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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline

« Nobel Update: RNAi Wins | Main | Neuropeptide Y Dies, But It Never Surrenders »

October 2, 2006

RNA Interference: Film at Eleven

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Posted by Derek

Every time a Nobel Prize is announced, reporters try to put in some sort of "news you can use" context. That's usually pretty easy to do with the Medicine/Physiology prize, and usually impossible with Physics. Chemistry falls into a middle ground - as opposed to some of the pure-knowledge physics awards, the chemistry discoveries are being used to do something in the physical world, but explaining what that is can be tough.

How did the popular press handle today's award? I invite readers to share any particularly clueless news stories, but most of the the reports I've heard have stressed the potential therapeutic value of RNA interference. There's often been a list of diseases that might be treated, with no particular timeline given, which is a good thing. NPR at least had some disclaimers in there, mentioning near the end that researchers still needed to find a way to dose the compounds, get them to the tissues of interest, make sure that they weren't toxic, and prove that they do affect the diseases they're targeted for.

Minor details, all of 'em. Right? That's just about 85% of drug development right there, actually, and the fact that these can be lumped together at the end of a news segment might be why (among other things) the "government research discovers all the drugs" idea has such staying power. I think that people see all those hard steps without realizing that they're hard . All that stuff about dosing, toxicity, selectivity, it's all what you do in the last few months before you hit the pharmacy shelves, I guess, along with picking a color for the package.

RNA interference is probably going to have a long climb before it starts curing many diseases, because many of those problems are even tougher than usual in its case. That doesn't take away from the discovery, though, any more than the complications of off-target effects take away from it when you talk about RNAi's research uses in cell culture. The fact that RNA interference is trickier than it first looked, in vivo or in vitro, is only to be expected. What breakthrough isn't?

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: General Scientific News


1. Canuck Chemist on October 2, 2006 9:28 PM writes...

Any discussion of siRNA should focus on its great utility in unravelling complex biological pathways, which should prove to be much more useful (and easier) than knocking out a gene completely from an organism. There has been very little success until now with antisense therapeutics, so it seems as if double-stranded RNAs would encounter the same dosing problems. But you're right Derek, the media feels a need to put the most dramatic and simplistic possible spin on these things. I blame a society with a severe attention deficit...

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2. otey on October 3, 2006 9:15 AM writes...

Good piece.

For the layman, this is another example of the abyss that seems to exist between the extraordinary progress scientists are making in basic research and the absence of new drugs in the pharmaceutical pipelines. As new discoveries pile up in the labs, nothing much seems to be coming out of the drug companys' spigots at the other end.

Or am I missing something?


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3. david on October 3, 2006 9:57 AM writes...

In a couple of decades, we'll be able to assess the role of RNAi in treating the myriad diseases it might impact on. Right now, I think it ranks up there with stem cells for hyped potential. Which is not to say the research shouldn't be done, just that it will be a long time before it has any widespread use.

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4. GATC on October 3, 2006 10:53 AM writes...

It pretty much goes right back to the Rishton article you outlined several months back. An enabling technology; nothing more, nothing less. We are at about the same point as antisense back in it's 15 minutes of fame, and the same old question "Where are the drugs?". Ditto for stem cells and the cures we will not see in our lifetimes................great times to be a developmental biologist though. Also great political theater too with all of the state legislatures falling all over themselves to independently fund this work due to the Bush guidelines. I really feel bad for the ill and disabled expecting a stem cell miracle in the near term.

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5. Ashutosh on October 3, 2006 11:54 AM writes...

One of the problems is with the public's perception of chemistry and its interface with biology. As Derek noted sometime earlier, much of the public thinks that only 'doctors discover drugs' which is such a big misunderstanding. From that perspective, it's probably actually good that the media puts some kind of positive practical spin on such discoveries, although it fails to achieve the intended results if done without qualification.

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6. Jim Hu on October 3, 2006 12:29 PM writes...

At the press conference yesterday, Andy Fire was very, very careful to emphasize that he's not expecting RNAi drugs to happen soon, and that the human health impact is on understanding the molecular basis of diseases even if there are never RNAi drugs.

But he also pointed out that it took a long time to get monoclonals through the pipeline.

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7. Elia Diodati on October 3, 2006 6:05 PM writes...

Speaking of film, there is a nice ~5 min video clip on Youtube summarizing the functions of RNAi:

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8. Allison English on July 13, 2008 10:18 PM writes...

It is really very fascinating all and all, the world is up against many challenges these days and we need more people just like these Nobel Prize winners who dedicate some much of their life to making other people's lives better.
Allison English

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9. Dale N on December 13, 2008 3:05 PM writes...

"Nobel Prize winners" who dedicate some much of their life to making other people's lives better.

Nobel prize winners? What you fail to understand is that most of these big name scientists throw out a broad concept and armies of post-docs and scientists hammer out the real science. They make your life better, while the Nobel Laureate is merely a channel to grant money.

The myth of the all powerful scientist is an important piece of what keeps scientists as serf like slaves. Even the serfs believe this distortions.


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10. Alex K on January 24, 2009 2:10 PM writes...

Media coverage of theoretical physics is always somewhat entertaining- think back to the "CERN is going to create a black hole and we're all going to die" stories that were floating around last year. The image a journalist using the phrase "time translational invariance" is still entertaining though.

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11. Salvador on January 24, 2009 11:16 PM writes...

I’m looking for economical support to start a private medical research in the prolonged life area. What I have to offer is a special chemical approach. I’ll appreciate any advice to:

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12. Bench Rat on January 28, 2009 12:59 PM writes...

Dale N said


That's about right. It is so funny how the average chemist allows his work to be stolen by either faculty or executive, then froths at the mouth in delight when he gets a pat on the head.

But people with any real Kahunas never submit to the indoctrination process in the first place.

Start a union and you can have REAL profit sharing!

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13. Jose on January 28, 2009 3:53 PM writes...

"... just like these Nobel Prize winners who dedicate some much of their life to making other people's lives better."

I really don't mean to be harsh, but the *vast* majority of big names are motivated not by altruism, but glory and their staggering egos.

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14. justus on November 13, 2009 2:36 AM writes...

Can someone correct their foxp2 gene incase they suspect it is not the way it should be?

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