Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry and a member of the Tang Prize’s International Advisory Board (IAB), came to Taipei at the invitation of the Institute for Biotechnology and Medicine Industry to deliver a lecture in the MEDTEX Summit Asia, one of the most important events taking place in the 2019 Healthcare Expo Taiwan. During his visit to the Tang Prize Foundation on 6 December, Prof. Ciechanover pointed out that notable international awards can command the world’s attention, bring together state-of-the-art technologies and serve as a bridge of communication between the academic communities and the general public.
In addition, he believes that for an award to build a great reputation, it has to follow a rigorous selection procedure. The selection committees should be able to work independently of any external influence. Just as it is true for any other international award, it is also the case for the Tang Prize. Being a member of the IAB of the Tang Prize, he thus has high expectations for its the selection criteria and process. He also stated that after winning an award, the laurate can become its ambassador, using the fame he or she has just achieved to draw the public’s attention to their research field and creating wider impact on society.
As Distinguished Research Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Prof. Ciechanover was jointly awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Prof. Avram Hershko and Prof. Irwin Rose for the discovery of ubiquitin, a small protein that can mark other proteins for degradation.
Also taking a trip to the Foundation on the same day were Dr. Michael Ugrumov, president of the Russian Society for Neurochemistry and Dr. Goncharova, president of the Union of Women Doctors of Russia. As a neurologist, Dr. Ugrumov was particularly intrigued by the contributions of the 2018 Tang Prize recipients in Biopharmaceutical Science to the development of targeted cancer therapy, while Dr. Goncharova put special stress on the importance of collaboration between Taiwan and Russia.
These three experts in biomedical technology were invited by the Institute for Biotechnology and Medicine Industry to attend one of the world’s biggest health events, the 2019 Healthcare Expo Taiwan. Besides gaining a deeper understanding of the trend the medical industries in Taiwan and in other countries have been following, two of them had also given talks in the MEDTEX Summit Asia, sharing their views with the eager audience.
In his speech titled “The Revolution of Personalized Medicine—Are We Going to Cure All Diseases and at What Price?” Prof. Ciechanover traced the history of drug discovery and development that led to the dawn of the era of personalized medicine. In early times, “many important drugs, such as penicillin and aspirin, were discovered by serendipity.” Even under the circumstances when we didn’t know the mechanism of the action of drugs, we can still develop them “by screening large libraries of synthetic or natural compounds.” However, it came to the point where this kind of screening was no longer sufficient, because patients are very different from each other and even twins have significantly different genes. Thus, two people “with apparently similar diseases” would “respond differently to similar treatments and their disease course is vastly different.”
As time went by, technologies have made considerable progress. After 2000, new ways to develop drugs were made possible by the sequencing of individual genomes. The rapid improvement in gene-editing technology helped usher in a new era of precision medicine. With more in-depth research on each person’s molecular profile, treatments can be tailored to individual needs. Patients will have more detailed information about their DNA, knowing which genes may mutate and thus taking steps to prevent it from happening. Making diseases predicable is what medicine in the future will feature.
Nonetheless, new medical approaches also mean new challenges, such as complicated technical issues, bioethical problems and the possibility that the cost of developing new drugs may escalate. In spite of all these concerns, this is the direction science is moving in. Diagnosis and treatment of diseases will become more precise and therefore we have reasons to be optimistic about how this medical revolution will evolve.
Speaking about “The Fight Against Neurodegenerative Diseases as a Global Challenge of the XXI Century: A New Strategy for the Development of Early Diagnosis and Preventive Treatment,” Dr. Ugrumov examined the current strategies for treating Parkinson’s disease. Whether it is discovering its molecular mechanism, developing new drugs or transplanting the dopamine-producing cells to replace damaged neurons, he believes that none of them is as effective in stymieing neurodegeneration as preventing or detecting Parkinson’s in early stages. In this way, patients can enjoy a longer period of time when the symptoms do not occur and their standard of living will also be improved. He even predicated that if we can make Parkinson’s progress half as fast as it generally does now, we will be able to reduce the cost of patient care and physical rehabilitation by 35%.
For a summary of Prof. Ciechanover’s talk, please go to: Ciechanover talk