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Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science Honoring Three Scientists

TAIPEI, June 19, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — In a continuing series of laureate announcements, the Tang Prize Foundation today (June 19th) announced the 2024 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science recipients. The prestigious award has been jointly awarded to Joel F. Habener, Svetlana Mojsov, and Jens Juul Holst, for the discovery of GLP-1 (7-37) as an insulinotropic factor and the development of GLP-1 (7-37)-based anti-diabetic and anti-obesity drugs.

Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science Honoring Three Scientists
Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science Honoring Three Scientists

Of the 8 billion people in the world today, as many as 500 million have diabetes, and nearly 1 billion are obese. The two diseases lead to many severe complications, resulting in a heavy medical burden for both the individual and society. Fortunately, GLP-1-based therapeutics have recently become blockbuster drugs to treat obesity and diabetes. At present, there are at least 13 GLP-1 RA (GLP-1 receptor agonists) drugs approved by the FDA for treating diabetes and obesity, benefiting hundreds of millions of users with prospects of even greater benefits in the future.

The journey of the exciting discovery began with cloning the anglerfish preproglucagon gene in the early 80s by Dr. Joel Habener from Mass General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School. He discovered this precursor protein contains glucagon and another glucagon-related peptide (GRP). Subsequent cloning of the rat preproglucagon gene showed that it contained glucagon and two additional peptides designated GLP-1 and GLP-2, and that the anglerfish GRP is a GLP-1. Dr. Svetlana Mojsov, working at the Endocrine Unit and head of the HHMI peptide synthesis facility at Mass General Hospital, later identified the active form of intestinal GLP-1 to be GLP-1 (7-37). She collaborated with Dr. Habener to show that GLP-1 (7-37) can induce insulin release from the pancreas rather than the entire GLP-1 (1-37). This is an important discovery that identified the long-sought-after incretin and led to its application as an anti-diabetic strategy. The efforts of Dr. Mojsov in the synthesis of GLP-1 (7-37) and the development of several experimental approaches to detect the GLPs in the intestines were critical. Dr. Habener, Dr. Mojsov, and their collaborators showed in healthy and type 2 diabetic human subjects that GLP-1 (7-37) is insulinotropic, paving the way for clinical application.  Independently at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Dr. Jens Juul Holst also isolated and identified GLP-1 (1-37), and subsequently GLP-1 (7-36) amide as an active incretin. His lab characterized the biology and physiology of GLP-1 (7-37), demonstrated its therapeutic potential, and has been actively involved in developing anti-diabetic drugs. Dr. Holst also reported that GLP-1 (7-37) inhibits gastric acid release and slows down gastric emptying, with anti-obesity potential. During clinical trials, it was found that diabetic patients receiving this type of drug had weight loss tendencies, further promoting its application in the treatment of obesity.

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