Fire and Mello initiated the current explosion of interest in RNA interference (RNAi) biology with their seminal work in Caenorhabditis elegans. These observations were closely followed by the demonstration of RNAi in Drosophila melanogaster. However, the full potential of these new discoveries only became clear when Tuschl and colleagues showed that 21-22 bp RNA duplexes with 3" overhangs, termed small interfering (si)RNAs, could reliably execute RNAi in a range of mammalian cells. Soon afterwards, it became clear that many different human cell types had endogenous machinery, the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC), which could be harnessed to silence any gene in the genome. Beyond the availability of a novel way to dissect biology, an important target validation tool was now available. More importantly, two key properties of the RNAi pathway - sequence-mediated specificity and potency - suggested that RNAi might be the most important pharmacological advance since the advent of protein therapeutics. The implications were profound. One could now envisage selecting disease-associated targets at will and expect to suppress proteins that had remained intractable to inhibition by conventional methods, such as small molecules. This review attempts to summarize the current understanding on siRNA lead discovery, the delivery of RNAi therapeutics, typical in vivo pharmacological profiles, preclinical safety evaluation and an overview of the 14 programs that have already entered clinical practice.