The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund) today welcomed news that Dr. Satoshi Ōmura, a distinguished emeritus professor at Tokyo’s Kitasato University, has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of a drug that stands among one of the most important and effective treatments ever developed for infectious diseases.
Dr. Ōmura was recognized for his work with Avermectin, whose derivatives have pushed Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, close to becoming only the second human disease (after smallpox) to be completely eradicated. Avermectin also produced treatments for lymphatic filariasis, which leads to elephantiasis. Together, these neglected diseases, which are spread by parasitic worms, afflict a third of the global population, with the heaviest burden found in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Without Dr omura's discovery of Avermectin, over 2 million people wouldn't be saved from infectious disease. This is the power of innovation. We congratulate Dr Omura on his Nobel Prize and encourage more Japanese innovation for infectious disease worldwide.” said Dr. BT Slingsby, CEO of Tokyo’s GHIT Fund.
GHIT Fund, a public-private partnership between six Japanese pharmaceutical companies, the Japanese Government, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has invested millions of dollars to develop innovative tools for fighting neglected diseases worldwide. Its work seeks to build on the global health legacy established by Dr. Ōmura and other pioneering Japanese scientists in the public and private sector.
Ōmura will share his prize with Dr. William C. Campbell of Drew University in the US, his partner in the discovery and development Avermectin.
A microbiologist specializing in isolating natural products, Dr. Ōmura’s discovery of Avermectin began by isolating new strains of a bacteria called Streptomyces from soil samples collected in Japan and then culturing them in the laboratory. Dr. Ōmura selected the most promising cultures to be analyzed by Dr. Campbell for potential activity against harmful microorganisms. Dr. Campbell, an expert in parasite biology, discovered one of the cultures was effective against several parasites frequently found in animals. He then purified it into Avermectin, which was later chemically modified into the drug Ivermectin that is used to kill parasite larvae in humans.
Also recognized with a Nobel is Dr. Youyou Tu, who won for her discovery of artemisinin, the world’s most effective drug for treating another parasitic disease, malaria.
According to a statement released by the Nobel committee, “The discoveries of Avermectin and Artemisinin have revolutionized therapy for patients suffering from devastating parasitic diseases. Campbell, Ōmura and Tu have transformed the treatment of parasitic diseases. The global impact of their discoveries and the resulting benefit to mankind are immeasurable.”
GHIT Fund congratulates all three Nobel Prize winners for their incredible contributions to fighting parasitic diseases. These diseases have taken a terrible toll on the world’s most vulnerable communities, where they not only kill, but also rob hundreds of millions of people of the health required to go to school, earn a living, and care for their families.
Photo: Keynote Presentation by Professor Omura, at the Malaria Symposium entitled "Malaria R&D in a Time of Global Partnerships" on 26 June 2015. University of Tokyo, Japan.