Stockholm, AFP – Three scientists have earned the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine for unlocking revolutionary treatments for malaria and roundworm, helping to roll back two parasitic diseases that blight millions of lives.
Tu Youyou of China won half of the award for her work on artemisinin, an anti-malarial drug based on ancient Chinese herbal medicine, the Nobel jury announced on Monday.
She is the first Chinese woman national to win a Nobel prize in science, and only the 12th woman to win the medicine prize among the 210 laureates honoured since 1901.
Irish-born William Campbell and Satoshi Omura of Japan shared the other half for an anti-roundworm treatment dubbed avermectin, derived from soil-dwelling bacteria.
“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the Nobel committee said.
“The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.”
Tu, 84, has been chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine since 2000.
She conducted research in the 1970s, at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution, that led to the discovery of artemisinin, a drug that has slashed the number of malaria deaths.
The treatment is based on traditional medicine – a herb called sweet wormwood or Artemisia annua.
Artemisinin-based drugs are now the standard combination for treating malaria since the mosquito-transferred Plasmodium parasite developed resistance to other drug types like chloroquine.
The other half of the prize honoured Omura and Campbell for “a new class of drugs with extraordinary efficacy against parasitic diseases,” the Nobel statement said.
Registered drugs derived from avermectin “have radically lowered” the incidence of river blindness and elephantiasis, both caused by parasitic worms, it added.