Gunilla Karlsson Hedestam (R), member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Nobel Committee member Patrik Ernfors sit in front of a screen displaying the names of the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 5, 2020. – Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice as well as Briton Michael Houghton win the 2020 Nobel Medicine Prize. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

by Pia OHLIN

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AFP) — Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice together with Briton Michael Houghton won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, the Nobel jury said.

The three were honored 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,” the jury 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”, the Nobel committee said.

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 jury said.

The award for work on a virus comes as the world battles the new coronavirus pandemic.

The trio will share the Nobel prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million, 950,000 euros).

They would normally receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.

But the in-person ceremony has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, replaced with a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.

Last year, the honour went to US researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Britain’s Peter Ratcliffe on for discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.

The winners of this year’s physics prize will be revealed on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry Prize on Wednesday.

The literature prize will be announced on Thursday and the peace prize on Friday, with speculation that Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and other climate activists or press freedom groups could get the nod for the latter.

The economics prize will wrap up the Nobel prize season on Monday, October 12

© Agence France-Presse