Immunologist and Tang Prize laureate Marc Feldmann’s pioneering treatment has been used to tackle more than a dozen diseases, revolutionizing the pharmaceutical industry while helping millions of people, but at 76 he is showing no signs of slowing down.
In a recent interview at his home in London, the retired Oxford professor reflected on his research path and his numerous ongoing projects, crediting his seemingly inexhaustible energy to a drive to help people and do good.
After already changing the world once, he said the temptation to keep going “is very strong,” and he is optimistic that he might just be able to do it again.
Feldmann, who grew up in France and Australia, but spent most of his research career in the UK, is one of three recipients of last year’s Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science, which he was officially awarded at a virtual ceremony last week.
The immunologist is credited with being the first to demonstrate that people with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that causes pain and swelling in the joints, had far more pro-inflammatory cytokines than normal, and identified tumor necrosis factor (TNF) as the key cytokine.
Cytokines are a large family of proteins found in the immune system that play a crucial role in responding to infections. The primary function of TNF in particular is the regulation of immune cells.
After identifying TNF as a target, Feldmann worked with his colleagues to develop a TNF antibody to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Today, anti-TNF treatments have become “standard therapy” for rheumatoid arthritis, as well as multiple autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, converting them from severely debilitating conditions to largely manageable diseases, the Tang Prize Foundation said in its award citation.
Feldmann said that he and his collaborators knew very quickly that the treatment they had developed was effective.
Even before receiving a full course of treatment, people in their first trial reported feeling a lot better, “and when the treatment stopped, our second-ever patient went back to playing golf,” he said.
It was an “unexpected surprise,” he said. “You often read that it takes years to find out if your medicine works; we found out that our medicine worked within two hours of starting the project.”
The discovery of anti-TNF therapy as an effective treatment not only helped those treated with the drug, it also created a lasting impact on the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, Feldmann said.
“The work we did together was the first use of a monoclonal antibody in a common disease for a long period of time,” he said.
As the number of patients who benefited from taking these types of drugs increased, and as their use in other diseases also grew, “this changed the pharmaceutical industry forever,” Feldmann said.
“Now, half of the new medicines are monoclonal antibodies,” he added.
At 76 years of age, “I am not short of ambition, but I am short of time,” Feldmann said.
During his “so-called retirement” from being a professor, as he puts it, he has set up six companies with his colleagues that focus on creating new medicines for a wide range of diseases.
These include new applications for the anti-TNF treatment, the use of synthetic cannabinoids, stem cell therapy and treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and cancer, Feldmann said.
He said he is optimistic that this “new career with friends” will give him an opportunity to “perhaps change the world again for the better.”
Although his research has been a success, Feldmann initially studied and trained to become a medical doctor, only switching to research after he began practicing.
“Within one year in the hospital, I realized that we did not have very many effective medicines, [and] it was clear that the way to develop new treatments was through research,” he said.
It was a risky decision.
Being a doctor “is a guaranteed way in every culture to make a bit of an average income and living,” he said. “Doing research is far from guaranteed.”
However, he took the risk because he knew that if his work was successful, he would be able to treat a lot of people.
Feldmann said research has also been a wonderful education, and it has allowed him to contribute to the vast expanse of human knowledge.
“It’s important to realize that the foundation of all new knowledge is research,” he said, adding that it is an endeavor that requires many people, each of whom is important to the process in different ways.
LONG-TERM ALLIANCE: Using the company’s virtual development tools would help reduce cost and spur innovation at the research institute, an official said The Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute (TSRI) has partnered with Synopsys Taiwan to accelerate the development of next-generation semiconductors, with researchers being allowed to use the chip design company’s simulation tools, the National Applied Research Laboratories said yesterday. The institute is one of eight laboratories of the national research agency. The institute has signed a contract with Synopsys that allows researchers to use its simulation software — Sentaurus TCAD and Quantum ATK — free of charge, the agency said in a news release. The Synopsys Web site describes Sentaurus TCAD as an advanced 1D, 2D and 3D process simulator for developing and optimizing chip
MONITORED BY JETS: Chinese aircraft included Y-20 aerial refueling aircraft, suggesting that China refueled its short-range jets during flight The air force scrambled again yesterday to warn away 27 Chinese aircraft that entered its air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the Ministry of National Defense said, the latest increase in tensions across the sensitive Taiwan Strait. Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the nation, often in the southwestern part of its ADIZ, close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島). Over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1, when China marked its national day, Taiwan said that nearly 150 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military aircraft entered its ADIZ, not territorial
DESTABILIZING: Beijing’s efforts to choke Taiwan, pressure its friends and hamper its democracy are a threat to the world, AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk said China’s provocative military activities near Taiwan are destabilizing and risk “miscalculation,” American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Sandra Oudkirk said yesterday, reiterating the US’ objection to any unilateral changes to the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait. Oudkirk made the remarks in a speech at the annual conference of the Association of International Relations in Taipei. “In the Indo-Pacific region, America’s effort to resolve and manage differences with the leadership of the People’s Republic of [PRC] faces distinct challenges,” she said, referencing a range of actions by China that she said run counter to the shared values and interests of the
EXTRADITION POSSIBLE? The suspect, who is quarantining upon arrival in Xiamen, is accused of killing a coffee trader on a street near his house in Sindian District The suspect in an execution-style murder of a businessman in New Taipei City’s Sindian District (新店) has fled to China and officials are negotiating his extradition, the New Taipei City Police Department said on Tuesday. The suspect, surnamed Huang (黃), took a flight from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 2pm on that day to Xiamen, where he is staying in a quarantine hotel, as required by Chinese COVID-19 regulations, the department said. Investigators accuse Huang of shooting dead a local coffee trader surnamed He (何) on a street near his residence when he was returning from dropping off his daughter at her