Telephone interview, October 2020
“It is, I think, a success story for biomedical science and team science”
Telephone interview with Charles M. Rice following the announcement of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
“We don’t engage in these activities to win prizes,” reflects Charles Rice in this short conversation, recorded just after he had heard the news from Stockholm.
Celebrating the social, collaborative nature of the decades long scientific effort that led to the discovery of Hepatitis C, he says “It has just been a joy to work in this community.” Like many, Rice is now focusing on Covid-19, which he says “Is changing the way that science is done. The activity around the world on this virus is breathtaking.”
Charles M. Rice: Hello?
Adam Smith: Hello, am I speaking Charles Rice?
CR: You are.
AS: Well, first of all congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
CR: Well, I am absolutely stunned. I guess when you get it… when you get a call like this and you’re not expecting it, you pretty much don’t know what to say. But this is really a big surprise, not the fact that Hepatitis C is being you know sort of recognised. I heard just a short time ago that Harvey Altern and Mike Haughton were also co-laureates for this Prize, and, you know, they really deserve an incredible amount of credit. I feel as though I’m just kind of a representative of the sort of molecular virologist community that contributed something to this fight against this disease.
AS: I mean it’s a beautiful story of a kind of chain of discovery over a long period of time. People… One person handing to the next, one team handing to the next. It’s how science should work, isn’t it?
CR: Yeah. No, I think it was really a, you know, has been, just a joy actually to work in this community. I think people have been very generous, you know, sort of with ideas and reagents. And that, together with the input of biotech and pharma, finally sort of came to the finish line in terms of developing these drugs that are so effective, that we have today. Now we still have some challenges in terms of making sure that everybody that needs them gets them and gets treated, but it is, I think, a success story for biomedical science and team science. And we’re seeing really an amazing follow-up example of that with the pandemic and the number of groups that have stepped up to the plate to work on SARS-CoV-2. And, you know, the pace at which new discoveries are being made, and I hope will impact the control of the pandemic is really staggering. It’s really amazing.
AS: Indeed, because at Rockefeller for instance, your lab and others are very much involved in this current race.
CR: Yeah, I mean it’s interesting because I think it has become a priority, particularly for virologists I guess, but, you know, this week we are sort of preparing some papers that we hope to get submitted on various aspects of coronaviruses that we’ve really been spending a lot of attention on over the last six months. And, as I said, the activity around the world on this virus is breath taking, and it’s changing the way that science is done. It shows you what can be done if people really mobilise and work together and bring different expertise to a common problem.
AS: The award of the Nobel Prize can often be a bit of a distraction. I guess it’s especially important in your case that you don’t get distracted at this point.
CR: Well, yeah, I mean this does come as a bit of a distracting influence I suspect. Maybe not quite as much as it would under normal circumstances. I’ll probably shortly be sending an email to the group, you know, sort of working on these subjects and papers to tell them to, you know, keep it up.
AS: Well, yes, I guess it’s an extra boost for all virologists, everyone working on viruses around the world, that viruses are again recognised by the Prize.
CR: Yes, I guess you know that’s the other thing that you know we don’t engage in these activities to win prizes.
AS: Indeed. Well I must say that for somebody who’s had a surprise call very early in the morning, you do sound remarkably collected and …
CR: I don’t know, you know it’s… On this particular phone the only calls that we seem to get are you know sort of robo-calls, so when the phone went off you know at sort of 4:30 in the morning I thought ‘well, it’s probably one of our minus 80 freezers that’s warming up’. I didn’t pick it up the first time, because I was sort of half asleep, and it rang again and it was, you know, it’s still dark here so you know I couldn’t really see which button to push. But I guess I pushed the sort of talk button and there was the secretariat. It still took a few minutes to click.
AS: Well I look forward to speaking again at greater length. But, for now, congratulations and thank you for the call.
CR: Okay, thank you Adam.
AS: Thank you. Bye.
CR: Take care, bye bye.
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Their work and discoveries range from the formation of black holes and genetic scissors to efforts to combat hunger and develop new auction formats.
See them all presented here.