Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chen Yuan-tsong, Pompe disease, biotech, Whites playing Asians

Yes, everything in that title is in this post. First the Taipei Times today reported in an article on whether professors should be allowed to work in corporations as well as teach in universities:
The ministry made the announcement after Chen Yuan-tsong (陳垣崇), director of Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, was released on NT$600,000 bail on Tuesday after being questioned by prosecutors in a corruption investigation.

Chen is suspected of transferring his patented technologies for producing genetic-based diagnostic tests to Phamigene — a biomedical company in which he serves as honorary founder — that then sold two test products to Academia Sinica through two government procurement bids for a total value of NT$15 million (US$467,000).

Prosecutors said Chen’s wife is also a manager at the company.

Under the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法), procurement staff or supervisors must withdraw if they or their spouses, blood relatives or relatives by marriage who live with or share property with them, have vested interests in the a particular procurement.
Chen Yuan-tsong is already famous and in fact a movie is being made about him, except he is not being mentioned at all and his part is completely overwritten by Whitey -- in this case, Harrison Ford. Angry Asian Man has the call here:
But the real guy who developed the cure was not a Dr. Robert Stonehill, nor looks anything like Indiana Jones. The real guy is a fellow named Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen, who developed the treatment with colleagues at the Duke University Medical Center. I learned this from, of all places, Roger Ebert's movie review:
Dr. Robert Stonehill doesn't exist in real life. The Pompe cure was developed by Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen and his colleagues while he was at Duke University. He is now director of the Institute of Biomedical Science in Taiwan. Harrison Ford, as this film's executive producer, perhaps saw Stonehill as a plum role for himself; a rewrite was necessary because he couldn't very well play Dr. Chen. The real Chen, a Taiwan University graduate, worked his way up at Duke from a residency to professor and chief of medical genetics at the Duke University Medical Center. He has been mentioned as a Nobel candidate.
Ebert also speculates that Dr. Chen might have been inspired a more interesting character than Dr. Stonehill. But I suppose Harrison Ford, who also serves as the film's executive producer, isn't the first guy that comes to mind for the role of "Taiwanese Scientist." Thus, the rewrite. Ah, what could've been.
In addition to Pompe Disease, Chen has done other awesome work, which is why he's been mentioned in the same sentence with Nobel (Taipei Times with more on the film)(Danny Bloom with a discussion of the White-Asian issues). It totally sucks that Ford somehow couldn't find a talented Asian actor to play the role, though there are many.

Meanwhile, back to the indictment. Ask yourself if this brilliant scientist moved to Taiwan and suddenly became corrupt and venal. Think maybe not? I've heard on the background that he transferred the product to this firm because it appears to be the only one in Taiwan that can make the product. The real problem, as the government appears to have correctly diagnosed, in this case, is that the laws governing the relationships between universities and corporations hinder transfer of commercializable technology.
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Taiwan Echo said...

"in fact a movie is being made about him"

I got a dvd copy of the movie "Extraordinary Measures" from a supermarket yesterday ...

Taiwan Echo said...

"The real problem, as the government appears to have correctly diagnosed, in this case, is that the laws governing the relationships between universities and corporations hinder transfer of commercializable technology."

The law also allows special cases. For example, when there's no other choice, like in this case, the company is founded by Chen, and because it's all his patents, it's the only company in the entire world to produce the medicine for Chen's research. If Chen didn't do that, he has no way to continue his research.

I remember Ma government has used that "law of special case" probably last year to explain away government's purchase case, but I can't recall which case it is.

But when it comes to a pro-green Taiwanese elite scientist, the court simply ignores it, and go ahead to shame Chen anyway.

I was told that this is part of KMT's long term goal to eliminate all pro-green Taiwanese elites in
academics. Previous one being Hsieh Ching-chih (謝清志), who has been persecuted by the judiciary for years, and the final rule "not guilty on all charges" was just delivered by the supreme court 2 weeks ago. It seems that the court can't wait but go hunting their next target immediately.

We could be witnessing a replay of the 1947 228 incident - in which all Taiwanese elites were wiped out by KMT - in a much more delicate manner.

KMT has run out of cards to use. Their champion card CSB is no longer effective. But I think this one is gonna backfire.

Nevets said...

This group is fed up with Hollywood's attitude towards Asians.

Dan tdaxp said...

Except that the character is a composite of many real life individuals, including Bill Velander (of Nebraska

Your blog on Taiwan is interesting, but your Left-leaning grievance politics is annoying.

Michael Turton said...

Your compliment is welcome, but your political ignorance is annoying.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be some confusions here regarding Dr. Chen's alleged contribution:

(1) According to a case study entitled "A Father's Love: Novazyme Pharmaceuticals, Inc.", which was published by the Harvard Business School dated Oct. 22, 2002, Dr. William Canfield seems to be the one who developed a way to deliver the enzyme for a potential cure of Pombe disease. Dr. Canfield was at the time an internist and biochemist at the Univ. of Okalahoma Health Scineces Center in Norman, OK.

(2) According to Wiki's document on "John Crowley (biotech executive)", Dr. Canfield was said to be the doctor in the movie, apparently not Dr. Chen.

"The film, titled Extraordinary Measures[11][12] was released nationwide on January 22, 2010. Directed by Tom Vaughan, Extraordinary Measures stars Brendan Fraser as John Crowley and Keri Russell as Aileen Crowley, and also executive producer Harrison Ford as "Dr. Robert Stonehill" who is a character based on Dr. William Canfield[13]. " (Under the subtitle called "Books and Movie")

(3) Again, in Wiki's document on "William Canfield":

"Dr. William Canfield, M.D., PhD, is a glycobiologist, chief scientific officer and founder of an Oklahoma City-based biotechnology company, Novazyme, which was acquired by Genzyme in August 2001 and developed, among other things, an enzyme that can stabilize (but not cure) Pompe disease, based on Canfield's ongoing research since 1998. [1][2] Canfield subsequently left Genzyme and established, with his partner in the Novazyme operation, John Crowley, another research laboratory (Cytovance Biologics), which he still heads. He saved Cytovance from bankruptcy by forming an investor group and raising $9 million after Crowley suddenly left the lab in 2005 to become the chief executive officer at Amicus Therepeutics in New Jersey.

Contrary to the 2010 motion picture Extraordinary Measures, in which his name has been changed to "Dr. Robert Stonehill" and he is portrayed as an anti-establishment, chronically angry and asocial University of Nebraska researcher, Canfield was the sole founder and original CEO of Novazyme, and was already actively involved in developing a treatment for Pompe disease when he took on John Crowley, a lawyer turned business manager, as a partner to handle the business end of the operation."

So, there are two questions arose:

(1) Is the role of "Dr. Robert Stonehill" in the movie "Extraordinary Measures" a representation of Dr. Chen or Dr. Canfield? (The information cited above seems to indicate the latter.)

(2) What exactly is the scientific contribution by Dr. Chen and Dr. Canfield during the development of a cure of Pombe disease?

I would welcome a more thorough analysis.

Anonymous said...

Anon, read "The Cure". That should clarify the roles that each of the scientists played.

Robin Y said...


I had just seen the movie "Extraordinary Measures"on cable tv.

I went to check out what Wikipedia has to say about Dr Chen's role in finding a cure for Pompe disease.

Wikipedia says (under the topic 'Glycogen storage disease type II' which is also called Pompe disease):

"In November 2001, Genzyme chief executive Henri Termeer organised a systematic comparison of the various potential drugs in a mouse model of Pompe disease. It was found that Duke enzyme was the most efficacious, followed by Myozyme. However, due to easier manufacture of Myozyme, work on the other products was then discontinued."

Dr Chen is of course a member of the Duke University research team that developed the Duke enzyme.

It is mentioned at the end of the movie that later research showed that Dr Robert Stonehill's visionary theory was the most effective.

If what Wikipedia says is factually correct and based on what was mentioned at the end of the move, then "Dr Dr. Robert Stonehill" character did represent Dr Chen (in addition to other real life people like Dr Canfield.)

Anonymous said...

Thought I should owe you the courtesy of a reply.

Last I heard, the case against Dr Chen my uncle in Taiwan had been dropped due to, as I heard it put, there being a lack of a case :-P They didn't really have anything to go on, so it's done. Apparently he's back in Taiwan these days, still working for the government or academic institution (I don't know which) that he had been working for all along.