Before Disconnected, a documentary about people living with PseudoBulbar Affect, makes its world premiere in Corona del Mar Wednesday evening, Avanir Pharmaceuticals hosts a private cocktail reception. As it turns out, the Aliso Viejo company is more than just a booster of the film about the condition known as PBA that is marked by uncontrollable bursts of laughing and/or crying in people with certain neurological conditions or brain injuries.
Scroll to the bottom of the website for the film–which online has not changed from "The PBA Project" to the new title Disconnected–and you will see it is owned by Avanir Pharmaceuticals Inc. Elizabeth Olsen of W2O Group, a New York-based marketing company that represents the film, confirms that Avanir is sponsoring Disconnected.
Avanir's interest in going into the movie business is logical: the company sells a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication for treating PBA called Nuedexta. One reason Tokyo-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. bought Avanir Pharmaceuticals for $3.54 billion last December is because of the $100 million in yearly sales for Nuedexta and market projections that will balloon to $300 million. (There's also the fact that Avanir is working on a medication for symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.)
But Dr. Steve Balt, a psychiatrist and current editor-in-chief of The Carlat Psychiatry Report monthly continuing education newsletter for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, has been critical of Nuedexta as treatment of PBA on his blog, calling it a relatively expensive and unproven combination of two inexpensive drugs. He also argues citalopram and tricyclic antidepressants are already known to be effective in managing the symptoms of PBA.
That said (or actually written), there is no mention of Nuedexta in Disconnected, according to Olsen. "The focus of the film is to raise awareness of PBA and as such, it does not discuss specific treatment options in the film nor is that the intent," she said.
I'm willing to give Disconnected co-directors Doug Blush and Lisa Klein the benefit of the doubt. Blush edited such excellent documentaries as Wordplay (about the crossword puzzle culture), the adaptation of the popular book Freakonomics (highly recommended) and director Kirby Dick's Oscar-nominated The Invisible War (an unflinching investigation of the U.S. military's rape epidemic).
Klein, who is Blush's wife, teamed with her husband previously on Of Two Minds, which put a human face to bipolar disorder. That film rolled at the 2012 Newport Beach Film Festival and won Best Documentary at that year's United Film Festival in Los Angeles. She says her impetus to make Of Two Minds and Disconnected stem from her sister's long battle with bipolar disorder.
The couple's latest film is billed as "a personal journey to attempt to grasp the complexities and pain that encompass living in a world of extremes." (Click here for their trailer.)
It's said PBA affects an estimated 2 million people in the U.S., national awareness is low despite it not being a new condition and that many patients are unaware that they suffer from a "treatable condition." Disconnected screens Wednesday at the Port Theatre, 2905 East Coast Highway, Corona Del Mar. The filmmakers, people who appear in Disconnected and Avanir Pharmaceuticals representatives will be there to take audience questions afterward.