Nobel Prize for hepatitis C discovery

Burnet Institute

06 October, 2020

Burnet Institute joins the global health and medical research community, and hepatology research in particular, in congratulating Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries that led to the identification of hepatitis C virus.

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet acknowledged the scientists 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”.

“Prior to their work, the discovery of the hepatitis A and B viruses had been critical steps forward, but the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained,” the Nobel committee said.

“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.”

Professor Heidi Drummer, Burnet Institute Program Director, Disease Elimination, said Alter, Houghton and Rice’s research has saved millions of lives globally.

“Their discoveries paved the way for the development of diagnostic tests to screen blood products and identify people infected with hepatitis C virus, and for the development of curative therapies,” Professor Drummer said.

“Seventy-one million people are living with hepatitis C and 400,000 people continue to die every year.

“The missing piece in the puzzle is a vaccine to prevent new infections and reinfections in those who have been cured, and we continue our work inspired by this announcement.”

Burnet Deputy Director (Programs), Professor Margaret Hellard AM described Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice as giants in their field.

“Their magnificent contribution has led to the development of diagnostics and cures for hepatitis C that now make the elimination of this disease possible,” Professor Hellard said.

Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice are attached to the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland and Rockefeller University in New York respectively, while Michael Houghton is a British virologist at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Burnet Institute was recently acknowledged by The Australian newspaper as the top institution in the nation for gastroenterology and hepatology with the most citations in the past five years across all major journals.

Find out more about Burnet’s life-saving research into viral hepatitis.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Heidi E Drummer

Program Director, Disease Elimination; Scientific Director, Burnet Diagnostics Initiative; Head, Global Health Diagnostics Development Laboratory; Co-Head, Drummer/Poumbourios Laboratory




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