In the new medical drama 150 MILLIGRAMS, pulmonologist Irène Frachon (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen of BORGEN) brings litigation against a massive pharmaceutical company. Like Steven Soderbergh’s ERIN BROCKOVICH, the film is based on a true story and centers on a woman in the field who takes the disturbances she notices to court. Erin Brokovich denounces a utility company and Frachon a pharmaceutical company. Frachon’s case was against a French pharmaceutical company which took in 3.9 billion euros in 2015; she won a suit against them in 2011.
150 MILLIGRAMS is written and directed by Emmanuelle Bercot (STANDING TALL). The film made its US premiere at “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema,” presented by Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance.
Mediator was a prescription drug for diabetics, which was prescribed for 30 years before Frachon uncovered that it was the cause of heart valve disease. In the film, there is an autopsy scene of a woman who has died because of the drug. During the autopsy her heart is removed and weighed–it was heavy with blood. “It was vital to see the organic and physical damage caused by Mediator,” said the director Bercot in an interview. “To allow the audience to see and feel the effects this medication had on certain people’s flesh. In any case, I always strive to make my films as close to physical reality as possible.”
When ingested, the drug Mediator makes a compound called norfenfluramine as a byproduct within the body. Norfenfluramine is an amphetamine, like speed, which works by releasing serotonin into the blood stream. But it can have a particular effect on the serotonin receptors (proteins that bind to serotonin) in the heart valves. This deadly side effect was not labeled on the medication. A weight loss drug called Isoméride increased serotonin in the brain but had similar adverse effects on the heart; it was withdrawn from the US market by the FDA in 1997.
Doctors and pharmaceutical industries work together. As Knudsen’s character says in 150 MILLIGRAMS, “I also collaborate with laboratories and support therapeutic innovation.” Pharmaceutical companies often pay for medical research. Frachon is primarily a medical practitioner so she has to rely heavily on the scientific expertise of a clinical researcher to help her conduct and publish a study. He puts his funding and thereby his job at risk by becoming involved in the suit.
Frachon has an appointment at a teaching hospital in Brest, France. Her collaborator is the scientist Antoine Le Bihan (Benoît Magimel). Frachon is helped by a “Santa Clause” (Olivier Pasquier) who works at an insurance fund who ultimately sends her the numbers–estimated between 500 to 1,000 people–for those who have died from taking the drug.
150 MILLIGRAMS was adapted by Séverine Bosschem from Frachon’s book Mediator 150 MG. It is directed by Emmanuelle Bercot, and produced by Carole Scotta and Caroline Benjo. In addition to Sidse Babett Knudsen, the film stars Benoît Magimel, Charlotte Laemel, and Patrick Ligardes. It is being distributed by Haut et Court in France.