Today’s award of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine marks an important milestone for research on infectious diseases of poverty. The award was shared by researchers identifying novel therapies for infections caused by roundworm parasites and malaria.
William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura shared a prize for her discovery of the drug, avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, as well as showing efficacy against a number of other parasitic diseases.
Youyou Tu was awarded the Nobel Prize for her contribution to the discovery of artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from malaria.
The Nobel Prize Committee said, “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.”
TDR Director John Reeder said, “This is a very important recognition for a number of reasons. First of all, it is about the excellent science that was conducted to achieve these discoveries. But it is also about addressing the needs of people in low- and middle-income countries whose health has not been adequately prioritized or funded at the appropriate level. These awards show the positive and extensive impact of research on global health.”
One discovery leads to a full range of research
In both cases, there was an immense movement that took place after the discovery – to lead clinical trials to test the drugs, test packaging, and even develop new systems to deliver the drugs. So it required a full pipeline of research from discovery to product development to implementation. A range of partnerships – international, regional and national – were initiated to support this work and build the research capacity needed in the countries where the diseases were prevalent.
“This is a very important recognition. Historically, these diseases have not been prioritized or funded at the appropriate level. These awards show the positive and extensive impact of research.”
John Reeder, TDR Director
TDR played a role in both these compounds. It supported local researchers to run the clinical trials and to develop a community-based approach to treatment delivery.
Today, artemisinin compounds are the mainstay of malaria treatment and used in combination therapy to reduce the risk of the development of resistance. All countries with P. falciparum malaria have adopted artemisinin-based combination therapies as first-line treatment for malaria and have made these medicines available in the public sector. Since 2000, more than 1 billion artemisinin-based treatment courses have been administered to malaria patients, which has contributed to the successful control of malaria .in several endemic countries.
For onchocerciasis, more than 98 million people in 31 sub Saharan African countries now receive annual treatments of ivermectin, which resulted from the discovery of avermectin. Before this, whole regions of Africa were blinded or severely disfigured from onchocerciasis.
More research capacity in the affected countries
However, both onchocerciasis and malaria control and elimination rely heavily on these two products, discovered decades ago and are vulnerable to parasite resistance. “I would like to see more international awards dedicated to the discovery of treatments for other diseases of poverty,”
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