On Monday, US-British trio, American Harvey Alter, and Charles Rice together with Briton Michael Houghton won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.
The US-British trio was honored for its “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.
Moreover, there are around 70 million Hepatitis C infections globally and around 400,000 deaths happen every year, as per the estimate of the World Health Organization. It is characterized by poor appetite, vomiting, fatigue, and jaundice.
The highly sensitive blood tests have been discovered for the virus due to the utmost and crucial discoveries of this trio. Hepatitis C tests are now available and these have “essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health”, the Nobel Prize committee said.
Their discoveries 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.
Alter, 85, told Swedish Radio that he was surprised and shocked to receive an early morning call from the committee that said it was “mind-boggling”. “I didn’t even realize this was the day the Nobel Prizes were going to be given out,” he added. “To see so many people get cured is astounding,” he told the Nobel Foundation.
Whereas, besides the discovery of hepatitis C, the hepatitis B discovery also won the Noble medicine Prize in 1976 but the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained.
According to the Nobel committee, the hepatitis C discovery revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and “made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.”