Professor Hiroaki Suga of the University of Tokyo has been awarded the 2023 Wolf Prize in chemistry, in an announcement by the foundation overseeing the award on Feb. 7, 2023.
Suga, a member of the Department of Chemistry at the Graduate School of Science, will jointly receive the prize with Professors Chuan He of the University of Chicago and Jeffery W. Kelly of the Scripps Research Institute in the U.S. The Wolf Foundation has awarded the prize for their “pioneering discoveries that illuminate the functions and pathological dysfunctions of RNA and proteins and for creating strategies to harness the capabilities of these biopolymers in new ways to ameliorate human diseases.”
The Wolf Prize has been awarded annually since 1978 by Israel’s Wolf Foundation to scientists and artists who have achieved international excellence in chemistry, agriculture, mathematics, medicine, physics and the arts. The prize includes a monetary award of $100,000.
“I am very honored to receive the prestigious Wolf Prize,” Suga said. “This award is not just for me but is shared with all past and present members of the Suga Laboratory. Without the hours, days and years of dedication they have poured into research, I would not have received this recognition. I would like to thank everyone in my lab, as well as my family, friends and colleagues for giving me this opportunity.”
The Wolf Prize recognizes Suga’s research on the “development of RNA catalysts that revolutionized the creation of bioactive peptides.” The scientist has succeeded in developing technology to create drug candidate peptides that exhibit desired biological activity, which has overturned the conventional wisdom in peptide drug discovery.
Suga’s work utilizes organic chemistry and biology approaches to develop novel drug discovery technologies. He developed the technology that uses flexizyme, an RNA-based catalyst he invented that expands the range of amino acids that can be incorporated into ribosomally synthesized peptides to produce peptides of therapeutic potential. His team also developed the RaPID selection system that can rapidly screen over a trillion macrocyclic peptides to develop peptide agents that can bind to a target protein of interest with high specificity and affinity.
His pioneering research on bioactive peptides has led to one-of-a-kind technologies that nurture companies working to help millions of patients. Suga founded two startups: PeptiDream employs the flexizyme technology and RaPID system to discover and develop constrained peptides, small molecules and peptide-drug conjugate therapeutics, where these technologies play an integral role in the extensive drug development pipeline based on artificial macrocyclic peptides; MiraBiologics has applied the RaPID system to develop the LassoGraft technology, which enables the discovery of a new class of biopharmaceuticals.
This work has been recognized with the Prime Minister’s Award, Nippon Venture Award (2016) and EY World Entrepreneur of the Year (2020), among other accolades.
Suga obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Okayama University in Japan. He then moved to the U.S. and received his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1994 and pursued postdoctoral research at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School (1994-1997). He began his independent career at the University at Buffalo (1997-2003) before joining the University of Tokyo in 2003. He became a full professor at UTokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology in 2005 and has been a professor at the Graduate School of Science since 2010.
Two other Japanese researchers have won the Wolf Prize in chemistry before: Professor Emeritus Ryoji Noyori of Nagoya University and UTokyo’s Distinguished University Professor Makoto Fujita. Special University Professor Emeritus Masatoshi Koshiba, also from UTokyo and 2002 Nobel laureate in physics, won the Wolf Prize in physics in 2000.
Other past Wolf Prize laureates from UTokyo include: Kunihiko Kodaira, Kiyoshi Ito and Mikio Sato in mathematics; Yoichiro Nambu in physics; and Fumihiko Maki in architecture.
This year’s award ceremony will be held on June 15, 2023, at Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem.