The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine 2020 was on Monday awarded jointly to Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M. Rice and British scientist Michael Houghton for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.
Alter, Houghton and Rice made seminal discoveries that led to the identification of the Hepatitis C virus, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet said.
Prior to their work, the discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses had been critical steps forward, but the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained.
The discovery of the 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.
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.
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 the Hepatitis C virus from the world population.
The WHO estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis globally leading to 400,000 deaths every year.
Alter is associated with the US National Institutes of Health, Rice with Rockefeller University, while Houghton, who was born in Britain is associated with the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
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