Irish scientist William Campbell wins Nobel Prize for Medicine

5 Oct 2015

William Campbell accepting an honorary degree at Trinity College with former President of Ireland Mary Robinson back in 2012

Irishman William Campbell has won the Nobel Prize for Medicine thanks to his role in discoveries concerning therapies to fight roundworm parasitic infections.

Campbell will share his prize with Satoshi Ōmura. The duo’s work was the development of a drug called Avermectin, which has seen the creation of derivatives that have “radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis”.

The discovery is ongoing, too, with Avermectin “showing efficacy against an expanding number of other parasitic diseases,” according to the Nobel Prize organisers.

Born in Ramelton in Ireland back in 1930, Campbell studied at Trinity College before moving to the US to earn a PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1957.

From 1957-1990, he worked with the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research, with his final years there as senior scientist and director for Assay Research and Development.

Trinity showing form

Professor Campbell is the third Trinity graduate to have been awarded a Nobel Prize,  joining physicist E.T.S. Walton  for splitting the atom, and Samuel Beckett for his contribution to literature.

“Professor Campbell was centrally involved in developing the cure against river blindness,” said Patrick Prendergast, the Trinity Provost.

“In 1987, he spearheaded the decision by Merck to distribute that cure free to millions of people in what became one of the first and foremost examples of a public/private partnership in international health. Annually, 25 million people are treated under this scheme, preventing new cases of river blindness.”

Ōmura was born five years after Campbell and, a Japanese citizen, he had received a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences, as well as one in chemistry by 1970.

He was a researcher at the Kitasato Institute from 1965-1971 and professor at Kitasato University from 1975-2007.

In recent years, Campbell has become a Research Fellow Emeritus at Drew University in the US, with Ōmura a Professor Emeritus at Kitasato University.

Youyou Tu a winner too

Campbell and Ōmura shared half of the award, with Youyou Tu winning the other half, thanks to her discovery of Artemisinin, which greatly reduces mortality rates for people 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,” said the organisers.

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

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic