17 February 2011

Roger Kornberg: Skolkovo scientists are preparing a revolution in science

Nobel Prize winner, co-chairman of the Skolkovo Advisory Board Roger Kornberg said on Wednesday, February 2, in an interview ER-Portal.ru about the work of Innograd, its latest achievements, the need for the development of basic science in Innograd, and the involvement of the maximum possible number of scientists in the work of the project. The interview was recorded during the break of the meeting of the Advisory Scientific Council of the Skolkovo Foundation, dedicated to the development of biomedical technologies, held in Moscow.

- Mr. Kornberg, a little more than three months have passed since our meeting with you. Last time you said, literally: "I want to be useful to Skolkovo, and also that Innograd Skolkovo has great prospects. Has your opinion changed since then?

- I want to remind you that I am the co-chairman of the Skolkovo Advisory Board, I have certain responsibilities, including the examination of projects that are submitted for consideration, and informing the general public about the state of affairs. The phrase that was said three months ago, I am ready to repeat now. I would not have accepted the invitation to become the co-chairman of the scientific council and would not have committed myself to help implement my plans if I had not felt and seen that the team working on the creation of the project was confident of success, if I did not believe in the success of the case myself.

- What were the last three months of your work at Skolkovo dedicated to?

- To a greater extent, we dealt with organizational and administrative issues. However, during this time I was able to make sure that both the administrative and scientific teams that are formed both inside Skolkovo and around it are an association of high–level professionals. In particular, the administrative and managerial part of the project is very attentive to all the proposals of the scientific community, including my proposals. We have developed a business-like pragmatic form of communication and interaction, and it is possible that in the very near future we will be able to hear reports on the scientific results obtained within the framework of the Skolkovo tool.

- What would you call the most important at this stage of the work?

- I would like to emphasize the special importance of the development of basic science at Skolkovo and thank those scientists and doctors with whom I personally had the opportunity to cooperate in Moscow, within the framework of scientific programs. These are highly talented people, whose hard work results have allowed us to achieve serious progress. I believe that these people should be involved in the work of Skolkovo, including for the development of basic science.

- Could you tell us more about the "difficult results of the work" of Russian scientists that you have named? In what area exactly was the work carried out?

- We are talking about the work that is being carried out in the field of medicine. We all take medicine for granted. Meanwhile, some 100 years ago, the medicine that we are all used to did not exist. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the same 19th century, doctors treated most diseases with bloodletting. Now we have X-rays, antibiotics, magnetic resonance, genetic engineering at our disposal. At the same time, I want to note that not all scientific solutions can be solved head-on, if you want to solve some problem head-on, then you can predict with high probability that someone else will most likely solve it. Of course, we can avoid many costs if we follow certain rules dictated, including by practice. However, even compliance with these rules does not guarantee us a positive result. We cannot predict the result, we can evaluate it. Although, even the use of this term causes complaints. For greater correctness, let's say, not to evaluate, but to predict, anticipate, anticipate at the level of a scientist's intuition. Of course, such foresight cannot satisfy any strict criteria, but it may not be necessary at this stage of Skolkovo's work. Need a search. One of the main problems of American science is that we get too carried away with details. From a pragmatic point of view, this is quite understandable, due to the need to attract financing, the need to interest both private and public investors. Returning to your question about Russian scientists. This is a group of physicists who work in Moscow. In my opinion, they have made a great contribution to science, which will be reflected in biophysics, chemistry, and other areas. I would not like to go into details right now. Although, if desired, we could devote a separate time to talking about these people and their work.

- And yet, I would like to develop this topic in a few words ...

- Do you know the term "Ligands"?

- Not really. Consonant with the word "Legends". What's it?

- Then, I propose to simplify the narrative as much as possible. Imagine a molecule. If you embed another one into a large molecule - let's call it a smaller one - then the properties of this molecule will change. At the same time, modern methods allow us to calculate how much the properties of the molecule change, to predict the quality of the change. With the help of crystallography methods, we can obtain qualitative characteristics of this change, improvement, so to speak. It is worth noting that it takes a huge amount of time to solve this problem. The same computer technology has stepped forward over the past 10 years, but even taking into account its modern capabilities, the time costs are very high.

- And why, in fact, change the properties of molecules?

- This can have a whole range of practical applications, for example, in pharmacology, and, by the way, have a high potential for commercialization. We still do not have sufficiently effective means to combat viruses, and modified molecules could give significant progress in this area. In particular, currently, in cooperation with Moscow scientists, we are working on a drug against hepatitis C. The work is carried out by a fairly small team of scientists. Several million dollars of private investments have been attracted to carry out the work. We can calculate the change of the molecule itself quite clearly with the help of formulas, this is a fairly accurate part of science. In turn, the methods of crystallography allow us to experimentally determine new properties of the molecule. The whole question is the number of variations, and the time it takes to complete each task. It must maintain a balance between the speed of calculations and the experiment, on the one hand, and the accuracy of the chosen method, on the other. So, Russian scientists have proposed an optimal ratio between speed and accuracy.

- Probably, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the results of your work?

- Big changes can be predicted. They can even be compared to a revolution. Moreover, the results of this work can be reflected not only in medicine. So that the achievement of your compatriots may have a great prospect.

- What approach would you call strategically correct for Skolkovo in terms of the development and optimization of basic science?

- We need to look for performers, scientists. Both outstanding and those for whom Skolkovo can become a platform where they can have their say in science. In my deep conviction, the bet should be placed on specific scientists, and not on scientific centers and scientific bases. It should be remembered that all these centers and bases receive information from specific scientists. It is the information received from specific scientists that the centers and databases subsequently process, commercialize, and bring to the required standards. Thus, the main task for Skolkovo seems to me to be to recruit projects, and not to ruin them. Coverage at the beginning of the activity should be as wide as possible. Perhaps some of the projects will have to be curtailed later. However, this will not be a mistake. This is the specifics of scientific activity. After all, we cannot say exactly in whose hands the discovery will take place. Therefore, I repeat, it is necessary to support the largest number of scientists. If we compare this with a flight into space, then sending 100 rockets to the Moon, we will consider it a good result if at least one of them reaches the Earth's satellite.

- Does the example of rockets to the moon also seem convincing to investors in the United States?

- Quite. I can name a lot of examples when large companies and state institutions abandoned projects that turned out to be unnecessary, without any tragedies.

- What projects do you personally want to bring to Skolkovo?

- It would be logical to continue the work with Moscow scientists that we are already doing within the framework of Skolkovo. The undertaking that was laid can be both useful and promising. And I hope that we will be able to continue cooperation with Russian scientists, using the investment and organizational potential of Skolkovo.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru17.02.2011

Found a typo? Select it and press ctrl + enter Print version