Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine 2020 awarded for work on hepatitis C

Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice have been jointly awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their work on the hepatitis C virus in the 1970s-90s.

The Nobel Committee awarded the prize for the scientists’ “decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis”, which led to the identification of hepatitis C, making possible the effective tests and treatment we have access to today. Alter, an American scientist, proved the existence of a previously unknown form of hepatitis by studying people developing liver complications after blood transfusions in the 1970s, termed “non-A, non-B” hepatitis, while Houghton successfully isolated the genome of the new virus which was then named “hepatitis C”. Finally, Rice proved that hepatitis C was the sole cause of the cases of transfusion-mediated liver inflammation through genetic engineering.

Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We are thrilled the Nobel Prize committee has chosen to recognise the significant medical breakthrough that was identifying hepatitis C. Thanks to the work of these three scientists, millions of lives have been saved, and we have seen incredible progress on testing and treating hepatitis C, including the development of direct-acting antiviral medication, leading to a global commitment to achieve elimination.

“Now that we have the means to eliminate this virus, the UK must ensure it reaches the World Health Organization target to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030 and in doing so save thousands of lives. We hope the recognition of these landmark achievements will raise awareness of hepatitis C around the world.”