Contributing Author: Gina Hagler
It’s difficult to believe there is anything that Star Wars can teach us about cell therapy, let alone cell therapy investment. However, in 2016 Tom Isaacs, then President and Co-founder of the Cure Parkinson’s Trust, drew parallels between the Star Wars narrative and attempts to use stem cells to cure Parkinson’s Disease. His words captured the imagination of several researchers and writers who have since used Star Wars to describe the science and success of Car T therapies for a range of diseases. It turns out when we look past the droids, blasters, and clones, there are several things Star Wars can teach us about cell therapy investment.
1. Within our own bodies are genetic materials that can be used for us -- or against us. Whether we’re fighting the Death Star or having at it with lightsabers, it’s clear from Star Wars that our odds are much better when the Force is with us. In the case of disease, our genes and cells can work against us in ways reminiscent of the Dark Side.
Then again, if we can learn to harness their potential, the products of our genes and cells can make the Force Unleashed look like Luke’s first laughable attempts at using the Force on board the Millenium Falcon. The challenge for cell therapy investments is to maintain our belief in the power of Car T cells and immunotherapy as we work to make it a reality.
2. We must resist claims of a quick victory and focus on the results that come from sustained, scientific study. When Luke asks Yoda how he will know the good from the bad side of the Force, Yoda tells him “You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
In cell therapy investment, we must determine which approaches to fund and insist on research and trials that meet all clinical regulation and standards for objectivity and reproducibility. We need to follow up on any anomalies to our satisfaction as part of our due diligence. Star Wars teaches us that we must use our discretion to delineate between what is and what might be. Our hearts and our purpose must ultimately decide which gene and cell therapies will be able to sustain and perform well as an investment.
3. We want the numbers working with us. It was an awesome show of power when those rows and rows of clone troopers marched onto the transports as the Clone Wars began. It is equally as awesome to envision a time when we can equip the T cells that
are our personal army with what is needed to replicate and attack the cells that are making us ill. Another lesson Star Wars teaches us through the clone troopers is that, although the urge to run away or despair when faced with overwhelming defeat is more than reasonable, we can defeat those armies if we stand strong and fight back. For cell therapy investment, that means using biotechnology to create our own armies to cure disease by using power for its best purpose. In short, we want the clone troopers on our side.
4. Success is a process, not an event. In their 2018 paper, Cell-based therapy for Parkinson’s disease: A journey through decades toward the light side of the Force, the authors write about “A new hope--fetal cell trials” and a stem cell therapy study that was deemed a failure at first. “New and previously unknown Jedi(s) suddenly appear and give the impression that the future looks much more promising than ever,” they write. Similarly, when viewed in a new way, a stem cell therapy that was deemed a failure was recognized as a source of a new hope. The authors’ write, “In a similar way, cellular reprogramming has revolutionized medical sciences by allowing large-scale studies of
patient-specific cells including those of the nervous system, and with that, a new and previously unconsidered source of cells for therapy is emerging.” For cell therapy investors this points to the tantalizing possibility that a “failed” attempt may have a new possibility as science progresses. While these authors wrote of stem cell therapy, the same persistence is imperative for those creating T cell therapies. After all, even with the Force, it took several tries for the Dark Side to be defeated.
5. We must remain open to possibilities. The goal is to keep moving toward the Light Side of the Force, doing what we can to advance the technology that will bring us to full utilization of its power. We cannot rush down the quick and easy path, discarding whatever doesn’t work immediately. Some of the things discovered along the way may have important uses of their own; they may be worth a second look.
After all, when we first met Yoda, few guessed he was a Jedi Master.
When all is said and done, Star Wars provided some valuable lessons for cell therapy investors - without being heavy-handed. The narrative highlighted the fact that we have within ourselves the genetic material and cells that can harm us -- or cure us. It depends upon our perspective and where we invest our time and talents. Star Wars showed us that the quick wins are not the wins that rule the day; steady progress toward a goal with integrity in the process is what it takes.
When there are millions of anything -- clone troopers, whatever -- we want those millions of things to be working to our advantage. When we try something brilliant and it fails the first time, we can abandon that idea or settle down to ascertain its potential in another area. Not everyone is going to be a crack shot; someone also needs to hold off the naysayers until the shot is taken. After all, where would Luke have been without Red Leader? And finally, as a cell therapy investor, it’s necessary to stay the course while being informed and curious about what is next in the pipeline as well as what seems to have failed and what is just the start of an idea. Fetal cells? Bone marrow? Reprogrammed cells? Somewhere in the mix, in life as in Star Wars, lies success.