Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice, as well as British scientist Michael Houghton, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
The Nobel Committee noted in its announcement Monday from Stockholm that the work of the three scientists helped to clarify an origin of hepatitis that could not be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses. Their work made possible diagnostic blood tests and new drugs that have saved millions of lives, according to the committee.
“Thanks to their discovery, extremely sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available, and these have virtually eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, significantly improving global health,” the committee said.
“Its discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs targeting hepatitis C”they added.
“For the first time in history, now the disease can be cured, raising hopes of eradicating the hepatitis C virus from the world population ”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are some 70 million hepatitis patients in the world and 400,000 people die each year from the disease, which is chronic and is a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.
The prestigious accolade is accompanied by a gold medal and a cash prize of SEK 10 million (about $ 1,118,000), courtesy of a concession left 124 years ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The figure was recently increased to adjust for inflation.
The medicine award begins a week of announcements in which the winners of the other categories are published: physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.