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Medicine Nobel Prize 2015
Oct 08, 2015

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 was divided, one half jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites and the other half to Youyou Tu for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria.

William C. Campbell is a microbiologist at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey; Satoshi Omura is a microbiologist at Kitasato University in Japan and Youyou Tu is a pharmacologist at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing.

In the 1970s, Campbell and Omura discovered a class of compounds, called Avermectins that kill parasitic roundworms that cause infections such as river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. The most potent of these was released onto the market in 1981 as the drug Ivermectin.

  • Working in Japan, Omura isolated strains of a group of soil bacteria called Streptomyces that were known to have antimicrobial properties. In 1974, he pulled a promising organism out of soil near a golf course, and sent it, along with others, to a team led by Campbell at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research in Rahway, New Jersey.

  • Campbell’s team isolated Avermectins from the bacterial cultures and tweaked the structure of one of the most promising compounds to develop it into a drug—Ivermectin. In 1987, Merck announced that it would donate the drug to anyone who needed it for treatment of Ochocerciasis (River Blindness). A decade later, the firm began giving away the drug to treat lymphatic filariasis. Each year, Merck gives away some 270 million treatments of the drug. 

  • Tu developed the antimalarial drug artemisinin in the late 1960s and 1970s. She is the first China-based scientist to win a science Nobel. In the 1960s, the main treatments for malaria were Chloroquine and Quinine, but they were proving increasingly ineffective. So in 1967, China established a national project against malaria to discover new therapies. Tu and her team screened more than 2,000 Chinese herbal remedies to search for drugs with antimalarial activity. An extract from the wormwood plant Artemisia annua proved especially effective and by 1972, the researchers had isolated chemically pure Artemisinin.


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