One of the most important recent gatherings for the pharmacological community, the 18th World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology (WCP2018) ran this year from July 1 to 6 at the Kyoto International Conference Center in Kyoto, Japan. Tasuku Honjo, 2014 laureate in Biopharmaceutical Science, delivered the speech at the opening ceremony. An opening symposium on Pharmacology, Translational Medicine, and Drug Discovery was also held with a number of talks given by notable scientists from the US, Europe, and Japan. Also present were representatives from the Tang Prize Foundation, which just this July announced the laureates in Biopharmaceutical Science for 2018, namely Tony Hunter (Salker Institute), Brian Druker (OHSU), John Mendelsohn (UT MD Anderson). The foundation also held a Tang Prize Lecture at the congress delivered by Feng Zhang.
The World Congress of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology is a quadrennial gathering of scientists from all over the world in the fields of pharmacy, biology, and pharmacology. This year’s gathering brought over 4,000 medical, pharmaceutical, life science and biology professionals from 77 countries to the event grounds to meet and discuss the latest and greatest in their fields of expertise and this year’s theme, Pharmacology for the Future-Science, Drug Development and Therapeutics. The accomplishments of the 2018 laureates in Biopharmaceutical Science, leaders in their fields, are important topics for the fields represented at the congress.
Like the congress, the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science is focused on the pharmaceutical application of basic discoveries in biology. The congress especially asked Tasuku Honjo, 2014 Tang Prize laureate, to deliver the opening speech on the discovery that won him the Tang Prize in 2014, the “Future of Cancer Immunotherapy by PD-1 Blockade.” Following many lectures by Tang Prize laureates at international academic meetings, a Tang Prize Lecture was also set up for this year’s congress, delivered by Tang Prize laureate Feng Zhang on Advances in Genome Editing Technologies. The talk was chaired by Yen Yun of Taipei Medical University, who gave a pre-lecture introduction to the Tang Prize to 2,000 eager listeners.
Shuh Narumiya, president of the organizing committee of the congress, delivered the welcome address to the attendees on behalf of the Japanese Pharmacological Society and the Japanese Society of Clinical Pharmacology. He noted how society is now witnessing a massive revolution in medicine, with the advent of easy gene editing technologies, stem cell research (including induced pluripotent stem cells), structural biology, nanotechnology, and systems biology. Pharmacology is also benefitting from these new fields, and soon the many scientist at the event will be engaged in the research of these emerging fields.
The Tang Prize Foundation was not the only representative from Taiwan: the current director of the Pharmacological Society in Taiwan, Jian Bo-wu, two former directors Chang Wen-chang and Chen Qing-jian, and more than 100 Taiwanese, including Julie Y.H. Chan and Lin Wan-wan, also attended the event.
During the opening discussion, it was expressed that many countries around the world are investing in research and drug development. But due to the long period of research and development, as well as testing, that goes into each drug, the likelihood of any drug making it to market is actually low. And then there are issues of intellectual property rights, which makes a long process expensive as well. In the end, the investment and time put into the drug is reflected in medical costs at the patient end. Isao Teshirogi, president of the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (JPMA), estimated from 2014 data that each new drug takes from 9 to 17 years to hit the market and costs nearly 1 billion USD. Add to that a 3-in-100,000 chance of each new drug actually making it to the market, and it is obvious why talented teams of scientists are such a valuable resource that demands respect and support. That, in fact, is one of the very reasons that the Tang Prize was founded.
Among the questions at the forum, how to make drug development more efficient and less costly; how to establish a reasonable allocation of research fees, academic development, and investment in pharmaceutical business, were among the most hotly discussed. Suggestions included database sharing, translational medicine, scientific development, and allowing for open innovation; building a model of mutual trust, with a distribution of risk; making data transparent and improving the training of researchers; allowing for competition and collaboration in certain fields to accelerate scientific development. The Taiwanese government is itself taking strides to develop the biopharmaceutical industry homeside with the experiences of other countries; TaiMed Biologics being one successful case. However, Taiwan has room to consider employment and funding in drug development and cooperative strategies; it may look to other countries for experience and cooperation. Julie Y.H. Chan of Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and president of the International Union of Physiological Sciences, was also invited to give the remarks at the closing ceremony of congress.