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April 18, 2004
The March of Folly Leader Board
The first comment to the original March of Folly post below mirrors the e-mail I've received: the people's choice for the technology most-likely-to-be-embarrassing is. . .(rustling of envelope): RNA interference.
There's a good case to be made for that, and it doesn't contradict my oft-stated opinion that RNAi is going to be good for one or more Nobel prizes. The big challenge will be how to divide things up correctly - we may well see some spillover into Chemistry from the Medicine/Physiology category. Believe me, there are several folks who should keep their eyes open for discount fares to Stockholm. This will probably happen in about five years or so, given the usual pace of the Nobel folks.
But industrial enthusiasm for RNAi may well have gotten out of hand in the last year or two. There are a number of small companies frantically trying to take the technique into the clinic; the whole thing reminds everyone of the heyday of antisense therapeutics. Remember antisense DNA? People are still out there trying to make it work, but it's been a lot harder than anyone would have wanted to believe. If you'd been able to show folks the future back in the late 1980s, a bunch of venture capitalists would have had rug-biting fits.
And RNA-based therapies suffer from almost exactly the same problems, and for the same reasons. Delivery of the molecule and its stability once dosed are going to be very tricky. One of the first things being targeted is macular degeneration, because the inside of the eye is a rather tranquil pond, pharmacokinetically speaking, and the cells there are known to take things up rather freely. But once you get out of that best-case situation, well, good luck. With any luck, RNAi might be able to adapt a successful antisense technique - if someone finds one.
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