Interview series: Academia Sinica head praises Tang Prize as platform to showcase Taiwan

2014/10/16 16:56:00
Academia Sinica President Chi-Huey Wong.

Academia Sinica President Chi-Huey Wong.

Taipei, Oct. 16 (CNA) The first Tang Prize, awarded this year, helps showcase Taiwan and its ability to guide international research, the president of Academia Sinica told reporters.

The award and related events not only highlighted the laureates, but "all of Taiwan," including its arts, culture and lifestyle, said Chi-Huey Wong, head of Taiwan's top research institute and a board member of the Tang Prize Foundation, on Tuesday.

It has shown Taiwan's ability to organize major international awards and map research directions and underlines the importance of sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and rule of law -- the four categories honored with the award -- he said.

Wong, who was not involved in the judging process but helped convene the panels of judges, touted their selection of recipients and called the five laureates "remarkable."

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, won the prize in sustainable development; immunologists James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan shared the prize in biopharmaceutical science; Chinese American historian Yu Ying-shih won the prize in sinology; and Albie Sachs, a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, was named the winner of the prize in rule of law.

Wong said he was confident from the very beginning that the award would be presented to the most qualified candidates because of the high caliber of the judges.

There are four judging panels for the Tang Prize, one for each category. Each panel consists of around 20 judges, mostly Academia Sinica academicians but also leading international scholars and researchers, including Nobel laureates.

More than 80 of his institute's academicians are members of the United States National Academies, Wong noted.

In order to establish the Tang Prize as a truly international award, Wong said judges gave no preference to any candidates based on their ethnicity or nationality even though the prize draws its name from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the height of classical Chinese civilization.

"Judges on each panel were very objective and operated independently to select the best laureates," he said, adding that recent developments showed insight on the part of judges.

The Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science was awarded to Allison and Honjo in June for their discoveries of cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4) and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) as immune inhibitory molecules that led to their applications in cancer immunotherapy.

Wong said antibodies against PD-1 were approved in July in Japan and September in the United States as a treatment for melanoma.

He also revealed, however, that when the laureates were announced, Tang Prize organizers initially worried that Brundtland would not be able to come to diplomatically isolated Taiwan because she was a former prime minister of Norway.

There was also concern that Yu, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, would not be willing to give talks in China if such an event were planned, Wong said.

Despite the worries, judges were ready to respect any decision made by each laureate, he said.

"Whatever the reaction from mainland China, that is not something we have control over," he said.

Although these concerns did surface after the laureates were chosen, Wong stressed that politics was never a factor during the selection process.

"There were no political considerations when judges were selecting the laureates," he said. "And there shouldn't be."

(By Christie Chen)
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