Nobel Prize Awarded for Discovery of Drug to Fight River Blindness

Among the winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine 2015, announced on October 5th, were scientists William Campbell and Satoshi Omura, for their discovery of the class of compounds known as avermectins. Ivermectin, a broad-spectrum antiparasitic used to treat onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, was synthesized from naturally occurring avermectins by Campbell and Omura in 1979.

River blindness is an infection caused by a parasitic worm spread by black fly bites that afflicts 17 to 25 million people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is the 2nd leading cause of infection-caused blindness after trachoma.

Ivermectin, which is sold under the brand name Mectizan in Canada, is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines and has been distributed by Merck for free to countries in need since 1987.

Sharing the Nobel Prize for Medicine with Campbell and Omura is Chinese scientist Youyou Tu for her discovery of the antimalarial drug artemisinin.

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