The evening time of April 6th in America’s Orlando saw more than three thousand people throng to the venue of the 2019 Experimental Biology (EB) Tang Prize Award Lecture, “Imatinib as a Paradigm of Cancer Therapies,” delivered by 2018 Tang Prize laureate in Biopharmaceutical Science, Dr. Brian Druker. Since 2015, the Tang Prize talk has been a staple event featured in the meeting of EB, an annual congregation of the world’s biochemical and biomedical scientists, and as of 2018, it has been scheduled as the opening lecture proceeding the official reception, drawing the attention of all who attend the conference. The five host societies of this year’s EB are American Association of Anatomists (AAA), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), American Physiological Society (APS), American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP), and American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). Shawn Boyne, executive director of AAA and the chair of 2019 EB Management Committee, stressed in his opening remarks that “together, we are working to expand awareness about the importance of basic science in understanding disease progression, prevention and eradication.” In addition to the Tang Prize Lecture, the only major lecture co-organized by all five societies, EB TV also conducted an interview with Dr. Druker and played the video in the convention center, in the hotels, and online, disseminating the latest developments in science and medicine to all corners of the world.
An amicable and compassionate physician and professor, Dr. Druker is accredited with the successful clinical trial of imatinib (Gleevec®) on chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Lauded as the most successful example of targeted cancer therapies of the 21st century, Gleevec has been on the market since 2001. It has benefited patients all over the world by increasing the 10-year survival rates to 90%. As a side note, the Chinese blockbuster, Dying to Survive, is seen by many as a cinematic rendition of the medical miracle Dr. Druker has performed. Treating every cancer sufferer like one of his family, he is happy to see that some of his patients continue to live a normal life for more than 20 years. In his lecture, Dr. Druker also mentioned that the success of imatinib has proven to scientists that they are on the right track, and more substantial progresses can be made by combining Gleevec with other treatments such as immunotherapies or radiotherapies.
As the director of the Knight Cancer Institute within Oregon Health and Science University, Dr. Druker harbors the vision of “a world freed from the burden of cancer.” He explained that the mission of the Institute is to “end cancer as we know it. Through innovative, collaborative research and education, we provide prevention, detection, and care—one person at a time.” Indeed, the intention to provide each patient with customized care shows how Dr. Druker and his team endeavor to help cancer patients with kindness and earnestness. He also notified us that following in the footsteps of Gleevec, four other drugs have been approved by America’s Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) to inhibit the activities of the Abl kinase, one of the oncogenes that drive the growth of cancer, and they have been very successful in targeting the genetic mutations in cancer cells.
Professor Shu Chien, director of the Institute of Engineering in Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, chaired the lecture and hailed Dr. Druker’s talk as a concise introduction to the differences between traditional and new cancer therapies, making the significance of the latest technological development accessible to all the audience. This event was marked with bursts of enthusiastic applause and a long queue of people staying on afterwards for face-to-face interactions with Dr. Druker. Professor Chien noted that Dr. Druker was incredibly patient with every one of his fans, and his gentle smile never vanished even when greeted with a fusillade of questions and requests for autographs and photographs. Also present there was Academia Sinica academician Wen-Chang Chang, who echoed Professor Chien’s observation about how successful the lecture was. Not only was the auditorium packed with people truly touched by Dr. Druker’s sincerity, but a group of around 20 high school students led by their teacher also came for the talk. They are the faithful followers of EB’s Tang Prize Award lectures, travelling around the States to attend the inaugural 2015 speech given by Dr. James P. Allison in Boston, the 2016 one by Professor Tasuku Honjo in San Diego, the 2017 one by Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier in Chicago, the 2018 one by Dr. Feng Zhang in San Diego, and the 2019 one by Dr. Druker in Orlando. Glowing with infectious excitement and passion, these students asked for Dr. Druker’s signatures on the copies of the book they brought with them, The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Genetic Mystery, a Lethal Cancer, and the Improbable Invention of a Lifesaving Treatment, as one of the chapters chronicles the important role imatinib plays in the treatment of Philadelphia chromosome, a specific genetic abnormality in CML cells.
The Tang Prize Lecture series at EB is part of a ten-year cooperation in educational promotion between the two organizations. CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern believes that lectures like these provide a rare opportunity for scholars and students in biopharmaceutical science to get together and be updated on the most current innovations in scientific technologies. In addition, they are a suitable platform for promulgating the laureates’ contributions and for inspiring a younger generation of researchers, eventually turning the philosophy of the Tang Prize into reality.
Watch EB TV’s interview with Dr. Druker at the link below: