Immunotherapists from US and Japan win the inaugural ‘Tang Prize’

Immunologists Dr James Allison of the US and Dr Tasuku Honjo of Japan were named joint recipients of the inaugural Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science for their discoveries that have helped advance immunotherapy and has brought new ray of hope that many types of cancers can be cured.

Prized Discoveries of Allison and Honjo

Dr Honjo:

Discovered PD-1 in 1992, an inhibitor of the T cell, a type of lymphocyte that plays a pivotal role in cell-mediated immunity. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the antibodies against PD-1 as an investigational drug and are being developed as a cancer treatment.

One such antibody is likely to be launched in year 2015 for treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer which is considered to significantly change the approach towards lung cancer treatment.

Dr Allison:

In 1995, Allison became the first researcher to identify cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4), a protein receptor that down-regulates the immune system.

CTLA-4 is found on the surface of T cells, which lead cellular immune attacks on antigens. Allison developed an antibody that blocks CTLA-4 activity. This antibody has been shown to have potential to help fight various types of tumors in mice.

The study led to the development of a monoclonal antibody drug that was approved by the FDA in 2011 to treat melanoma. The therapy and a regimen combining anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1 have been shown to significantly improve long-term survival rates of cancer patients.

The Tang Prize:

A Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin Established instituted the Tang Prize in 2012 to award leaders in four fields:

  • Sustainable development
  • biopharmaceutical science
  • Sinology
  • The rule of law.

Up to 3 awardees in each category can share a cash prize of NT$40 million and a research grant of up to NT$10 million.



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