Kyoto Prize winner to reflect on life

Go away, your idea is ridiculous.

Robert LangerThat’s what fellow engineers told Robert Langer in the 1970s when he proposed a novel way to slowly release cancer drugs into the body. He was a postdoc in the lab of renowned Boston surgeon Judah Folkman. But engineers didn’t like Folkman’s anti-cancer ideas, either.

They weren’t quite pariahs. But no one was listening.

Folkman pressed on. So did Langer. Time would prove both of them right in the fight against cancer. Langer, who joined the MIT faculty, is now considered to be the father of drug delivery technology, helping with everything from controlled-release cancer drugs to transdermal patches for people trying to quit smoking.

Langer, 66, also helped pioneer tissue engineering, the subject of many of the 1,300 academic papers he has published. That’s more than twice the number of papers published by most top chemical engineers. Langer is the most cited engineer in history, and he has founded or co-created a couple of dozen biotech companies.

Last year, his body of work earned him the Kyoto Prize, Japan’s highest private honor for global achievement. He was honored for advanced technology. The Kyoto Prize also was given to American physicist Ed Witten for his work in mathematical sciences, and to Japan’s Fukumi Shimura for art that celebrates nature and the human spirit.