Which government agency wields the most menacing power? The CIA? NSA? IRS? No, it’s the deceptively banal Food and Drug Administration. Just ask Sarepta Therapeutics.
In 2013, the company saw its market value plummet 64 percent in a single day, simply because it looked like the FDA was going to deny its experimental muscular dystrophy drug. That's how powerful the FDA is. The mere threat of its wrath can send companies into free fall. But today, as the FDA announced it had given guidance to Sarepta to file for approval (while not definite approval, it's a promising step after last year’s disappointment), the company’s stock shot back up – very near to where it was back in November before the precipitous drop. That sort of FDA-induced whiplash is enough to inspire certain sinister thoughts.
And it does, just not in real life (that we know of, at least). The FDA approval-as-motivation for murder (or something similarly criminal) is a familiar trope in fiction – mostly television and movies – because apparently, FDA approval is something to kill for. Who could believe the FDA would be behind such gruesome exploits? Anyone who has tried to get drug approval, probably.
To put the Sarepta news today in some (fictional) context, we rounded up the best storylines from TV, movies, and comic books in which the looming specter that is the FDA haunts tales of murder and mischief.
This one's the crown jewel when it comes to the FDA as motivation for conspiracy and death. Everybody remembers "I didn't kill my wife!" and Harrison Ford jumping from a waterfall and Tommy Lee Jones ordering the search of various henhouses, lighthouses, and outhouses. But remember what turned out to be the reason for it all: Ford's Dr. Richard Kimble discovers that a soon-to-be-released drug causes liver damage; his research would force the FDA to spike approval. So the pharmaceutical company behind Provasic hires that infamous one-armed man to murder Kimble’s wife, framing him and thus keeping him quiet. Like we said, FDA drug approval is serious business, enough to create a convoluted murder plot.
Law and Order “Doped”
Of course Law and Order had a FDA-fueled storyline. We’re honestly surprised that it didn't have more in its billion-season run. In “Doped”, however, violence isn’t incited by a large drug company, but rather by the individuals trying to discredit that company. Apparently there’s good money in taking down a pharmaceutical giant, so one whistleblower winds up murdering a competing one. Is there anything about the FDA that is not cutthroat?
CSI: Miami “Silencer”
This one is interesting, because a drug pending FDA approval is involved, but it doesn’t turn out to be the primary motivation for murder. Instead, it’s used as the episode’s red herring, to distract the detectives from the real motivation, which ends up being a boring old lovers’ quarrel. Still, the fact that FDA approval is well known enough for being high-stakes to use it as a plausible red herring speaks to just how much crazy shit goes down when it comes to getting drugs approved. In other words: “Oh yea, this person was trying to get an experimental drug approved by the FDA, of course she murdered someone.”
In the Chew comic book series, the title character Tony Chu is an agent for the FDA, which according to TV Tropes is the “most powerful government agency” in this dystopian future. Seriously, there is an entire series of comics that uses the FDA as the organization with the most action, and the main characters are FDA agents.
Law and Order: Criminal Intent, “Smile”
Another episode in the L&O universe involves a poisonous mouthwash conspiracy cover-up that somehow brings in the FDA. We haven’t actually seen this episode, but with all the other shenanigans the FDA (fictionally) gets itself into, we’re not surprised by this.
Boston Legal, "The Cancer Man Can"
There's an episode of Boston Legal features Michael J. Fox as a wealthy cancer patient who uses his riches to buy his way into a drug trial at the expense of another patient. If the FDA isn't directly involved, it's surely interested in this sort of foul play. And again – further evidence that the sphere of experimental drug trials and approvals is fraught with unsavory exploits.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.