Three Scholars Awarded Tang Prize for Facilitating Targeted Cancer Therapies
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Dr. Tony Hunter, Dr. Brian J. Druker, and Dr. John Mendelsohn are the recipients of the 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science. These three renowned American scholars are awarded for the discovery of protein tyrosine phosphorylation and tyrosine kinases as oncogenes, leading to successful targeted cancer therapies.

Dr. Wen-Chang Chang, Selection Committee Chair said Tang Prize Biopharmaceutical Science is awarded to research that has made improvement to human health. The Inaugural Tang Prize was awarded to Dr. Allison and Professor Honjo for their research that led to immunotherapy. The 2016 laureates made their contributions in gene editing tools. The 2018 laureates are the giants in targeted cancer therapy. The Tang Prize recognizes their contributions to the humanity. The awardees are the best examples of applying basic science to clinical use. Dr. Hunter laid the foundation for cell signaling research, and Dr. Druker and Dr. Mendelsohn developed drugs according to the mechanism.

Professor Hsing-Jien Kung, Academician of Academia Sinica, said these three laureates opened up two important fields of research, one of which is the field of oncogene and signal transduction and the other is targeted therapy. Their research changed what we previously knew about cancer and turned the table in the battle of combating cancer.

Dr. Tony Hunter, Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute, is the British-American scientist who discovered tyrosine phosphorylation and that the oncogene Src is a tyrosine kinase (TK). This discovery is nothing less than saying Dr. Hunter gave birth to the field of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), which are prototypes of targeted cancer therapies. Its emergence made a milestone of cancer therapy.

Dr. Brian Druker, Director of Oregon Health Sciences University Knight Cancer Institute, is the physician scientist who led the successful clinical trial of imatinib (Gleevec®) on chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Gleevec® was the first successful example of tyrosine kinase-targeted therapy by small molecule inhibitors (TKIs).

Dr. John Mendelsohn, President Emeritus of MD Anderson Cancer Center, conceived the idea that antibodies targeting epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) may be an effective strategy for cancer treatment. Dr. Mendelsohn and his team conducted preclinical research and proceeded to develop the anti-EGFR antibody cetuximab (Erbitux®). His effort to promote it into clinics eventually won the approval of the US FDA for the treatment of colon cancer and head/neck cancer.

Dr. Hunter and Dr. Druker were reached by phone after the announcement. Dr. Hunter said Tang Prize is a widely recognized prize in the world, and he is honored to share the prize with the other two laureates. He said Tang Prize recognizes the importance of basic science that opens a window to cancer therapy. Dr. Druker expressed his surprise when he learnt he has been awarded and felt “incredibly honored”.

MD Anderson Cancer Center released news about Dr. Mendelsohn being named the 2018 Tang Prize Biopharmaceutical Science laureate and quoted his words saying “[Tang Prize] Foundation encourages the progress we need in scientific, translational and clinical research to continue to improve cancer treatment.”

Professor Pan-Chyr Yang, Academician of Academia Sinica, was also present in the announcement. He noted that chemotherapy, an indiscriminating approach, predominated in the cancer therapy before 2000, but now that the tyrosine kinase signaling pathway has been elucidated, precision therapy is at dawn.