Tang Prize Laureate Tasuku Honjo Predicts that Cancer Could One Day Become a Chronic Disease
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The 24th International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) Congress opened on June 4 in Seoul, Korea. Inaugural Tang Prize Biopharmaceutical Science laureate, Professor Tasuku Honjo, gave the Tang Prize Lecture titled “Cancer Immunotherapy by PD-1 blockade” right after the Opening Ceremony. Professor Honjo suggests “mitochondrial activation may be a good marker for immunotherapy effectiveness.”

Professor Honjo has long been speculated as one of the most likely winners of the Nobel Prize from Japan. He received his Ph.D. from the Faculty of Medicine, Kyoto University and served as a professor there. The latest results published by Professor Honjo’s team found close relations between the effectiveness of PD-1 immunotherapy and mitochondrial activation. “PD-1 blockade combinatorial therapy using mitochondrial activators, especially PGC-1α activators, may be promising. Clinical trials should be carried out. This combination may save more patients and lower costs,” said Professor Honjo.

Professor Honjo thinks the 20th century benefits from the discovery of Penicillin. Many infectious diseases have since then been eased out. The 21st century is the era of PD-1 immunotherapy. He believes cancer can be well controlled by PD-1 regulation, and a better understanding of PD-1 will certainly improve treatment efficiency.

Using anti-PD-1 antibody to block immune checkpoints is a revolution in cancer treatment. It has many advantages over other treatment approaches. Anti-PD-1 is effective for a wide range of tumor cells, its effect sustains, and it has less adverse effects. Professor Honjo believes that anti-PD-1 immunotherapy is likely to become the first choice in cancer treatment.

Many cancers can be now treated by immunotherapy, including melanoma, lung cancer, renal cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, urothelial cancer, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma. It is estimated that cancer treatments using immunotherapy will increase from 5% in 2016 to 50% in 2020. In 2030, it may reach as high as 90%. Professor Honjo predicts that cancer tumor may not completely disappear, but might be controlled by immunotherapy. Cancer could be a chronic disease instead of an acute death sentence.

IUBMB has regional associations in four continents across the globe. The members come from 77 different countries. The congress is held every three years, and it has an indispensable role in biotechnology. Professor Andrew H.-J. Wang, Academician of Academia Sinica, will take over the President seat in this congress. He is also the host of the Tang Prize Lecture. Professor Wang said the attendees of IUBMB are the leading experts in biochemistry and molecular biology. Inaugural Tang Prize Biopharmaceutical Science laureate Professor Honjo has certainly inspired the listeners with his pioneering research. Professor Honjo’s contributions and the Tang Prize spirit should continue to thrive.

Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation, said the Tang Prize Foundation is honored to partner with IUBMB. Professor Honjo’s Tang Prize Lecture drew 2,500 people from more than 50 countries. It was a great opportunity to let more people know of immunotherapy and of the Tang Prize.

The Tang Prize Foundation signed a nine-year memorandum with IUBMB in 2016, sponsoring conferences in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology and financially supporting young researchers for travel expense or relocation. This collaboration should enable more people to join the line of research and provide new job opportunities. The exchange of experience and knowledge will facilitate the development of biopharmaceutical science.