Three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering the hepatitis C virus, something that affects millions of people and is a major source of liver disease.
Scientists Harvey J. Alter, Charles M. Rice and Michael Houghton jointly won the prize for their work, the Associated Press reported. The Nobel Committee reportedly said that the scientists’ work has “saved millions of lives.” (RELATED: Donald Trump Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize Over UAE-Israel Peace Deal)
For the first time in history, the Hepatitis C virus can now be cured. The 2020 Medicine Laureates’ discoveries revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.#NobelPrize pic.twitter.com/hqJK1uWX3u
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 5, 2020
“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,” the committee said, according to the report. “Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C.”
“For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the committee added, per AP.
Hepatitis C causes around 400,000 deaths each year according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. Globally, there are over 70 million cases.
Alter said that it took decades of work to discover the hepatitis C virus. (RELATED: Fake Nobel Prize Winner Blasts Museum For Ties To Billionaire Climate Skeptic)
“It’s so kind of other-worldly,” Alter told the Associated Press. “It’s something you don’t think will ever happen and sometimes you don’t think you deserve it to happen and it happens.”
“In this crazy COVID year where everything is turned upside down, this is another nice upside down for me,” he said.
Rice told the Associated Press that when he first got the call from the Nobel Prize committee, he thought it was a prank call. He said at Monday press conference that “winning a prize is one thing,” but the “the greatest reward” was being able to see people be successfully treated with drugs to eliminate hepatitis C.
In total, six Nobel prizes will be announced through Oct. 12 recognizing achievement in physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics. Prize winners receive a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor, which is equivalent to over $1,118,000.