Interview series: Tang Prize encourages practical application of research: NTU president

2014/10/15 13:50:00
NTU President Yang Pan-chyr.

NTU President Yang Pan-chyr.

Taipei, Oct. 14 (CNA) Unlike the Nobel Prize, the Tang Prize, a Taiwanese-founded international award, emphasizes the practical application of research, according to the president of National Taiwan University.

In the category of biopharmaceutical science, for example, the award granted is for research that can be applied practically, Yang Pan-chyr told CNA in an interview earlier this month.

Although basic medical research is very important, the public always hopes to see research findings applied to real-life situations, which is exactly the kind of work that the Tang Prize encourages, he said.

The studies by the two Tang laureates in biopharmaceutical science -- immunologists James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan -- represent a significant breakthrough in cancer treatment and could help improve human health, said Yang, who was on the selection panel for that category of the award.

Allison and Honjo shared the Tang Prize for their discovery of cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4) and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) as immune inhibitory molecules, which were later used in cancer immunotherapy.

Recent clinical studies have shown that simultaneous targeting of both CTLA-4 and PD-1 immune checkpoints can be synergistic, and this success indicates that immunotherapy in cancer treatment can be effective, Allison said in Taipei in September.

"We're entering an age when we can think of actually curing many types of cancer," he said.

Yang said the Tang Prize is a great encouragement to researchers in the four categories -- biopharmaceutical science, sustainable development, sinology and rule of law -- which are not covered by the Nobel Prize.

He said the award adheres to the high standards of the Nobel Prize, from nomination and selection to keeping the identity of the nominees confidential.

The Tang Prize will help spur greater investment of resources in the four areas, and will raise Taiwan's international profile, he said.

The organizers should set a short-term goal of building the reputation of the award, Yang suggested.

In the mid- to long-term, they could consider whether to include other prize categories so as to encourage more researchers, he added.

The biennial Tang Prize, which comes with a cash prize of NT$40 million (US$1.34 million) and a research grant of NT$10 million, recognizes academic, scientific and social advances and contributions in the aforementioned four areas. It was established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin in 2012 in an effort to supplement the Nobel Prize.

(By Hsu Chih-wei and Christie Chen)
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