Nobel laureate William Campbell to get Irish diaspora award

11 Sep 2023

Dr William Campbell. Image: Donegal County Council

Born and raised in Co Donegal, Campbell helped discover a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworms.

Irish biologist Prof William C Campbell is set to be recognised for his contributions to science with a Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Award this week.

Donegal County Council announced today (11 September) that the Nobel laureate and US citizen will be one of several Irish people living abroad who will be awarded the Tip O’Neill for embodying “the very best of Irish throughout the world”.

A native of Ramelton, Co Donegal, Campbell is an expert in parasitology and is known for his work in discovering a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworms, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015.

He shared the prize with Japanese biochemist Satoshi Ōmura. Their joint work led to the development of a drug called Avermectin, the derivatives of which the Nobel committee said “radically lowered the incidence of river blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis”.

This work provided the basis for Merck’s decision to distribute the drug for free to millions of people in what became one of the first examples of a public-private partnership in international health.

Campbell, now 93, became the third ever Trinity College Dublin graduate to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015, after Ernest Walton and Samuel Beckett. He went on to study at the University of Wisconsin in 1957, before a long career with the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research.

“I learned about parasitic diseases, first in Belfast, then in Dublin, and then in my adopted home in America. Through it all, my roots in Ireland were never forgotten,” Campbell said upon being awarded a Science Foundation Ireland St Patrick’s Day Science Medal in 2021.

“I have had the good fortune to work both in industry and in academia, and to be associated with colleagues who made my work far more valuable than anything I could have done alone. It is my hope that US-Ireland partnerships continue to prosper for the benefit of science, both now and in the future.”

This year’s Tip O’Neill Irish Diaspora Awards ceremony will take place at the Inishowen Gateway Hotel in Buncrana on Saturday, 16 September.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic