This is a story of desperation, anger, poverty—and triumph over long odds to crack the code of a degenerative disease that had been stealing the lives of children since it was first discovered more than a century ago.
Brady Huggett: Hello Science Talk audience. My name is Brady Huggett, and I’m from the journal Nature Biotechnology. We have just launched a new podcast—a stand-alone series—that the Science Talk editors thought might interest you. It’s a 10-part show that looks at the history of the drug modality antisense, and it starts with an antisense pioneer who overcame poverty, and a rough childhood just to make something of himself. Eventually his company created the first drug to treat the leading genetic killer of babies, spinal muscular atrophy. We’ve built a trailer for the show, and I’d like to play that for you now. The podcast is called Hope Lies in Dreams, and the first episode launched September 8. Here you go.
Brady Huggett: Stan Crooke told me something once that I've never forgotten. This was back in 2015, when I was interviewing him in a Hilton hotel, in San Francisco near Union Square. He was in San Francisco to attend a biotech conference, as CEO of a company he founded in 1989.
Stan grew up destitute, in downtown Indianapolis in the ’40s and ’50s. An “ugly place,” as he called it, and as we talked I asked him how he managed to overcome that neighborhood and his hard upbringing and get himself to college, and then beyond.
Stan Crooke: So, mostly desperation, and anger. And just the whole idea of having no hope, no aspirations. I mean, poverty is not the loss of money—though of course that’s sad. It’s the loss of dreams, it’s the absence of hope. That’s poverty.
Brady Huggett: The absence of a real future.
Stan Crooke: Beyond that. At least from my perspective, it’s the inability to even dream, you know?
Brady Huggett: This is the story of Stan Crooke’s life. It’s the story of the biotech company he founded, and it’s the story of a powerful drug discovery technology called antisense. Together, they cracked the degenerative disease known as spinal muscular atrophy, which had been stealing the lives of children, and traumatizing families since it was first discovered more than a century ago.
From Nature Biotechnology, I’m Brady Huggett, and this is Hope Lies in Dreams.
[theme music, snippets of dialogue]
“couldn't believe and couldn’t explain and couldn’t understand how this drug could had failed”
“just like, one of the more amazing, dramatic moments certainly of my life”
“so I’m like, I have to sit here and watch my daughter slowly waste away? Like, that’s what I’m going to do?”
“the winner is Biogen and Ionis for Spinraza”
“when you got a shared vision like that with a bunch of people, and you have to say goodbye to half of them, it’s traumatic”
“and that’s what I always thought about, was hope. SMA, especially the infant form, is a terrible disease”
“but if I’m telling the truth, that’s the truth”
Brady Huggett: Ok, well this took more than two years for me to report and write, but I wouldn’t give back a minute of that time. It’s been a fascinating story to work on, and it’s a story that’s also been under-reported, and under-appreciated, I think. 10 chapters, one every week, and it started September 8. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts: Apple, Google, Spotify, wherever, and subscribe to it there. Just look for Hope Lies in Dreams. Thanks for listening.