On four days from June 18 to 21, the Tang Prize Foundation announced the recipients of the 2016 Tang Prizes. Shortly after the recipients were announced, the CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation, Jenn-Chuan Chern (陳振川), arrived in Germany on June 23 to visit Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of the three joint recipients of the 2016 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science. Besides congratulating Charpentier on the award, Chern also cordially invited her to Taiwan for the award ceremony in September.
Chern related that the 2016 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science went to three joint winners, including Charpentier, who is currently serving as the director and scientific member at the Max Planck Institute of Infection Biology. In the development of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), Charpentier’s major contribution was finding out that the activity of Cas9 (CRISPR associated protein 9) depended on two tracrRNA (trans-activating RNA) species. The discovery made her an internationally reputable scholar in the biomedical community. Chern acknowledged her research as a breakthrough discovery that greatly improved upon existing genetic editing technology. The work of Charpentier and the other two scientists has revolutionized strategies in the field of biomedical studies and disease treatment, which has helped improve human health with new therapies.
Charpentier has received many international awards. However, she said she still felt honored to have won the Tang Prize: “It’s always very inspiring to know that the Tang Prize is so willing to acknowledge the efforts of foreign scientists.” Charpentier will come to Taiwan for the first time in her life to attend the award ceremony in September. She also accepted the invitation of the Tang Prize Foundation to give speeches and conduct seminars in different schools, allowing local students to interact with the laureate. Chern also related that the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of Taiwan already amended the law and listed the Tang Prize as an important prize on the international stage, making it equivalent in scale to the Nobel Prize. In addition, the Taiwanese government plans to support and develop the biotechnology industry as an engine for the growth of Taiwan’s future economy. This includes, in terms of infrastructure, the National Biotech Research Park of the Academia Sinica and the Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park. Once inaugurated, these parks are expected to boost the development of biomedical industry. In the coming years, it is expected that many companies in the science and technology industry will vie for the chance to collaborate with Charpentier.
During his stay in Germany, Chern also visited with Taiwan’s Representative to Germany Hwa-Yu Chen (陳華玉) and requested assistance with Charpentier’s trip to Taiwan in September. Representative Chen acknowledged the positive image and influence of the Tang Prize in the international community, saying, “The Tang Prize has undoubtedly gained international attention; therefore, German scholars are also very interested in it.” She continued, “Several outstanding German scholars were also recommended this year; they look forward to receiving the recognition of the Tang Prize in the future.” According to Representative Chen, the Representative Office will also help promote the prize to Taiwanese people living in Germany and local academic circles via online newsletters. In addition, as Germany has conducted advanced research in the field of technology and biomedicine, the Representative Office will endeavor to facilitate more exchanges in those fields with the purpose of introducing the Tang Prize to more people.
In a recent interview by Radio Canada International, Chern mentioned that the Tang Prize was established by Samuel Yen-Liang Yin (尹衍樑). The goal was to establish an international prize like the Nobel which recognizes contributions to human society irrespective of the contributor’s nationality or ethnicity and encourages the world’s best and brightest to create a brighter future for humanity. The Tang in the prize’s name is meant to evoke the example of the Tang dynasty (618-907). The “Great Tang” is generally regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization and a golden age of culture and economy, where people of different cultures coexisted in harmony. Thus Yin named the prize after that great dynasty in hopes that he could bring about positive change to the global community, particularly with respect to interactions between Western and Eastern cultures.
The Tang Prize is awarded every two years. A total of NT$50 million is awarded per category, including a NT$40 million cash prize and a NT$10 million grant. The recipients of the 2016 Tang Prize are: Arthur H. Rosenfeld in Sustainable Development, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer A. Doudna, and Feng Zhang in Biopharmaceutical Science, William Theodore de Bary in Sinology, and Louise Arbour in Rule of Law.