Nobel prizes go to work in parasitic remedies

Oct 05, 2015, 5:27 PM EDT
Satoshi Omura (L), professor of Kitasato University, attends a press conference after winning the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine, at the Kitasato campus in Tokyo on October 5, 2015

Three scientists, one from the U.S., one from Japan, and one from China have been awarded Nobel prizes in medicine for their work in seeking natural-based remedies for parasitic diseases including malaria and river blindness. William Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu share the prize. The Washington Post writes:

William Campbell’s eu­reka moment came in 1975, as he was testing a new medicine to fight parasites in domestic and farm animals. The Irish-born scientist realized a parasitic worm in horses bore an amazing resemblance to the parasite that causes river blindness in humans.
It was a simple connection, almost too good to be true, and so he allowed himself only a moment’s excitement. “We’d see other [drugs] rise and fall,” Campbell, now 85, recalled in an interview Monday. “The probabilities are overwhelming that the whole thing is going to fall apart. Most drug candidates don’t ever reach the marketplace.”
In the end, a form of the drug that Campbell and others developed succeeded where previous treatments had failed. Their work resulted in a sharp decline of river blindness, a parasitic infection that has blinded tens of millions of people in Africa, Latin America and other poverty-stricken countries. It also helped reduce the incidence of filariasis, another parasitic disease that can result in elephantiasis, a painful and disfiguring swelling in the legs and lower body.
Three scientists who discovered natural-based remedies against parasites that cause malaria and river blindness won the Nobel Prize of Medicine on Monday.
The compounds - called artemisinin and ivermectin - are used by millions of people around the world and have saved countless lives. Ivermectin -which now is used to fight pests from bed bugs and lice to serious diseases such as lymphatic filariasis - was derived from naturally occurring bacteria in soil.
The winners -- from Japan, China and the United States -- worked separately to find medicines that were synthesized into powerful and effective drugs.
"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 Nobel committee said.
Arteminisin, used to fight the malaria parasite, comes from a plant. Ivermectin was developed from a soil bacteria.