he Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been jointly awarded to British scientist Michael Houghton and the Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus.
The Nobel Committee praised the trio for helping explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that could not be explained by the Hepatitis A and B viruses.
Their work makes possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives, the committee said.
Announcing the prize in Stockholm on Monday, they said: “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 committee added: “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 World Health Organisation estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year. The disease is chronic and a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.
The prestigious prize took on particular significance this year during to the coronavirus pandemic given how critical medical research has been to policymakers.
It comes with a gold medal and prize money of £867,000.
The award is the first of six prizes being announced between now and October 12.
The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.