Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to trio behind hepatitis C discovery
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2020 has been awarded to a trio of scientists for their pioneering work concerning the hepatitis C virus. The researchers’ work was instrumental in first identifying the novel virus and then enabling testing methods and drugs that saved millions of lives, now raising hopes of complete eradication, according to the Nobel Assembly.
The recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine are Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice, whose work on the hepatitis C virus spans decades, and can be traced back to the 1970s.
Tests had been developed to identify hepatitis A and B, but a large number of patients continued to present with an unexplained form of blood-borne hepatitis, which drives inflammation in the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and cancer.
It wasn’t until around a decade later, in 1989, that the scientists were able to finally isolate the genetic sequence of the hepatitis C virus, using DNA fragments from an infected chimpanzee and patient sera. Follow up investigations showed that the virus could replicate and cause the pathological changes characteristic of the disease.
Once the virus had been discovered, the groundwork had been laid for the development of highly sensitive blood tests to detect it, along with antiviral drugs to combat it. While these advances greatly improved global health, hundreds of thousands still die every year from hepatitis C, according to the World Health Organization. But we are better placed than ever to work towards elimination, according to the Nobel Assembly.
"For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the Assembly said in a statement. “To achieve this goal, international efforts facilitating blood testing and making antiviral drugs available across the globe will be required.”
The award ceremony can be viewed below.