June 18, 2018

Salk Institute's Tony Hunter wins 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science

Salk researcher wins third prestigious prize in a row for cancer research

Salk News

Salk Institute’s Tony Hunter wins 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science

Salk researcher wins third prestigious prize in a row for cancer research

LA JOLLA—Salk American Cancer Society Professor Tony Hunter has been awarded the 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science.

Hunter will share the prize of $50 million Taiwanese dollars (approximately $1.5 million US) equally with fellow cancer researchers Brian Druker and John Mendelsohn, who also share with Hunter a connection to UC San Diego. Hunter is a longtime adjunct professor at the university, Druker was an undergraduate and medical student there, and Mendelsohn was founding director of the UCSD Cancer Center.

The four biennial Tang Prize categories recognize and encourage original research and major contributions in biopharmaceutical science, sustainable development, sinology and law. The prize ceremony will be held in Taipei, Taiwan, on September 21, 2018, as part of a weeklong series of events that includes a laureate lecture and a question-and-answer forum with students.

Tony Hunter
Tony Hunter

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Credit: Salk Institute

“Although he is far too humble to think in these terms, Tony’s seminal discovery in 1979 of a molecular switch for cancer was a defining moment for a thoroughly new era of life-saving cancer therapies,” says Salk President Rusty Gage. “His body of work is a testament to the importance of basic science, and we are profoundly grateful that he made his scientific home at Salk and that his many research successes are being recognized with this important prize.”

Hunter is known for his elucidation of a mechanism called tyrosine phosphorylation, which is a molecular switch that turns normal cells cancerous. The breakthrough led to a new type of cancer pharmaceutical, the tyrosine kinase inhibitor. This class of drugs has revolutionized the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia with the game-changing therapy Gleevec, and also is of great benefit in several other forms of cancer. Hunter’s work has led to a complete catalog of the 90 human genes that encode tyrosine kinases, over half of which have become targets for the development of drugs to treat cancer and other human diseases. Currently, 32 tyrosine kinase inhibitors are FDA approved for human therapy, with many more in clinical trials.

“Cancer is a formidable foe and one of the most devastating diseases facing humanity, so we must be tireless in our efforts to defeat it,” says Hunter. “I am honored to receive this award, which I share with the many other dedicated cancer researchers who have together contributed to the development of tyrosine kinase inhibitors.”

Hunter, who holds the Renato Dulbecco Chair in Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, also received the 2018 Pezcoller Foundation–American Association of Cancer Research Prize and, in 2017, the inaugural Sjöberg Prize for cancer research. Additionally, he is the recipient of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine, the Royal Medal in the Biological Sciences of the Royal Society, the Wolf Prize in Medicine and the Gairdner International Award, among other prestigious honors. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Born in 1943 in Ashford, Kent, in the United Kingdom, Hunter is also a fellow of the Royal Society of London.

The Tang Prize was founded in 2012 by Samuel Yin, PhD, chairman of Ruentex Group and holder of several leadership positions at Ruentex Construction Group. Yin has long invested in philanthropy and education to create a positive force in society and build a better world. He established the Tang Prize to encourage the world’s best and brightest, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, to dedicate themselves to innovative work in the prize’s four fields to spur development, bring about positive change to the global community and create a brighter future for all humanity.

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