Were mRNA and RNAi Nobels Awarded Too Early?

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Tony Rook
Tony Rook's picture
Were mRNA and RNAi Nobels Awarded Too Early?

In light of recent Nobel prizes awarded to Roger Kornberg and Andrew Fire & Craig Mello for their work on RNAi and mRNA, respectively, I would like to poll scientists on the justification of awarding Nobels to such recent research.

Fire & Mello were awarded the Medical Nobel for their work on interference RNA (RNAi) for their 1998 discovery. See related post: http://www.scientistsolutions.com/t2808-Gene+Silencers+Get+Something+to+Shout+About.html

Even more amazing is that Kornberg, the son of a 1959 Nobel winner, was awarded the Chemistry Nobel for his 2001 detailing of how messenger RNA (mRNA) operates during transcription. See related post: http://www.scientistsolutions.com/index.php?a=topic&t=2811#p0

These early Nobel award remind me of when Stanely Prusiner was awarded the Nobel for his work on transmissible spongiform encephalitis (TSE) or commonly referred to as prions (the cause of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CJD or human version of mad cow disease). There has been recent mounting evidence that the transmissible component within this disease is not the prion protein (as concluded by Prusiners work), but in fact a diverse class of wall-less bacteria called Spiroplasma. Ever since, the Nobel committee has been criticized for awarding Prusiner so early (and his work began in the 70s). Therefore, I am very surprised that the mRNA and RNAi discoveries have been awarded the Nobel, especially in light of some recent clinical trial that produced miserable results for RNAi. Additionally, awarding a Nobel for work performed only 5 years earlier (in the case of mRNA) is almost unheard of.

Historically, Nobels have not been awarded so prematurely and I would like to see what other scientist think about these current awards for both mRNA (Kornberg) and RNAi (Fire & Mello).

Please leave your comments after selecting your poll option.

dbadders's picture
I've tried to use RNAi and it

I've tried to use RNAi and it is very disappointing. Several companies have ended their RNAi projects. Those whom I've worked with are failing miserably. Time will tell if this is going to go somewhere. My guess is that it will go the way of gene therapy.

Tony Rook
Tony Rook's picture
A recently published article

A recently published article in the RNAi News (a newsletter from GenomeWeb http://www.genomeweb.com/) confirms that the majority of the RNAi community were surprised by the Fire & Mello Nobels.

RNAi Community Expected Fire and Mello to
Win Nobel Prize, But Not Necessarily So Soon
[October 5, 2006]
By Doug Macron

Despite being the most important recognition of the gene-silencing technology, some stress that it is unlikely that the event will have much of an impact on the RNAi industry.

To read the rest of the article you must subscribe to the RNAi newsletter at http://www.rnainews.com/issues/4_38/features/135145-1.html

Tony Rook
Tony Rook's picture
Genome web recently posted

Genome web recently posted the RNAi News story for those of us who don't subscribe. Interestingly enough Tom Tuschle of Rockefeller University was quoted as saying the "Noble Prize is almost late" when comparing to the Kerry Mullis' PCR Nobel in 1993.

Here is the complete story:

Fire and Mello Won Nobel Prize Earlier Than Most Expected. Why Won't It Affect RNAi Industry?
[October 6, 2006]
By Doug Macron
a GenomeWeb News reporter
NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) RNAi pioneers Andy Fire and Craig Mello have won this years Nobel Prize in physiology for their discovery of RNAi, an award that for many in the RNAi community came sooner than expected.

Yet despite the magnitude of the award, some stress that the event will likely not have much of an impact on the RNAi industry.

Although it can sometimes take decades before researchers win the Nobel Prize, Rockefeller Universitys Tom Tuschl noted that the speed with which the Nobel Foundation recognized Fire and Mello speaks to the importance of their work.

RNAi had a profound impact on publication status in journals; it has industry behind it, at least in mammalian systems, [producing] reagents that are used in pharmacologic research for target validation; it [led to] startup businesses that are developing drugs based on siRNAs, he told GenomeWeb News sister publication RNAi News. So I dont know how long you have to wait to see an impact. I dont know what else you need to make this a more visible field.

Tuschl likened the discovery of RNAi to Kary Mullis development of PCR, after which every laboratory [began] using it because there was no other way to amplify a gene in a fast period of time. Mullis invented PCR in 1985 and was awarded the Nobel Prize eight years later in 1993.

In light of the impact RNAi has had, the Nobel Prize is almost late, Tuschl added.

Business as Usual?

Moreover, although the award represents the biggest recognition of the importance of RNAi to date, it appears unlikely that the event will have much of an impact on the industry.

Its a profound validation of this pathway, Barry Polisky, senior vice president of research and CSO of Sirna Therapeutics, said. However, for people in the field no one is terribly surprised.

This is already the method of choice for down regulating every gene conceivable in everybodys laboratory, and big pharma and little pharma use it routinely for target validation, he told RNAi News.

Douglas Fambrough, a principal at VC firm Oxford Bioscience Partners and member of Sirnas board, added that while Fire and Mellos receipt of the Nobel Prize is very gratifying and a validation for the field, its impact on the RNAi industry is likely to be small.

The field has gotten quite a bit of press attention in the past; it has been trumpeted pretty loudly in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and it was breakthrough of the year in Science magazine in 2002, he told RNAi News.

Polisky was a little more sanguine about the effects of the Nobel Prize, noting that it may validate in the minds of investors this technology. But he agreed that people who follow this field already know the potential of this technology.

In the end, the effect Fire and Mellos Nobel Prize has on RNAi may mostly be seen among laypeople.

The Science magazine award has a certain amount of impact, but nothing approaches the Nobel Prize in terms of the man on the street beginning to think about this as a validated technology, Polisky said. Being a breakthrough in Science from a scientists point of view, thats probably as good as it gets. But a Nobel Prize everybody understands. Thats a different realm.
The complete version of this article originally appeared this week in RNAi News, a GenomeWeb News sister publication.


littlebush's picture
I Personally disagree with

I Personally disagree with this year's award.Obviously,this reason to give this award is not very adequate.I guess that maybe,this is business driven award instead of a scientific driven one.

Sueli's picture
I agree they were awarded too

I agree they were awarded too early.

itaylor's picture
I disagree and believe that

I disagree and believe that the award was not given too early. There may have been more outstanding technology that deserved this years award, but I don't believe that it was given "too early".

The quality and quantity of research that underscores the benefits of RNAi as a research tool and biological mechanism is quite profound. Most big pharmas use it for profiling and drug discovery validation and its even has (some) promise as a drug itself.

Time shouldn't be the factor in determining the significance of a technology. It should be dependent on the breadth and rigor of validation.

Jon Moulton
Jon Moulton's picture
The discovery of the RNAi

The discovery of the RNAi mechanism is a great advance in understanding how cells regulate their own genes and invasive genes (e.g. viruses). Regardless of the successes of gene silencing technologies derived from this work, in my opinion their contribution to the understanding of the fundamental biology is Nobel-quality work.

There may be better ways that gene expression can be suppressed for research or therapeutic applications. However, discovering a mechanism of gene regulation widely active in eukaryotic cells is a great cotnribution to our understanding of molecular cell biology.

I'd not dispute the value in that work.

- Jon

Jon D. Moutlon, Ph.D.