【Press Release】Tang Prize Masters’ Forum Creates Excitement at the Prospect of “Using mRNA as Medicine”

  • Laureates of 2022 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science talk on the theme of “Using mRNA as Medicine” at the forum
  • Chair Professor of Taipei Medical University Dr. Hsing-Jien Kung (second left) and Academician of Academia Sinica Dr. Andrew Wang (middle) co-moderate the event. Vice President of the Develo
  • Tang Prize Masters’ Forum held at Taipei Medical University on Sep. 20 excites much attention
  • Tang Prize Masters’ Forum held at Taipei Medical University on Sep. 20 excites much attention
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The first of the two sessions of the 2022 Tang Prize Masters’ Form for Biopharmaceutical Science was held on September 20 at Taipei Medical University, where great enthusiasm was generated by Dr. Katalin Kariko and Dr. Drew Weissman, recipients of 2022 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science and the heroes behind the development of mRNA vaccine against COVID-19. It featured Chair Professor of Taipei Medical University Dr. Hsing-Jien Kung and Academician of Academia Sinica Dr. Andrew Wang as co-moderators and Vice President of the Development Center for Biotechnology Dr. Michael Huang and Distinguished Professor at National Taiwan University’s Department of Pediatrics of Dr. Li-Min Huang as panelists. Drawn to the event by such a star-studded lineup were hundreds of students, faculty members and researchers from within and outside of the host university. In addition, more than three hundred people tuned into the Tang Prize Foundation’s English and Chinese channels on YouTube to watch the livestream.


Audiences online and onsite were able to learn about the latest development in the field of biomedical science from the laureates’ excellent speeches and the professional discussions they had with the panelists. Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weismann also impressed many with their affable and modest demeanors. All these factors have made this forum a great success. Questions flooded in during the Q&A session. Some wanted to hear from Dr. Kariko about the differences between the research environments in Hungary and America; some were curious about why Dr. Weismann switched his interest from machines to people; some were concerned about vaccine safety; some inquired about the impact the pandemic would have on the immunity of infants born during this period; and some asked about how to discriminate between mRNA vaccines made in Thailand and those manufactured in Western Europe. Facing this diverse range of questions, both laureates answered each one of them with remarkable patience. They also encouraged young students and scientists to be passionate about their research. Seeing such positive interaction, Dr. Kung expressed his wish that Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman would be able to travel to Taiwan next year for more direct, face-to-face talks with people here.   


President of Taipei Medical University Dr. Chien-Huang Lin began the forum with a warm welcome to the two 2022 laureates, known for their collaboration that has spanned for two decades. Renowned mRNA expert Dr. Kariko then delivered her lecture on “History of mRNA Development for Therapy,” highlighting the remarkable progress in the mRNA technology made by numerous scientists in the sixty years of important breakthroughs that started in 1961 when messenger RNA was discovered and culminated in 2021 when the first COVID-19 LNP-mRNA vaccine was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Significant milestones include the delivery of isolated mRNA into mammalian cells for the first time in 1978; the first synthesis of mRNA in vitro in 1984; the optimization of mRNA performance in the 1990s that enabled mRNA to be used as therapy as well as vaccine against infectious diseases and cancer; and the optimization of formulation for mRNA delivery in 2010s that employed lipid nanoparticle-encapsulated nucleoside-modified mRNA encoding viral antigens as a platform for effective vaccines.      


Immunologist Dr. Weissman followed with a talk on “Nucleoside-modified mRNA Therapeutics.” Emphasizing that collaborating is required for medical advancements, he elaborated on how the joint effort of many scientists paved the way for the successful development of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and stressed the great potential nucleoside-modified mRNA has for new medical therapies. Not only has it facilitated the development of future vaccines against HIV, allergies, autoimmune diseases, cancer, etc., it can also be applied to cancer therapy, gene therapy as well as protein therapy. While protein therapy is the fastest growing area in the biopharmaceutical industry, protein purification is a complicated process and as a result, traditional protein therapeutics (such as monoclonal antibodies) are usually very expensive. On the contrary, making mRNA vaccines is relatively easy. The purification process can be completed with one step. These vaccines are effective, safe, and can be mass produced at low cost. To adjust vaccines, you only need to put a new protein-coding sequence in mRNA. There is therefore no need to conduct a new set of clinical trials. Toward the end of the speech, Dr. Weismann pointed to the unequal worldwide distribution of population, wealth, disease and therapeutics, noting that many diseases spread predominantly in places with a large and poor population. Thus, his lifelong goal has been to localize treatment technologies. He has helped build facilities in Thailand to enable the production of mRNA vaccines there, as well as GMP sites in Thailand and South Africa to give these regions the capability to tackle diseases such as Dengue fever and malaria.      


The three panelists also put their questions to the laureates. Dr. Li-Min Huang raised the issue of people developing myocarditis after being vaccinated. As it has only been two years since COVID-19 vaccine started to be injected into human bodies, physicians and the general public are understandably warier of its side effects. In his reply, Dr. Weissman pointed out that these cases occur with a frequency of one or two per hundred thousand immunizations, and “it’s a mild disease that doesn’t require extensive therapy.” Besides, very few people realize that “COVID-19 infection leads to heart damage, myocarditis, at a rate about 30 times higher in many more patients.” This statistic shows that getting vaccinated is much safer by comparison. However, researchers are still trying to figure out the possible mechanism. It can be related to immune reactions and lipid nanoparticles, since “the RNA-LNP vaccines are incredibly potent. They induce antibodies that are three to five times higher than infected people. So they induce very potent responses and they have high levels of adverse events,” Dr. Weissman explained. Because none of the two connections are yet to be fully verified, scientists are still working to solve this mystery.  


Dr. Michael Huang asked about the reason behind the success of mRNA vaccines, given that 12 of its kind have been approved globally to prevent COVID infection. Dr. Weissman said that scientists are “always looking for something better,” doing new experiments all the time in order to achieve better results. That is what basic science is all about. His laboratory now collaborates with more than 200 laboratories around the world to make progress wherever possible. Dr. Kariko reminded us that mRNA was not invented overnight. It is the fruit of the hard labor of many people working around the clock in the laboratory, discussing intensively with each other, combining their expertise, and constantly striving for better research outcomes. Sometimes when they got feedback from physicians, they would think about things such as how to improve on the purification process. Dr. Andrew Wang, an expert in structural biology, brought up the question about vaccine storage. In response, Dr. Weissman mentioned that when the vaccines were first released, they had to be stored at minus 70, because “everybody was in a rush to get the vaccine out” and cannot afford to spend more than six months doing stability studies. Now these studies have been conducted, and some vaccines can be stable at four degrees for two to six months. That is long enough for it to be distributed to anywhere in the world. Methods have also been developed to freeze dry the vaccine so it can stay stable at room temperature.


For more information about the forum, please visit our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF-uFLbKTkQ      


The 2022 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science recognized the contributions of three pioneers in the development of SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccines, Drs. Katalin Kariko, Drew Weissman, and Pieter Cullis, “for the discovery of key vaccinology concepts and approaches, leading to the successful development of mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine.”


The second session of the forum for Biopharmaceutical Science will take place on September 28 at National Tsing Hua University, where Dr. Cullis will be shedding light on the connections between lipid nanoparticles, gene therapy and the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine.


2022 Tang Prize Masters’ Forum Series






14:00~16:00 (GMT+8)

Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development Pathways Toward 2030 and Beyond

National Cheng Kung University

Sep. 20

9:30~11:30 (GMT+8)

Biopharmaceutical Science (I)

Using mRNA as Medicine

Taipei Medical University


10:30~12:30 (GMT+8)

Biopharmaceutical Science (II)

Lipid Nanoparticles, Gene Therapy and the Covid-19 mRNA Vaccine

National Tsing Hua University





Bronze, Jade and Gold: The Language of Objects and Their Contexts

National Taiwan University


10:20~12:10 (GMT+8)

Rule of Law

Public Participation in Constitutional Change: Reflections from a Comparative Perspective

National Taiwan University