On the heels of the magnificent Tang Prize Award Ceremony on August 1st, the Tang Prize Laureate’s Lecture series was held on August 2nd, again in the Howard Civil Service International House. In each of the four lecture sessions, the laureates were introduced respectively by the incumbent chairs of the Tang Prize Selection Committee, Dr. Chao-Han Liu for Sustainable Development and Dr. David Der-wei Wang for Sinology, by the former chair for Rule of Law Dr. Jiunn-Rong Yeh, and by Academician of Academia Sinica Dr. Andrew H.-J. Wang for Biopharmaceutical Science. Six laureates dazzled the audience with lectures that encapsulated the essence of their lifelong research. Individually titled “Dialogue and Sustainable Development,” “Bronze Banqueting Vessels and Golden Belts in the Landscape of Ancient China and of Today,” “The Grand Puzzle of Comparative Constitutional Law,” “Developing mRNA for Therapy,” “Nucleoside-modified mRNA-LNP Therapeutics,” and “Design of Lipid Nanoparticles That Enable Gene Therapies,” these lectures fully showcased the laureates’ wisdom and charisma. Thousands of attendees and countless people watching the livestream were deeply touched and inspired by the laureates who shared their expertise with great passion and whose talks are expected to further the development of Taiwan’s industrial sector and boost the interaction and cooperation between scientific and technological institutions.
The first speaker, Sustainable Development Laureate Jeffrey Sachs, recounted how the world set its course on sustainable development by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. However, a lack of cooperation within and among nations resulted in failure to attain these goals. He therefore emphasized dialogue as the key to successful cooperation. Proposing several key areas and methods of enhanced dialogue to achieve sustainable development, Professor Sachs focused on dialogue among citizens, between generations, across intellectual disciplines, and between governments. Most importantly, in-depth and substantive exchange amongst the great powers and major world regions, he noted, is essential to keeping the peace.
The next to take the stage was Sinology Laureate Jessica Rawson. She chose bronze banqueting vessels and golden belts to illustrate two separate groups of distinct cultures, both central to China’s early history: the first Chinese dynasties and the steppe lords of the grassland. The early dynasties laid the foundations of what we see as China’s agricultural economy, its state, society and material culture. Professor Rawson laid particular emphasis on the independent development of China's culture, distinct from those of Western Asia and of the steppe. The steppe lords formed a chain of pastoral societies to the north and were important agents in the communication of technologies across Eurasia. Two very different societies were, from the first millennium BC, in constant contact, often in competition. This important conjunction was the focal point of this talk. In addition, Professor Rawson compared the very different tomb structures and alternative beliefs about the afterlife of the two peoples, such as the burial practices and the portfolios of possessions of those with bronze vessels and those with golden belts. This is a fine example, she commented, of the strong impact the environment and the climate had on the lifestyles and the socio-political structures of the inhabitants of eastern Eurasia.
The first lecture in the afternoon was delivered by Rule of Law Laureate Cheryl Saunders. She observed that over first two decades of the 21st century, comparative constitutional law has become increasingly global in reach. She then considered the stage this development has reached and identified tensions that have emerged, with three themes being examined for the purpose. The first theme was the apparent convergence of the Constitutions of the world around a traditional constitutional template which had its origin in western constitutional experience and the assumption of convergence is now reinforced by internationalization. The second theme was the new and still emerging focus on the constitutional arrangements of states in the so-called Global South, which has made distinctive and potentially continuing contributions to global constitutional experience. She pointed out that comparative work within the framework of this theme requires a methodology that takes context adequately into consideration. The third theme was constitutional trends in the Global North with implications for the traditional constitutional template and potentially for convergence. The impact of democracy decay and the experimentation with new forms of democracy were the two examples cited. Collectively, these three themes constitute much of the current field of comparative constitutional law, Professor Saunders said. While each is in influx and it is not possible, at least at the moment, to solve this grand puzzle, she concluded that it is possible to identify productive ways in which to move forward.
The finale of today’s events were the lectures from three Biopharmaceutical Science Laureates Katalin Kariko, Drew Weissman, and Pieter Cullis. Dr. Kariko began her talk by mentioning that messenger RNA was discovered in 1961 and it took 60 years until the first mRNA became FDA-approved product in the form of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. During those years, the inflammatory nature of mRNA hampered its medical use. But Dr. Kariko and her colleagues achieved a great milestone by replacing uridine with pseudouridine, thus making mRNA non-immunogenic, more stable and highly translatable. Consequently, the delivery of the lipid nanoparticle-formulated nucleoside-modified mRAN encoding viral antigens became a platform that is revolutionizing the delivery of effective and safe vaccines, therapeutics and gene therapies.
Dr. Weissman informed the audience that vaccines prevent 4 to 5 million death a year, making them the principal tool of medical intervention worldwide. Nucleoside-modified mRNA was developed over 15 years ago and has become the darling of the COVID-19 pandemic as the first 2 FDA-approved vaccines based on it were extremely safe and effective. Moreover, vaccines against many pathogens, including HIV, coronavirus variants, universal influenza, norovirus, malaria, TB, and many others are currently in development. Lipid nanoparticle-encapsulated nucleoside-modified mRNA is also being developed for therapeutic protein delivery and for other therapeutic or genetic deficient proteins. All these have demonstrated the enormous potential nucleoside-modified mRNA has in the development of new medical therapies.
Dr. Cullis remarked that gene therapies have the potential to cure most diseases. However, sophisticated delivery systems are required to enable the therapeutic use of nucleic acid polymers as they are quickly broken down in biological fluids and cannot penetrate into target cells even if they arrive at target tissues. LNP technology is increasingly enabling the clinical potential of genetic drugs by packaging the nucleic acid in well-defined nanoparticles that protect and deliver the payload into target cells, subsequently facilitating cell entry through endocytosis. Furthermore, Dr. Cullis described historical development of LNP systems leading to the development of Onpattro and how related LNP delivery technology is being employed to enable many mRNA-based gene therapy drugs.
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. To tackle these problems, 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.