Contributor corner: Barry J Gibb – The Pain Detective

Barry J GibbBarry J Gibb's odd career began as a molecular biologist and neuroscientist but he succumbed to creative urges and started freelancing as a hybrid filmmaker and writer. After several documentaries for Channel 4 (Life After Coma) and the BIMA Award-winning 'Routes', he became the Wellcome Trust's Science Multimedia Producer. In 2011, his 30 minute film Until won the Imagine Science Film Festival's Nature People's Choice Award. His book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, is now in its second edition. 

Twitter: @barryjamesgibb

What is your film about?

The germ of the film originated in something that’s always fascinated me –when you walk into a pharmacy, it’s brimming with an incomprehensible variety of drugs. We all intuitively know that these pills originate somewhere within ‘the pharmaceutical industry’ - but this film attempts to explore precisely what that means. Who are the people working to create new medicines and how exactly do they go about the seemingly abstract task of ‘finding a treatment for lower back pain’ or ‘neuropathic foot pain’?

Rather than take a didactic, narrated approach to the film, I decided to invite a person with no former scientific training to be our eyes and ears; the wonderful Colin Froy, a retired policeman. His genuine curiosity and sense of discovery throughout the film lends it a wonderful freshness and authenticity as he peeks behind the pharmaceutical curtain, meeting and interviewing the scientists responsible for trying to eradicate his, and others, pain.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

The cost of creating any new medicine is astronomical. Big pharma can be a bit of an easy target – it’s easy to imagine this cut throat, cloak and dagger world of greed and competition in which members of society become nothing more than profit-generating end users. However, in The Pain Detective, we discover a highly collaborative research community, strongly motivated by the desire to help improve health and diminish suffering.

Their need for cash is the result of this being a business in which the process of thinking up, designing and modeling a new candidate drug, followed by the testing and clinical trials required costs around one billion dollars. Imagine that the next time you’re in a pharmacy.

Watch The Pain Detective on Mosaic, premiering 24 June 2014.