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Nobel prize shared by scientists for parasitic disease drug discoveries

The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been split two ways and shared by three scientists for developing therapies for the treatment of parasitic disease.

William Campbell, an expert in parasite biology working in the United States, and Satoshi Ōmura, a microbiologist from Japan, have been recognised for their discovery of the drug avermectin and its derivative ivermectin.

Campbell and Ōmura’s work has “radically lowered” the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis which has had an “immeasurable” impact on global health, according to the Nobel Prize Assembly in Stockholm, Sweden. “Treatment is so successful that these diseases are on the verge of being eradicated, which would be a major feat in the medical history of humankind,” it says.

The two scientists share the award with Youyou Tu from China, chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, for her discovery that artemisinin was highly effective against the malaria parasite. The disease annually claims around 450,000 lives — mostly children — and some 3.4 billion people are at risk from it.

Artemisinin, when used in combination therapy, has reduced malaria mortality by more than 20% in all patients and by more than 30% in children.

According to the Nobel Assembly, the two drug discoveries have “provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases”.

“Campbell, Ōmura and Tu have transformed the treatment of parasitic disease,” says the Nobel Prize Assembly. “The global impact of their discoveries and the resulting benefit to mankind are immeasurable.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069488

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