“Indeed, our eyes widened in wonder when we heard the name ‘biopharmaceutical science.’ Why is it an award for biopharmaceutical science? Why not call it the award for medicine?” recalled Dr. Chien-Jen Chen, chair of the selection committee for the inaugural Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science.
Going through any list of international biomedical awards, we often come across names such as the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research or for Clinical Medical Research, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Robert Koch Medal and Award for excellence in biomedical sciences, and the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine. Most of them are medical awards that don’t focus much on biopharmaceutical science.
Established in 2012, the Tang Prize is a rather young prize, especially when compared with other prestigious international awards for biomedical research. If we look at the social trend as well as the challenges posed and breakthroughs achieved in life science back then, we can see that the core principle of translational medicine which links basic research directly to medical treatments through the collaboration between scientists and doctors was already a mainstream mode of operation. Therefore, the selection committee led by Dr. Chen was very circumspect when laying down its selection criteria, stressing that the winning research should be the one that brings clinical benefits to patients.
Dr. Chen recollected that when he chaired the committee for this newly-established prize, in order to demonstrate the global vision and the high standard it represents, he and other members not only sought advice from professionals in different medical specialties so they could explore a broad range of topics but also solicited the participation of many experts with different views to increase the depth and breadth of the discussions. Thorough exchange of ideas allowed members to make optimal decisions together. In addition, “to discuss which research outcomes can already be considered for possible clinical applications was the main talking point,” Dr. Chen noted.
“We adopted strict criteria and aimed to pick the most outstanding scientists in the areas of global medical and biopharmaceutical research as winners,” explained Dr. Chen, who was also Taiwan’s former vice president. He revealed that there were moments when some research findings would be seen as important nowadays but haven’t been applied to improve the health of human beings. Then the committee would agree that it wasn’t time to give them the award yet.
The Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science was set up to emphasize the importance of translational medicine. That means the contributions of its laureates include not only important discoveries but also the translation of these discoveries into clinical practice, making sure scientific discoveries can be used to make us healthier and less vulnerable to illness.
Going back to his roots and being a researcher at Academia Sinica, the former vice president thinks about how to be a good scientist all the time. For him, to name this award category “biopharmaceutical science” is to both underscore the value of translational medicine and remind all scientists of the two goals they need to strive for. First, to unlock the mystery of nature, of disease, and of health. This belongs to the sphere of science. Second, to attain the objective they set for themselves, and it should be to contribute to the wellbeing of mankind through scientific discoveries.
By Sophia Lin
Photo by Eric Wang
English translation by Wei-hsin Lin