Inhibiting Inflammatory Responses, Three Scientists Awarded 2020 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science

TAIPEI, TAIWAN – Media OutReach – 19 June 2020
– Charles Dinarello (US), Marc Feldmann (UK/Australia) and Tadamitsu
Kishimoto (Japan) were announced joint winners of the 2020 Tang Prize in Biopharmacuetical Science
today (June 19) “for the development of cytokine-targeting biological therapies
for treatment of inflammatory diseases.” 

Adding to Dr. Kishimoto’s joy of winning the
prize with old friends Dr. Feldmann and Dr. Dinarello is the fact that the
basic research they spent almost a century on has made a positive contribution
to medical science and has even showed the potential to help patients suffering
from Covid-19.

How can medications that treat inflammatory
diseases also be used to combat Covid-19? Many patients with severe Covid-19
can be affected by the so-called “cytokine storm syndrome.” A cytokine storm is
also an inflammatory reaction which occurs when the body’s immune system goes
awry and releases an excess of cytokines that not only attack invaders but also
start to set upon healthy cells, causing damage to body tissues and organs.
Covid-19 is not the only disease that can turn our immune systems against ourselves.
Another immune disorder which may cause serious complications and could be
fatal is “autoimmune disease,” a type of inflammatory disease that can wreak
mayhem in the daily life of 5-10% of the global population. 

When little was known about cytokines, these
three scientists carried out groundbreaking research which revealed their
crucial roles as inflammatory mediators. Tumor necrosis factors (TNF),
interleukin-1(IL-1) and interleukin-6(IL-6) are among the most investigated
cytokines by the scientific community and biologics targeting them are among
the most widely used biopharmaceuticals. The Tang Prize awardees have all made
transformative contributions to the discovery and/or therapeutic development
targeting these three cytokines. 

Despite its name, the main job of tumor
necrosis factors, as was found out later, is to regulate immune cells. Dr. Marc
Feldmann, professor at the University of Oxford, was interested in the study of
rheumatoid arthritis, which is one of the most common autoimmune diseases in
the world. Dr. Feldmann was the first to demonstrate that diseased joints of
those with rheumatoid arthritis have far more pro-inflammatory cytokines than
normal, and identified TNF as the key one. After overcoming considerable
skepticism, he finally convinced a pharmaceutical company to work with him and
successfully developed an anti-TNF antibody that proved very effective against
rheumatoid arthritis. The remarkable advance they made in the treatment of
autoimmune and inflammatory diseases thus enabled patients debilitated by this
degenerative condition to regain control of their lives.

IL-1 was the first cytokine to be identified
and shown to be a central mediator of inflammation. Dr. Charles Dinarello,
currently professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, is considered
one of the founding fathers of cytokines and credited with the discovery and
purification of the protein IL-1b, as well as cloning the gene encoded on it.
Subsequently, another related protein was identified by other groups and named
IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra), which can block the biological activity of
IL-1. A recombinant version of IL-1Ra was developed for the treatment of
rheumatoid arthritis and later received FDA approval. These clinical
achievements established IL-1 as potent mediators of fever and inflammation,
led to the development of therapeutics for this important cytokine, and support
Dr. Dinarello’s contributions to cytokine biology and the pathogenesis of
inflammatory diseases.  

Dr. Tadamitsu Kishimoto, professor at Osaka
University, discovered and cloned IL-6, a cytokine that regulates antibody
production. His group later identified and cloned its receptor and demonstrated
the involvement of IL-6 in the pathogenesis of various inflammatory diseases.
He then prepared a monoclonal anti-IL-6 receptor antibody and helped conduct
large-scale trials on the efficacy and safety of the antibody in patients with
rheumatoid arthritis as well as children with juvenile arthritis. Dr.
Kishimoto’s work transformed the cytokine field and converted it from
descriptive biology to modern molecular science and medicine. His work has also
led to major clinical breakthroughs and development of new therapeutics for
severe multi-organ chronic diseases. The contributions of Dr. Kishimoto
encompass basic discovery, hypothesis forming, drug discovery and clinical
translation, a true bench to bedside example.

In summary, the pioneering work of Drs.
Feldmann, Dinarello and Kishimoto led to the development of biopharmaceuticals
that have brought relief to millions of people tormented by autoimmune or
inflammatory diseases.

All three cytokines are critically involved
in the pathogenesis of a variety of diseases. Of special note is their critical
roles in cytokine storms caused by Covid-19. Since biologics targeting the
three cytokines respectively can inhibit cytokine actions, they have been
either used successfully to treat cytokine storms in Covid-19 patients or are
being investigated as a therapy, giving people much to hope for, at a time when
the pandemic continues to rip through the planet. 

by Taiwanese entrepreneur Dr. Samuel Yin, the biannual Tang Prize consists of
four categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science,
Sinology and Rule of Law, with NT$ 40 million (approx. US$1.3 million) in cash
prize and a research grant of NT$ 10 million (approx. US$0.33 million)
allocated to each category. It aims to promote the interaction and cooperation
between culture and technology so as to find a 21st century path to
the sustainable development of the world. For more information, please visit
the prize’s official website at

News Source: MediaOutreach



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