Dr. Tasuku Honjo of Japan’s Kyoto University and U.S. immunologist James P. Allison were named joint winners of the inaugural Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science June 19 in Taipei City.
“The prize is awarded to Allison and Honjo for their respective discoveries of CTLA-4 and PD-1 as immune inhibitory molecules leading to applications in cancer immunotherapy,” said presenter Lee Yuan-tseh, Taiwan’s winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Allison, chairman of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, is one of the scientists who identified in 1995 cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells—a type of lymphocyte essential to cell-mediated immunity. He led a team using his research to develop a monoclonal antibody drug, the first approved for melanoma treatment by U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011.
Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University’s Department of Immunology and Genomic Medicine, discovered the other T-cell inhibitory receptor PD-1 in 1992. This protein plays a critical role in tumor immunity regulation, and a PD-1 antibody producing significant results in melanoma, nonsmall cell lung cancer and renal cell carcinoma. It will serve as the basis for a drug expected to be launched in 2015.
“Both scholars’ discoveries have opened a new therapeutic era in medicine,” Lee said, adding that combination therapy based on anti-CTLA-4 plus anti-PD-1 has been shown to dramatically improve the long-term survival rates of cancer patients.
In addition, research on dysregulation of pathways for these two immune checkpoint receptors may prove instrumental in developing new therapies for allergy, as well as autoimmune and infectious diseases, Lee added.
Established by Taiwan entrepreneur Samuel Yin in December 2012, the biennial Tang Prize provides a cash prize of NT$40 million (US$1.3 million) and research grant of NT$10 million in each of its four categories.
On June 18, former Norwegian Prime Minister Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland was named winner of the Tang Prize in sustainable development. The winners for Sinology and rule of law will be announced separately June 20-21 by Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institution and the body responsible for overseeing the selection process. An awards ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 18 in Taipei City. (YHC-JSM)