The renowned quadrennial conference of the World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology (WCP) is held for the 19th time from 2-7 July, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. The Tang Prize Foundation was invited to stage a Tang Prize Lecture on 4 July. Titled “Translating Molecular Insights in Autoimmunity into Effective Therapy,” the session was chaired by Dr. Yun Yen, former president of the Taipei Medical University and a board member of the Tang Prize Foundation, and delivered online by Dr. Marc Feldmann, 2020 Tang Prize laureate in Biopharmaceutical Science. Also present in the audience was Dr. Wen-Chang Chang, chair of the Tang Prize Selection Committee for Biopharmaceutical Science. Dr. Feldmann is credited with developing the first monoclonal antibody therapy of inflammatory diseases. The drug, targeting tumor necrosis factor (TNF), is also one of the best-selling medications worldwide. His speech therefore attracted great interest.
Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation, noted that the Tang Prize Lecture made its WCP debut at its 18th conference in 2018. Presented by Dr. Feng Zhang, a recipient of the 2016 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science, on “Advanced in Genome Editing Technologies,” the lecture received enthusiastic responses. This year, the Foundation was able to work with the WCP again to coordinate this special event, allowing scientists, pharmacologists, therapeutic specialists, heads of healthcare organizations, and pharmacology students from around the world to share the latest technologies and discoveries and foster the advancement of biopharmaceutical research. In June, Dr. Yen also represented the Tang Prize to attend the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago, where he introduced the prize to one of the largest, most diverse audiences in global cancer care while exploring possibilities for future collaboration.
Dr. Feldmann began today’s lecture by pointing out that the molecular mechanism of autoimmunity was elusive until the 1980s-90s. Though the genetic predisposition mapping to the HLA (major histocompatibility complex) was known in the 1970s, how it evaded immunity remained a mystery. By studying the diseased joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), he and his colleagues found far more pro-inflammatory cytokines in RA synovial tissue than normal. He then proceeded to identify which molecular target might facilitate the greatest clinical benefit. Eventually, they discovered that blocking TNF, an immune-regulatory cytokine, can diminish the production of other important pro-inflammatory cytokines, leading to the new concept of the “TNF-dependent cytokine cascade” and predicting the clinical efficacy of TNF blockade. Infliximab, an anti-TNF, yielded outstanding clinical results and became an optimal choice to tackle rheumatoid arthritis, which in the past was poorly treated.
Dr. Feldmann also mentioned that infliximab was the first successful monoclonal antibody used long-term in a common disease. Consequently, it brought about a therapeutic revolution. As he and his colleagues were able to disclose the efficacy of anti-TNF before the publication of clinical trial results, other companies could join the race to develop anti-TNF monoclonals and open up the field, with a profoundly positive impact on patients and the pharmaceutical industry. Drug developers had a new type of therapeutic, and invested heavily in monoclonal antibody therapeutics. This also paved the way for the boom in anticancer antibodies, initiated by anti-HER2, trastuzumab. More applications and progress in this field were discussed in the lecture as well.
Dr. Marc Feldmann, from the United Kingdom, was jointly awarded the 2020 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science with Dr. Charles Dinarello, from the United States, Dr. Tadamitsu Kishimoto, from Japan, for “the development of cytokine-targeting biological therapies for the treatment of inflammatory diseases.” Their achievements have helped alleviate pain for millions of people affected by autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.
About the Tang Prize
The advent of industrialization and globalization ushered in a new era of comfort and convenience through scientific and technological advancements. Yet, a multitude of crises have emerged along the way, such as climate change, wealth gap, and moral degradation. As a response, Dr. Samuel Yin founded the Tang Prize in December 2012. It consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Every two years, four independent and professional selection committees made up of distinguished international experts and scholars, including several Nobel laureates, choose Tang Prize winners from a pool of nominees who have influenced and made substantive contributions to the world, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality or gender. A cash prize of NT$50 million (approx. US$1.75 million) is allocated to each category, with NT$10 million of it (approx. US$ 0.35 million) designated as a research grant to fund laureates’ research and education projects. The hope is to encourage more people with professional knowledge and skills to address mankind’s most urgent needs in this century, and to become leading forces behind the development of human society through their outstanding research and civic engagement.