This year’s Nobel Prize is awarded to three scientists who have made a 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.
Harvey J. Alter of the National Institutes of Health, Michael Houghton of the University of Alberta and Charles M. Rice of Rockefeller University made seminal discoveries that led to the identification of a novel virus, Hepatitis C virus.
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 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.
The Nobel Laureates’ discovery of Hepatitis C virus is a landmark achievement in the ongoing battle against viral diseases. 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 Hepatitis C virus from the world population. To achieve this goal, international efforts facilitating blood testing and making antiviral drugs available across the globe will be required.
The discoveries by the three Nobel laureates allowed the design of sensitive blood tests that have eliminated the risk of transfusion-transmitted hepatitis in a large part of the world. This breakthrough also enabled the development of antiviral drugs that can cure the disease. Hepatitis C remains a major global health concern, but the opportunity now exists to eliminate the disease.
The 2020 Nobel Prizes bring a cash award of 10 million Swedish krona ($1.12 million), which is shared if more than one laureate is named.