Posted on October 6, 2015

An Irish-born scientist has jointly won the 2015 Nobel Prize for medicine for work against parasitic diseases, the award-giving body said on Monday.

Donegal native William Campbell and Japanese Satoshi Omura won half of the prize for discovering a new drug, avermectin, that has helped the battle against river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, as well as showing effectiveness against other parasitic diseases.

Mr Campbell was born in Ramelton, Co Donegal in 1930 and is affiliated to Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, USA. He qualified from Trinity College Dublin with first class honours in zoology before being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, where he completed a doctorate on liver fluke.

He regularly returns to Ireland to visit family, and was given an honorary doctorate in science by Trinity in a 2012 conferring ceremony.

After Wisconsin, he moved to Merck research laboratories where he was eventually elevated to the role of director of parasitology. It was there that he became involved in the development of the Ivermectin drug which cures river blindness.

He was also an instrumental influencer behind the pharmaceutical firm’s decision to make the treatment freely available to people from 1987, and around 25 million people continue to be treated under this scheme every year.

Mr Campbell lectured on parasitology at New York Medical College for many years, was elected to the US National Academy of Science in 2002 and was awarded the American Society of Parasitology Distinguished Service award in 2008.

Other Half of Prize

The Chinese scientist Youyou Tu was awarded the other half of the prize for discovering artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from malaria.

“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” theNobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement in awarding the prize of 8 million Swedish crowns (€850,000).

“The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable. “

Despite rapid progress in controlling malaria in the past decade, the mosquito-borne disease still kills more than half a million people a year, the vast majority of them babies and young children in the poorest parts of Africa.

Medicine is the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year. Prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.

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