set to Produce New Show About CRISPR Gene-Editing October 20, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

HOLLYWOOD – CRISPR gene-editing technology is one of the hottest things going in the pharma and biotech worlds. It’s so hot that the technology is set to take center stage in a new bio-terror-style television program being produced by Jennifer Lopez.

The new program, called C.R.I.S.P.R. will focus on DNA hacking, bio-attacks and crime. Some of the premises of the show include “a genetic assassination attempt on the president” and “the framing of an unborn child for murder,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. The show has not yet been greenlit as a series. Fortune said NBC, the network Lopez is working with, has issued a script order, but it’s still in the development stage. The Lopez-helmed C.R.I.S.P.R. has more of a science-fiction premise than an actual science premise.

CRISPR-Cas9 technology being harnessed by companies such as Caribou, CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellia Therapeutics and Editas Medicine in order to develop therapies for blood disorders, blindness, congenital heart disease, cancers and more. However, the Hollywood Reporter said the new television program is not looking at the potential cures the technology can provide, but exploring the darker side of gene-editing—how it can become a tool of chaos, at least as far as a procedural television thriller is concerned.

"CRISPR" refers to Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats that occur in the genome of certain bacteria, from which the system was discovered. Cas9 is a CRISPR-associated endonuclease (an enzyme) known to act as the "molecular scissors" that cut and edit, or correct, disease-associated DNA in a cell. Gene therapy essentially transforms cells inside a patient to harness their immune system to fight an invading disease on its own. CRISPR-Cas9 is considered revolutionary technology, and as such is likely, at some level, to be used by many companies and institutions.

A program about CRISPR technology would certainly highlight the potential for the gene-editing tool, but perhaps not in a manner the companies using the technology hope. Also, as of now, the premise of the potential television show is way ahead of what the actual technology has been used for. In fact, the companies working with CRISPR-Cas9 technology have yet to move their potential therapies into human clinical trials, although Editas is likely to move its first drug candidate into clinical trials next year.

If greenlit, C.R.I.S.P.R. would take a stand alongside other programs or films with its roots in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. One film that’s in the works is the biopic of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and chief executive officer of Theranos, the embattled company known for the problems with its blood-testing technology that has Jennifer Lawrence attached to play the titular character. Another company that would become the focus of a television drama is Vertex Pharmaceuticals . A television adaptation of Barry Werth’s “The Billion Dollar Molecule: One Company’s Quest for the Perfect Drug,” is in predevelopment. Massachusetts filmmaker Yael Beals optioned the rights to Werth’s 1994 book. The book tells the story of Vertex, from its founding by Joshua Boger to the quest for drug development based on rational design. In July, Beals said she found the story inspirational and wanted to share an adaptation that “help people see scientists in a new way.”

There have certainly been other films about the pharma industry, but most show the companies and people who work there in a bad light—as C.R.I.S.P.R. seems likely to do. Earlier this week BioSpace highlighted five films that placed the pharma industry in the worst light, placing the companies and people there in the role of “evil, greedy companies,” which are an easier sell.

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