IBC History

The preparatory office for the Academia Sinica Institute of Biological Chemistry (IBC) was established on February 1, 1970. In March of the following year, a consulting committee was formed with Dr. Choh Hao Li elected to serve as the Chair. Later in 1971, the committee set two significant goals: (1) As the long-term objective, the Institute would devote its primary effort to the study of biologically active proteins. (2) To locate the Institute on the National Taiwan University (NTU) campus thus cross-fertilizing teaching and basic research with the Institute of Biochemical Sciences (IBS). In February 1973, the IBC preparatory office signed an agreement with the IBS to collaborate on the study of protein biochemistry. Construction of the IBC building on the NTU campus began in March 1973 and was completed in April 1977. IBC became a formal institute on July 1, 1977. In the succeeding years, the numbers of research personnel, including postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, increased substantially.

From 1975–1986, IBC/IBS progressed steadily under the guidance of two Directors, Drs. Tung- Bin Lo and Kung-Tsung Wang. Starting with 10–14 Principal Investigators, half of them paid by IBS and the other half by IBC, research was largely focused on elapid snake venom toxins and fish pituitary hormones. Meanwhile, other investigators studied plant and microbial enzymes. Equipped with key instrumentation, the Institute excelled in research involving protein purification, amino acid sequence analysis, biophysical studies of proteins and peptide synthesis. Dr. Lo was an expert on pituitary hormone research and an excellent teacher of protein science, while Dr. Wang was an excellent mentor in analytical biochemistry and bioorganic synthesis. During their terms, they developed good systems for the management of IBC/IBS and its service labs. Over the course of their directorships, IBC/IBS played important roles in biochemical education and protein research in Taiwan, coordinated several international symposia on protein biochemistry in Taipei, and maintained the membership of the Taiwan Biochemical Society, in the International Union of Biochemistry (IUB later, IUBMB). IBC/IBS also collaborated with investigators in the NTU Departments of Pharmacology, Chemistry and Agricultural Chemistry, to support graduate and undergraduate teaching of biochemistry.

Dr. Wen-Chan Chang served as IBC director from 1986–1991. During his tenure, he invited more IBC Principal Investigators to join IBS, and generated additional institutional funding and more assistant slots from Academia Sinica to support each research group. Gradually, IBC/IBS used more molecular biology tools to study pituitary hormones, snake toxins and other proteins. At the same time, the areas of the Institute’s research expanded considerably and diversified to move beyond the original scope of protein biochemistry into the areas of bio-organic chemistry, protein engineering, developmental biology and molecular/cell biology.

However, the limited space in the building at NTU became a problem for institutional expansion. Thus, in 1990, IBC developed a plan for the construction of a second building on the Nangang campus of Academia Sinica. Director Chang was responsible for choosing the best building design and the architecture team. However, he took a sabbatical leave soon after the construction started and Dr. Jong-Chin Su, a biochemist and plant physiologist, served as IBC director for two and a half years. His deputy director, Dr. Inn-Ho Tsai, and several IBC investigators helped to supervise the construction of the new IBC building between 1992 and 1994.

In 1995, the majority of the Institute’s research groups moved to the new building in Nangang. However, the relationship with IBS was maintained through some IBC Principal Investigators keeping their laboratories on the NTU campus, a practice that continues to this day. This relationship has been further strengthened by IBS faculty having joint appointments in IBC and vice-versa.

As hoped for, the construction of the new building in Nangang allowed for an expansion of Institute research activities including new programs in immunology, vaccine biology and the study of receptor–ligand interactions. Another important addition was the establishment of a program in molecular and cellular glycoscience to study the structure, function, and biosynthesis of glycoproteins and glycolipids. The director at that time, Dr. Darrell Liu, jumpstarted this program by the successful recruitment of two prominent Japanese glycoscientists, Drs. Yasuo Inoue and Sadako Inoue. The IBC glycoscience research program has grown rapidly through the hiring of several outstanding investigators and it is now a core strength of the Institute.

Starting in 2000, in response to new challenges arising in the post-genomics era, a major focus in IBC has been structural biology and functional proteomics. Led by Dr. Andrew H.-J. Wang, who served as Director from 2000–2006, these activities were readily integrated into existing research programs and key infrastructure in X-ray crystallography and mass spectrometry was established to allow studies of the structure and function of biologically-relevant proteins. A biophysics core was also created. Expansion of structural biology research continued under the leadership of Director Dr. Ming-Daw Tsai (2006–2014). These efforts have culminated in the creation of the Academia Sinica CryoEM Center, an Academia Sinica-level facility, the founding of which was led by IBC Principal Investigators and Dr. Tsai in particular. In addition to the establishment of IBC as an international hub for structural biology, key achievements between 2000 and 2014 were the recruitment of new Principal Investigators in diverse research areas (structural biology, cell biology, post-translational modifications, microbiology) and a significant increase in the international visibility of the Institute’s research programs.

From 2014–2017, Dr. Ching-Shih Chen, a medicinal chemist, served as the IBC Director. During this period, in addition to pursuing high-impact research, there was an expansion of activities related to translational development that were initiated during the directorships of Drs. Andrew H.-J. Wang and Ming-Daw Tsai. Notable among these activities is the currently operating Taiwan Protein Project (TPP) and a predecessor program, the National Research Program for Genomic Medicine (NRPGM). The goals of TPP, like the NRPGM before it, is to support the development of the Taiwan biotechnology industry through facilitating protein-related research in academia and industry.

In August 2017, Dr. Kay-Hooi Khoo, an internationally-recognized glycoscientist and Distinguished Research Fellow in the Institute, was appointed as Acting Director. During this time IBC research was grouped into three pillars – chemistry, biology and structural biology – with research activities largely focused in four areas: Mechanism-Based Drug Discovery, Glycoscience, Post-Translational Modifications in Physiology and Disease and Membrane Dynamics. Starting in July 2019 another glycoscientist, Dr. Todd L. Lowary, was recruited to be the Director and Institute research continues in these same areas.

Over the course of its history, IBC has played an important role in the life science community of Taiwan, especially with regard to the structure and function of post-translationally modified proteins. This area will form the basis of future growth of the Institute with further enhancement of existing strengths through targeted recruitment of new Principal Investigators. Further increasing the international impact and visibility of IBC is a major focus.