Researchers at the Faculty of Pharmacy praise this year's selection of Nobel Laureates

2020-10-06

To contribute to better treatment and reducing the spread of the viral disease hepatitis C is prioritized work at Uppsala University's Faculty of Pharmacy, where researchers praise the 2020 selection of Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine.

Anja Sandström, researcher at the Faculty of Pharmacy
Anja Sandström, researcher at the Faculty of Pharmacy 

“This year's Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine are worthy recipients and their discoveries have been of crucial importance for our ability to cure the viral disease hepatitis C (HCV) and that many infected survive,” says Anja Sandström at the Faculty of Pharmacy who herself focuses on the disease.

On Monday, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced that the 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine is awarded to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice. The three receive the award for their groundbreaking discoveries leading to the identification of HCV. Their progress enabled the development of blood tests and new drugs that over time have saved millions of lives.

“For a long time, the only available treatment was an antiviral drug that caused other illnesses and long hospital stays if it helped at all. Today, this field is huge and science has succeeded in producing very sophisticated drugs,” states Anja Sandström.

The World Health Organization, WHO, has stated a goal to reduce the spread of HCV in order to be able to eliminate the disease as a global public health problem by 2030. In the world today, about 70 million people live with HCV, but the number of unknown cases are believed to be extensive. In Sweden 20,000–30,000 are estimated to have been diagnosed with HCV, but the number of reported cases is gradually decreasing. This development may partly be due to the fact that more and more of Sweden’s Regions offer mobile and stationary syringe exchanges to people who inject illicit drugs.

“Unclean injection tools are a common source of infection with HCV, but Sweden has long lacked routines to get those who inject drugs to an infection clinic in case of suspected infection. This has contributed to an increased number of undiagnosed cases, and that more people died from untreated HCV than from the addiction itself,” says Fred Nyberg, Professor em. in Biological Research on Drug Dependence, also senior advisor in U-FOLD (Uppsala University's forum for research on drug addiction).

Fred Nyberg, Professor em.
Fred Nyberg, Professor em.

The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare's guidelines for substance abuse and addiction care from 2015 stated that substance abuse and comorbidity should be treated simultaneously. In order to accelerate a national strategy for the identification and treatment of the patient group, a group of national experts in addiction issues and infectious disease medicine called for coordination of interventions within addiction care, psychiatry, social services, courts and healthcare for more effective diagnoses and subsequent access to treatment.

“We published a consensus document within the framework of U-FOLD, in which we advocated that everyone should be given the same right to the drugs that are available against HCV. Our initiative attracted a great deal of attention and within six months the Swedish Dental Benefit Benefit Agency approved that all groups, regardless of the degree of fibrosis, would be granted treatment. That this year's Nobel Prize rewards the discoveries that paved the way for the ability to cure HCV is in my opinion a very good decision of the Nobel Assembly,” says Fred Nyberg.

The 2020 Nobel Prize is awarded at a televised award ceremony where the presentations of the prizes are interspersed with elements from the prize winners' home countries when they receive a medal and diploma there.

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text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

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Last modified: 2021-06-22