5, October 2020
Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and Briton Michael Houghton won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, the Nobel Committee announced Monday.
The three were honoured for their “decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world,” the jury said.
“The discovery of Hepatitis C virus revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives”, it added.
Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have “essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health”, the Nobel Committee said.
Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at Hepatitis C.
“For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the jury said.
“Prior to their work, the discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses had been critical steps forward,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement.
The award for work on a virus comes as the world battles the new coronavirus pandemic.
The trio will share the Nobel Prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million or €950,000).
Celebrations overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic
While the Nobel awards will go ahead as planned this year, celebrations have been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Nobel Foundation has cancelled the traditional banquet, which forms the centre-piece of the celebrations in December, replaced with a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.
They would normally receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.
This year’s winners will be invited to celebrate alongside the 2021 laureates, assuming the pandemic has eased by then.
Last year, the honour went to US researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Britain’s Peter Ratcliffe on for discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.
The winners of this year’s physics prize will be revealed on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry Prize on Wednesday. The literature prize will be announced on Thursday and the peace prize on Friday. The economics prize will wrap up the Nobel Prize season on Monday, October 12.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP & Reuters)