Nobel Prize for medicine awarded to trio who discovered Hepatitis C virus

The Nobel Committee announced Monday that three scientists will split the 2020 Nobel Price for Physiology or Medicine for their joint discovery of the virus that causes Hepatitis C, a blood-borne illness that damages the liver. The three scientists — Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice plus Michael Houghton of Britain — built on the discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses, the Nobel Committee said, and their “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 discovery of the Hepatitis C virus allowed for sensitive tests that have “essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” and “also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at Hepatitis C,” the committee explained. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population.”

Alter, Rice, and Houghton will split the $1.1 million award. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s laureates will be awarded their prizes in televised ceremonies in their home countries, then invited to celebrate at the traditional banquet in Stockholm alongside the 2021 laureates, assuming the pandemic is sufficiently contained.

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