Updated on 5 October 2015
This year's Nobel Laureates have developed therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases. Dr William C. Campbell and Dr Satoshi Ōmura discovered a new drug, Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, as well as showing efficacy against an expanding number of other parasitic diseases.
At the same time, Dr Youyou Tu discovered Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from Malaria. These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.
The discoveries of Avermectin and Artemisinin have revolutionized therapy for patients suffering from devastating parasitic diseases. Therefore, it is beyond any doubt that Dr Campbell, Dr Ōmura and Dr Tu have transformed the treatment of parasitic diseases. Rightly so, the Nobel Prize 2015 jury decided to honor them with the Nobel Prize 2015 in physiology or medicine for doing amazing work that will have tremendous benefits for millions.
After decades of limited progress in developing durable therapies for parasitic diseases, the discoveries by this year's Laureates radically changed the situation. Satoshi Ōmura, a Japanese microbiologist and expert in isolating natural products, focused on a group of bacteria, Streptomyces, which lives in the soil and was known to produce a plethora of agents with antibacterial activities (including Streptomycin discovered by Selman Waksman, Nobel Prize 1952).
Equipped with extraordinary skills in developing unique methods for large-scale culturing and characterization of these bacteria, Ōmura isolated new strains of Streptomyces from soil samples and successfully cultured them in the laboratory. From many thousand different cultures, he selected about 50 of the most promising, with the intent that they would be further analyzed for their activity against harmful microorganisms.