David Blech would be a multi-billionaire today if only he had been asleep for the last 15 years. In his early 20s, David, his older brother, Isaac, and their father became pioneers in the biotech industry when they built Genetic Systems Corporation around a group of talented scientists including Robert Nowinski. The company was sold to Bristol Myers in 1986 for $294 million of Bristol Myers stock.
Blech’s wealth grew with the industry as he served as the initial financial force behind more than a dozen biotech companies that continue the fight against many diseases including Parkinson’s, cancer, and AIDS. These companies include Celgene, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Ariad Pharmaceuticals, and Icos (developer of Cialis). At his peak in 1992, he alone was worth more than $300 million, securing his place on the Forbes 400 list. He became known as the King of Biotech, and his influence on the market came to be described as “The Blech Effect” — any business he was associated with became sizzling hot.
But Blech struggles with bipolar disorder and a gambling addiction. Overleveraged, his financial world collapsed around him when banks called in their loans. In a single day called “Blech Thursday,” his net worth crashed from $200 million to negative $50 million.
The film begins with David Blech eleven million dollars in debt, trying to keep his family afloat and awaiting a possible jail sentence for securities fraud, Blech places his last hopes on the only asset of value he still owns — Intellect Neurosciences, Inc., which is in a race to develop a potential cure for Alzheimer’s Disease that could reverse his fortunes and rebuild his legacy.
The Blech Effect is a nuanced human tragedy captured on screen — a protagonist who is fully aware of his illness and his personal shortcomings, yet still unable to control his worst impulses, a devoted wife and mother, and a beloved child heartbreaking in his beauty and disability. It is perhaps best described by David Blech himself as “a cautionary tale about manic depression, a cautionary tale about using leverage in business, and a cautionary tale about putting money over family.”
The film is compelling, and I think it delivers a valuable message to people living with bipolar disorder and their families on the importance of getting proper treatment and, as Blech says, “You’ve got to put up the roadblocks that will stop you from repeating patterns.” I wonder how the outcome might have been different if Blech had received effective treatment early on and put effective roadblocks in place, such as having a third party providing some sort of checks and balances. Of course, such roadblocks are effective only when the person who has bipolar cooperates, which can happen only when everything else is working — medication, therapy, self-help, support from family and friends.
Perhaps most importantly, The Blech Effect reminds us of the potential value of people with bipolar disorder — their intelligence and drive, which can do so much good in the world — and what we stand to lose as individuals, family members, and communities when we come up short in our efforts to help them control the illness.
The Blech Effect is out today on iTunes, Amazon and all digital/HD platforms. View the trailer below.