Updated on 9 July 2012
His work has generated a better understanding of how cell surface carbohydrates play a role in disease progression. "From this we also identified important carbohydrate molecules associated with diseases for drug discovery and diagnostic development. Our synthetic methods for carbohydrates, including enzymatic and automated one-pot methods, have been used for the synthesis of cancer vaccines as therapeutics and glycan arrays as analytical tools," he adds. A technology transfer to a local biotechnology company has led to the development of a vaccine candidate for breast cancer that is presently in phase III of a clinical trial being held in different countries. "The vaccine is also for other types of cancer such as lung, colon, ovarian and brain tumor," he says.
Administrator and chief adviser
"I was not very keen on it in the beginning. I am a chemist. I know am a pretty good scientist, but I did not know how good an administrator I would be," says Dr Wong, talking about the time when he was offered the role of the president of Academia Sinica. But six years later and serving his second term as the president of the prestigious body, he says he is comfortable in his role.
Dr Wong took over the reigns of Academia Sinica after Dr Yuan Tseh Lee, a chemist and a Nobel Laureate, retired from the position. "I was almost an immediate choice," says Dr Wong, who was then the director of Genomics Research Center at Academia Sinica in Taipei. "I had worked at RIKEN in Japan for eight years, which gave me some experience of Asia, apart from Taiwan."
Today, he also functions as the chief science adviser to the government in Taiwan and one of his focus areas is the growth of the biotechnology industry in the country. Taiwan introduced two bylaws in 2007 that, he says, will go a long way in strengthening the biotech sector. Likening them to the Bayh-Dole Act of the US, Dr Wong says these laws will encourage investors to invest in this high-risk sector, allow academicians and researchers to get involved in the industry and provide tax benefits and incentives from the government to the industry. "In the last five years (since the bylaws came into effect in 2007), a lot of biotech innovation has taken place and start-ups have floated IPOs. Today, 20 candidates in Taiwan are in clinical trial phase III stage," he elaborates.
Taiwan is also boosting the agri-biotech sector to meet the market demands. "We already have a strong agricultural sector. Our orchids and tropical fruits are very popular, but there is much that can be achieved with the use of biotechnology. For example, biotechnology can be used to control diseases that affect crops."
Dr Wong, who spent many years in the US and Japan while pursuing his research, says industry-friendly policies and increased interest of multinationals in Asia Pacific, has opened the field for Taiwan. The country, he says, is also making efforts to overcome regulatory hurdles to smoothen the process of approvals from the US Food and Drug Administration and other such bodies. "One of the problems that Taiwan and China face right now is that their regulatory guidelines are not internationally accepted. We are working towards that," he says, adding that Taiwan and China are working towards having harmonized guidelines such as ICH for conducting clinical trials.