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.

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

The three have made a 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.

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.

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.

Because of the pandemic, the winners of this year’s Nobel Prizes will miss out on a swanky gala in Stockholm surrounded by royalty and Sweden’s glitterati, but the Nobel Foundation was determined that the awards go ahead.

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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.

Some prizes have not been given in individual years, with the most recent example being the postponement of the Literature prize in 2018 over a sex scandal.

Prizes in physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be announced later this week.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for details.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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