Today the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two scientists for the discovery of a drug that treats two common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
William Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura were honored for their work developing a new class of anti-parasitic drugs. The prize was shared with Tu Youyou for her discovery of a new malaria drug. The Nobel committee noted, “The global impact of their discoveries and the resulting benefit to mankind are immeasurable.”
Ōmura isolated a promising soil bacteria he found in a Japanese golf course, from which William C. Campbell discovered a component that proved remarkably effective against parasites. The component, named Avermectin, was subsequently chemically modified to be even more effective and called Ivermectin.
Great progress has been made through annual mass treatment with the drug. Last year, more than 270 million treatments were donated to people in impoverished communities to treat onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (or elephantiasis). Some areas are now close to interrupting transmission and eliminating these two devastating NTDs which lead to blindness and debilitating swelling.
We celebrate the scientific discovery that made this possible and honor and applaud the efforts of all those who contribute to the fight against NTDs — from the companies that donate the medicine and the community volunteers who distribute it to the donors who sustain these programs.
After the discovery of the bacterial compound, it took decades to mass produce and secure the donation of Ivermectin. But in the next five years we can protect millions from onchocerciasis and eliminate lymphatic filariasis around the world by ensuring those in need have access to this Nobel Prize-winning drug.