Three scientists who used modern laboratory techniques to discover anti-parasitic drugs long hidden in herbs and soil won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Their drug therapies “have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases,” the Nobel Committee of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said in announcing the winners. They are William C. Campbell, formerly of New Jersey, and Satoshi Omura of Japan, who share one-half of the $960,000 award; and Tu Youyou of China, who won the other half. Dr. Campbell and Dr. Omura developed Avermectin, the parent of Ivermectin, a medicine that has nearly eradicated river blindness and radically reduced the incidence of filariasis, which can cause the disfiguring swelling of the lymph system in the legs and lower body known as elephantiasis. Dr. Tu was inspired by Chinese traditional medicine in discovering Artemisinin, a drug that is now part of standard anti-malarial regimens and that has reduced death rates from the disease.
Dr. Campbell was born in Ramelton, Ireland, in 1930 and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. He worked for decades at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research before moving to Drew University in Madison, N.J., as part of a program where retired industrial scientists direct research of individual undergraduates. Dr. Omura, who was born in 1935, earned two Ph.D.s from the University of Tokyo, in pharmaceutical sciences and chemistry. He is emeritus professor at Kitasato University in Tokyo.
Dr. Tu, born in 1930, is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the first Chinese scientist to win a Nobel science award. Dr. Tu screened many herbal remedies in malaria-infected animals and extracted a promising agent from Artemisia annua. Because of inconsistencies in test results, she turned to ancient texts and discovered clues to identify and extract the active component of the Artemisia herb. In ancient times, people soaked the herb in water and boiled it. She realized that boiling could destroy the active ingredient and used other techniques to isolate it.