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The Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to the trio that discovered hepatitis C

Earlier today, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists, Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice, who discovered the hepatitis C virus. The Hepatitis C virus was first discovered in 1989 and had previously been called non-A, non-B hepatitis.



a hand holding a coin: For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.


© Provided by Popular Science
For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.

Globally, an estimated 71 million people currently are infected with hepatitis C, which causes liver disease. In 2016, nearly 400,000 people died from cirrhosis and liver cancer as a result of the virus.

The first form of hepatitis, now called hepatitis A, was discovered in the 1940s, and was spread by contaminated food and water. By the 1960′s, researchers discovered another form, hepatitis B, a blood-borne liver infection. However, some patients undergoing blood transfusions were still mysteriously falling ill, thanks to a then-unknown pathogen we now know as hepatitis C, making a transfusion during this time a bit like “Russian roulette,” according to the Guardian.

Nobel-winner Alter, now at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, made the first giant leap towards uncovering hepatitis C back in the 1970′s when he isolated a third blood-borne pathogen in addition to hepatitis A and B that could transmit the disease to chimpanzees, the only other susceptible host besides humans, according to the Nobel Institute.

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Next, Houghton, who was then working for a pharmaceutical firm named Chiron, collected DNA and RNA from infected chimpanzees to try and identify the mysterious virus. Houghton and his team then put the collection of DNA into bacteria to see if any of the bacterial colonies could recreate a protein typically only created by the mysterious virus, which would lead them to the culprit causing the disease. Only one out of a million colonies were able to code the protein for the virus, and the researchers were able to show that the virus belonged to the Flavivirus family, and it was named hepatitis C. Blood tests were developed, largely knocking out any chance of the virus spreading through blood transmissions, according to Science Magazine.



a hand holding a coin: For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.


© Adam Baker
For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.

Rice, then a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, took the final step in proving that the virus alone could cause the chronic disease seen in humans by testing out genetic variants in chimpanzee livers, according to the Nobel Committee.

Now, antiviral treatments for hepatitis C can cure nearly 95 percent of infected patients. But as of five years ago, there were 23.7 new hepatitis C infections per 100,000 people according to the WHO. Activities such as injected drug use, using unsterilized medical equipment, and sexual practices that can expose a partner to blood are still common transmission avenues.

Scientists hope that this prize will bring momentum to research that’ll help rid the world of

A US-British trio wins the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus [Video]

SHOTLIST

STOCKHOLM, SWEDENOCTOBER 5, 2020SOURCE: AFPTV

1. SOUNDBITE 1 – Thomas Perlmann , Nobel Assembly secretary (male, English, 22 sec): “The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for the discover of Hepatitis C virus. “

SOLNA, SWEDEN STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN OCTOBER 5, 2020 SOURCE: AFPTV

2. Cutaway: Secretary General of the Nobel Committee Thomas Perlmann making the announcement with photos of the laureates on the screen

BETHESDA, MARYLAND, UNITED STATESOCTOBER 5, 2020SOURCE: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTHRESTRICTIONS: NO RESALEEDITORIAL USE ONLY

3. SOUNDBITE 2 – Dr. Harvey Alter, Nobel Laureate in Medicine (male, english, 16 sec): “A vaccine is still a goal, but it’s been very difficult to do – just like for HIV, it’s a highly mutable virus, and it’s very difficult to develop an effective immune response for a vaccine, but we’re still hopeful.”

UNDEFINEDOCTOBER 5, 2020SOURCE: HANDOUT / ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITYRESTRICTIONS: NO RESALE

4. SOUNDBITE 3 – Charles Rice, virologist at the Rockefeller University and co-winner of the 2020 Nobel Medicine Prize (male, English, 23 sec): “The success of these drug treatments for hepatitis C and the fact that you can actually eliminate the virus, you can actually cure people, you can get rid of it, I think has renewed enthusiasm in people to see if we couldn’t achieve that for other chronic viral infections like hepatitis B and HIV.”

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newseriesUS-British trio win Nobel Medicine Prize for Hepatitis C discovery By Pia OHLIN

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ATTENTION – ADDS Rice reax, laureates working on Covid-19 vaccine ///Stockholm, Oct 5, 2020 (AFP) – Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice together with Briton Michael Houghton won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, paving the way for a cure, the Nobel jury said.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 World Health Organization estimates there are around 70 million Hepatitis C infections globally, causing around 400,000 deaths each year. It is characterized by poor appetite, vomiting, fatigue and jaundice.Thanks to the trio’s discoveries, 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 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 the Nobel Foundation he was “in shock” after receiving an early-morning call from the committee, saying he didn’t answer the first two times.”The third time I got up angrily to answer it… and it was Stockholm,” he said.”To see so many people get cured, and nobody getting post-transfusion hepatitis, that’s astounding

U.S., British hepatitis C researchers win Nobel Prize in Medicine

Oct. 5 (UPI) — Three scientists who each played a role in finding a cure for hepatitis C have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Nobel Foundation announced Monday.

Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and Briton Michael Houghton won the 2020 prize for their separate work in battling hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease that causes cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

The disease is associated with significant morbidity and mortality and causes more than 1 million deaths per year worldwide, making it a global health threat on a scale comparable to HIV infection and tuberculosis.

The prize was announced during a ceremony at the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which awards the honor each year.

Two other types of hepatitis — A and B — had been identified earlier, but a still-unknown form had continued to affect blood transfusion patients.

In the 1970s, Alter, working at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, first showed that the condition was caused by a previously unknown, distinct virus, later named the hepatitis C virus.

Identifying the virus, however, eluded researchers for more than a decade. Houghton, then working for the Chiron Corp. in California, was able to isolate the genetic sequence of the virus in 1989, providing a key breakthrough.

With the virus identified, researchers still needed to prove that it alone was capable of causing hepatitis. Rice, a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, provided the link in 2005 after eight years of research.

The scientists’ contributions have “essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine said.

“Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C,” it added. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population.”

The Nobel Institute’s two other scientific prizes — for physics and chemistry — will be announced Tuesday and Wednesday. They will be followed by the literature prize on Thursday, the peace prize on Friday and economic sciences on Oct. 12.

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Americans and Briton win Nobel Prize in medicine for discovery of Hepatitis C virus

Researchers Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice have won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus, the committe announced on Monday.

Prior to their work, the committee said, the discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses had been critical steps forward, but the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases was still 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 statement shared by the committee said.

Alter and Rice were both born in the U.S. while Hougton was born in the U.K.

An estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, according to the World Health Organization. A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis, scarring of the liver caused by long-term liver damage, or liver cancer.

Each laureate made a significant contribution to Hepatitis C research, with much of their work dating back to the 1970s and 1980s.

The studies of transfusion-associated hepatitis conducted by Alter demonstrated that an unknown virus was a common cause of chronic hepatitis.

“To see so many people get cured is astounding,” Alter told the committee after getting the news Monday morning that he will share the prize.

Houghton worked to isolate the genome of the new virus while Rice provided the final evidence showing that Hepatitis C virus alone could cause hepatitis.

Thanks to their work, highly sensitive blood tests and antiviral treatments for the virus are now available.

“For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the committee said.

The award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1,118,000), courtesy of a bequest left 124 years ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.

The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded 110 times to 219 Nobel laureates between 1901 and 2019.

Two Americans and a Briton won the medicine prize last year for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.

This year, the medicine prize carries particular significance amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of medical research.

The pandemic has meant that the Nobel ceremonies will have a lower profile this year with many of the traditional celebrations postponed or re-jigged as digital events.

The foundation has cancelled the banquet, the highlight of the celebrations that takes place every December, and the traditional prize-giving ceremony in Stockholm’s Concert Hall will be replaced by a televised event where winners receive their prizes in their home nations.

Prizes in physics, chemistry,

Nobel prize in medicine awarded to US-UK trio for work on hepatitis C

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Two Americans and a British scientist have won the 2020 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for their groundbreaking work on blood-borne hepatitis, a health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer around the world.



a man standing in front of a flat screen television: Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Harvey J Alter at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland, Charles M Rice from Rockefeller University in New York, and Michael Houghton, a British virologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, were honoured for their joint discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a major cause of liver disease.

The award, announced on Monday by the Nobel assembly from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000), which will be shared among the winners.

“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.

Speaking of how he heard the news, Alter said he ignored the phone twice when it rang before 5am local time. “The third time I got up angrily to answer it and it was Stockholm. It’s a weird experience,” he said. “It’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had.” Rice said he was “absolutely stunned” on receiving the call, adding “it is a success story for team science.”



a man standing in front of a flat screen television: Nobel committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners, (from left) Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday.


© Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images
Nobel committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners, (from left) Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday.

The prize may prove controversial. In 2013, Houghton refused a major award for his hepatitis C work because it excluded two former co-workers, George Quo and Qui-Lim Choo who helped him identify the virus. Houghton, who received his PhD from King’s College London in 1977, said his colleagues did not get the recognition they deserved.

David Pendlebury, a citation analyst at Clarivate, a scientific data firm, said he was surprised the Nobel committee had made the award. “There’s no question about the importance of this work and the worthiness of this prize, but one assumes the Nobel committee tries to avoid controversy where possible,” he said. The award threw into high relief the perennial issue of the Nobel’s rule of three, he added, where no more than three researchers can be named for discoveries that have often been team efforts.

Houghton accepted the Nobel but said he hoped future award committees would recognise larger groups of scientists. “Great science, often, is a group of people and I think going forward we somehow need to acknowledge that,” he said.

The scientists’ work transformed the understanding and treatment of hepatitis C, a virus that infects more than 70 million people, and kills 400,000 a year, according to the World Health Organization.

In the 1940s, doctors knew there were two

Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to discoverers of hepatitis C

Three scientists won the 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause chronic inflammation of the liver, leading to severe scarring and cancer.



chart: illustration of the hepatisis C virus


© Provided by Live Science
illustration of the hepatisis C virus

The researchers Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice “made seminal discoveries that led to the identification of a novel virus, hepatitis C virus,” the Nobel Committee wrote in a statement. Two other forms of viral hepatitis — hepatitis A and B — had already been discovered at the time, but most cases of chronic hepatitis remained unexplained, they noted.

“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 committee wrote. The scientists’ award-winning work took place between the 1970s and 1990s, and enabled doctors to screen patients’ blood for the virus and cure many of the disease, Science Magazine reported. 

Related: 7 revolutionary Nobel Prizes in medicine 

The word “hepatitis” derives from the Greek words for “liver” and “inflammation,” and in addition to hepatitis viruses, the condition can arise from alcohol and drug use, bacterial infections, parasites and autoimmune disorders where the immune system attacks the liver, Live Science previously reported. Hepatitis A and E typically cause short-term illness and are transmitted through food or water contaminated with fecal matter. Hepatitis B and C, on the other hand, can lead to chronic infections and are transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. 

Physician and geneticist Baruch Blumberg won the 1976 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for first identifying hepatitis B, a discovery that led to both diagnostic tests for the virus and a successful vaccine, the committee wrote. However, even after this discovery, many cases of chronic hepatitis continued to crop up in patients who received blood transfusions, hinting that a second blood-borne virus might also cause the disease.

Alter found that the illness, which he called “non-A, non-B” hepatitis, could be transmitted from humans to chimpanzees through blood and had the characteristics of a virus. Houghton later led work to clone the virus and named it hepatitis C. Rice examined the virus’s genetic material, known as RNA, and performed genetic engineering experiments to learn how the pathogen causes hepatitis in chimps and humans. These experiments revealed that some forms of the virus do not cause disease, but an “active” form with specific genetic characteristics does. 

Collectively, the three scientists’ discoveries led to the development of highly sensitive blood tests and antiviral drugs for hepatitis C; the new treatments can cure about 95% of hepatitis C patients, Science Magazine reported. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the Nobel Committee wrote. 

That said, about 71 million people still live with chronic hepatitis C infections, worldwide, and the World Health Organization estimates that 400,000 people died

Nobel prize in medicine awarded to US-UK trio for work on hepatitis C | Science

Two Americans and a British scientist have been awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for their groundbreaking work on blood-borne hepatitis, a health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer around the world.

Harvey J Alter at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland, Charles M Rice from Rockefeller University in New York, and Michael Houghton, a British virologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, were honoured for their joint discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a major cause of liver disease.

The award may prove controversial as Houghton recently turned down a major prize because it excluded two co-workers at the pharmaceutical firm Chiron who helped him identify the virus. In 2013, he refused the Canada Gairdner international award sometimes known as the “baby Nobel” because it did not recognise the work of his former colleagues George Quo and Qui-Lim Choo.

After reluctantly accepting the prestigious Lasker award in 2000, Houghton, who received his PhD from King’s College London in 1977, said his co-workers did not get the recognition they deserved and decided “I really shouldn’t do this any more.”

David Pendlebury, a citation analyst at Clarivate, a scientific data firm, said he was surprised the Nobel committee made the award knowing it would be problematic. “There’s no question about the importance of this work and the worthiness of this prize, but one assumes the Nobel committee tries to avoid controversy where possible,” he said.

The difficulty, he said, threw into high relief the perennial issue of the Nobel’s rule of three, where no more than three researchers can be named for discoveries that have often been team efforts.

The award, announced on Monday by the Nobel assembly from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000), to be shared among the winners.

At a press briefing after the announcement, Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel committee, told reporters he had told Alter and Rice the news by telephone but had not reached Houghton. Alter said he ignored the phone twice when it rang before 5am local time. “The third time I got up angrily to answer it and it was Stockholm. It’s a weird experience,” he said. “It’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had.”

The scientists’ work transformed the understanding and treatment of hepatitis C. The virus infects more than 70 million people, with 400,000 dying each year from related conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

In the 1940s, doctors knew there were two main types of infectious hepatitis. The first, transmitted by the hepatitis A virus, spread via contaminated food and water and tended to have little long-term impact on people. The second, spread by blood and body fluids, was more insidious. Patients could be silently infected for years before serious complications emerged – liver cancer and liver scarring known as cirrhosis.

Researchers discovered hepatitis B in the 1960s, but it quickly became clear that it was not the only cause of the

Nobel Prize in medicine awarded for discovery of hepatitis C

Years later, British-born virologist Michael Houghton — then working for the pharmaceutical company Chiron — found a way to clone the virus and identified antibodies created against it by the host’s immune system; this led to the development of screening mechanisms to eliminate the virus in the blood supply. Through genetic analysis, then-Washington University in St. Louis researcher Charles M. Rice characterized the virus and set scientists on a path to finding a cure.

Hepatitis C, which is often transmitted through blood transfusions, causes severe inflammation of the liver and is blamed for 400,000 deaths annually.

The Nobel Committee called the three researchers’ work “a landmark achievement in our battle against viral infections.”

“It’s hard to find something that is of such benefit to mankind as what we are awarding this year,” said Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee. “This discovery … has led to improvements for millions of people around the world.”

Hepatitis viruses come in two main forms: hepatitis A, which is transmitted through contaminated water or food and is rarely deadly; and hepatitis B and C, which are carried in blood and bodily fluids and can be far more dangerous. The latter viruses are “insidious,” the Nobel Committee said, because they can linger for years in the blood of an apparently healthy person before erupting into a dangerous disease.

Before these Nobel-winning discoveries, the world had struggled to control these blood-borne pathogens. Geneticist Baruch Blumberg discovered hepatitis B in the 1960s (and was awarded a Nobel the following decade). But patients who received blood transfusions were still coming down with severe liver disease, even after the donor blood had been screened for the hepatitis B virus.

“The situation was becoming alarming,” said Nobel Committee member Gunilla Karlsson-Hedestam. “Because the disease was silent but progressive, it was impossible to know who of all the apparently healthy blood donors were carriers of the disease.”

Alter, who had worked with Blumberg, spearheaded a new NIH project to create a storehouse of blood samples, which could be used to uncover the causes of the transfusion-associated disease. He also tracked people who developed hepatitis after receiving a blood transfusion. His work showed that most illnesses weren’t caused by the A or B virus but “another infectious agent,” Karlsson-Hedestam said.

In 1978, Alter showed that plasma from patients carrying this unknown form of hepatitis could transmit the disease to chimpanzees. A dangerous new virus was clearly hiding in human blood.

But much about the pathogen remained unknown — a fact that frustrated Alter so much he was moved to write poetry. “No antigen or DNA / No little test to mark its way,” he wrote in 1988.

“… Oh GREAT LIVER in the sky

Show us where and tell us why

Send us thoughts that will inspire us.

Let us see this elusive virus.”

The answer to Alter’s lament would come not from a “great liver in the sky” but from Houghton, the British scientist.

From the blood of an infected chimpanzee,

Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Scientists Who Discovered Hepatitis C

Numerous life saving treatments have also been developed for the hepatitis C virus, many of which are in regular use today. When available, hepatitis C antivirals can block the virus from multiplying in the body, and can cure people of the infection in weeks. Researchers around the world are now at work on a vaccine that could prevent future hepatitis C virus infections and disease.

“For the longest time, we had nothing to treat this virus with,” said Dr. Guadalupe Garcia Tsao, a cirrhosis expert at Yale University. Preventing the disease, she added, was also nearly impossible without accurate tests. “For most of my career, it was the bane of my existence. But from the moment they made these discoveries, the numbers of sick people went down dramatically.”

Even hepatitis C drugs that originally failed to clear the approval pipeline have found new use in modern times: Remdesivir, one of only a handful of treatments with emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to treat severely sick Covid-19 patients, was originally developed as an antiviral against the hepatitis C virus.

“That’s really the story of investing in basic science, and having it pay off later down the road,” said Stephanie Langel, a virologist and immunologist at Duke University.

Dr. Alter, an American, is a medical researcher for the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Born in 1935 in New York, he earned a medical degree at the University of Rochester before joining the N.I.H. in 1961.

Dr. Rice, born in Sacramento in 1952, is a professor at Rockefeller University in New York. From 2001 to 2018, he was the scientific and executive director at the Center for the Study of Hepatitis C. He earned his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1981.

In an interview Monday morning, Dr. Rice described the utter shock he felt at receiving the early morning phone call notifying him of the award.

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Virus-hunting trio wins Nobel for Hepatitis C discovery

Nobel Committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, (L-R) American Harvey Alter, Briton Michael Houghton and American Charles Rice, during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 5, 2020.

Jonathan Nackstrand | AFP | Getty Images

Two Americans and a Briton won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Medicine on Monday for identifying the Hepatitis C virus, in work spanning decades that has helped to limit the spread of the fatal disease and develop antiviral drugs to cure it.

The discoveries by scientists Harvey Alter, Charles Rice and Briton Michael Houghton meant there was now a chance of eradicating the Hepatitis C virus, which causes cirrhosis and liver cancer, the award-giving body said.

The three share the 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) award for discovering and proving that a blood-borne virus could cause Hepatitis C, which afflicts 78 million people every year and causes 400,000 deaths.

“Before the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus it was a bit like Russian roulette to get a blood transfusion,” Nobel Committee member Nils-Goran Larsson said of the award.

“It has benefited millions of people that now can have a safe blood transfusion and safe blood products.”

Nominations for this year’s award preceded the global spread of the new coronavirus pandemic, but the choice of winners recognizes the importance of identifying a virus as the first step in winning the battle against a new disease, said Thomas Perlmann, secretary general of the Nobel Assembly.

Perlmann said he had managed to reach Alter and Rice early in their day in the United States. “They were really surprised, happy and speechless,” he told reporters.

It’s the second Nobel Prize for Medicine to be awarded for hepatitis research after Baruch Blumberg won in 1976 for determining that one form of blood-borne hepatitis was caused by a virus that came to be known as Hepatitis B. Hepatitis A, which is easily treated, is transmitted by contaminated water or food.

Three steps

The shared prize recognizes research dating back to the 1960s when Alter, who was working at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that liver disease could be spread by blood transfusions that weren’t caused by Hepatitis A or B.

It was a team led by Houghton, then working for pharmaceuticals firm Chiron, who was able in the mid-1980s to create a clone of a new virus from fragments found in the blood of an infected chimpanzee.

This virus, belonging to the Flavivirus family, was named Hepatitis C. Its identification made it possible to develop tests to screen blood bank supplies and greatly reduce the spread of the disease.

The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle came when Rice, then at Washington University in St Louis, was able to use genetic engineering to generate a version of the Hepatitis C virus and demonstrate that it alone could cause symptoms in a chimpanzee comparable to an infection