James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo were announced today as the winners of the first Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science by Selection Committee Chairman Dr. Yuan Tseh Lee at the Academia Sinica. The join recipients of the prize were chosen among a number of accomplished scientists for their contributions to immunotherapy, specifically for their separate discoveries of CTLA-4 and PD-1 as immune inhibitory molecules, discoveries which have opened up new, revolutionary possibilities in the treatment of cancer.
Allison, professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center, identified CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells back in 1995. Professor Honjo of Kyoto University discovered PD-1 (Programmed cell death protein 1) in 1992 and, upon later research, showed that PD-1 plays a role as an inhibitor regulator in the T-cell response. His discovery has since gained momentum in further research for its utility as a tumor escape mechanism and has led to the development of PD-1 blockers for use in treatment.
Dr. Wen-Chang Chang, an expert in immunology from the Academia Sinica who was a special guest to the event, said that many Nobel-winning discoveries have yet to enter the clinical-testing phase. But, he continued, these discoveries from the two Tang Prize recipients have already been tested and proven to be effective in the fight against cancer. Another notable guest at today’s conference, Academia Sinica Vice President Dr. Chien-Jen Chen, said that both Allison and Honjo have given humanity new weapons in its cancer-fighting arsenal that avoid injuring normal, healthy cells. “They are leaders in their field who have sparked a new wave of research in immunotherapy,” said Dr. Chen.
Tang Prize laureates in each of the four categories will be announced over four days (June 18-21). Prize founder Dr. Samuel Yin and current Academia Sinica President Dr. Chi-Huey Wong were present for the first day of announcements in Sustainable Development. Previous Academia Sinica President and Selection Committee Chairman Dr. Yuan Tseh Lee will also be present at this week’s press announcements. All three distinguished guests will be attending the Tang Prize award ceremony, which will commence on September 18 at Taipei’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.