Nobel winners defend Warsaw-based int'l research centre

Rafał Guz/PAP

Eleven Nobel Prize winners from the fields of physiology or medicine and chemistry have written a letter to University of Warsaw (UW) asking the rector-elect's support for the UW-based International Research Agenda ReMedy unit, which is facing liquidation.

The letter sent to PAP by its authors was signed by Phillip A. Sharp, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1993), and recommended for the future chairman of the ReMedy International Scientific Committee. It was also signed by ten other Nobel laureates: David Baltimore (1975), Andrew Fire (2006), Richard Roberts (1993), Michael Rosbash (2017), Randy Schekman (2013), Jack Szostak (2009), Torsten Wiesel (1981) and Michael Young (2017) from the fields of physiology or medicine; as well as Thomas Cech (1989) and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009), the Nobel laureates in chemistry.

The signatories are concerned about the actions taken by the outgoing rector of the UW regarding ReMedy.

According to them, for over a year, the current rector has not fulfilled the obligations of the grant agreement, refusing ReMedy organisational autonomy within university structures and independence in conducting research.

In their letter, the Nobel laureates wrote that the actions targeted at ReMedy include the blocking of ReMedy funds spending, a lack of consent for submitting grant applications by ReMedy researchers and for hiring new employees. Recently, the UW rector terminated employment contracts with many ReMedy employees and cancelled the contract between the UW and ReMedy, with the intention of closing the research unit down by August 31, 2020, the time when his term of office ends.

According to the signatories of the letter, these moves are particularly disturbing as they have not been consulted with Professor Alojzy Nowak, who is to take over as UW rector on September 1, 2020. They also jeopardise the joint efforts of ReMedy and the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) to establish a new international institute of molecular mechanisms and machines at PAN.

The Nobel winners added that their letter was meant to express their strong support for the initiative and actions of ReMedy, under the leadership of two renowned Polish scientists, Professor Agnieszka Chacinska and Professor Magda Konarska, who in their opinion, enhance the international reputation of Polish science. The also asked Professor Nowak, the rector-elect, to take possible actions to prevent harmful decisions and their negative effects to the detriment of the further development of science in Poland, as the researchers believe.

ReMedy is engaged in research on regenerative mechanisms at the molecular level, including the responses of cells to disorders caused by environmental or aging factors. This knowledge is expected to help in the development of new therapies and drugs for age-related neurodegenerative diseases, as well as cancer.