Nobel prize in medicine – going back to natural products for drugs

Every year there are potentially 1000’s of scientists that could have won the Nobel prize and did not. This year the prize recognizes 3 scientists for their work on parasitic diseases.  William Campbell  and Satoshi Omura won for their work on discovering Avermectin which lead to treatments for River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis. Youyou Tu also won for her work on Artemisinin as a treatment for malaria. Although I am sure most of the press reports will miss this obvious link. Both drugs are natural products. Avermectin comes from Streptomyces avermitilis and Artemisinin comes from the sweet wormwood tree. So this points to where drug discovery was focused 30-40 years ago before the use of combinatorial libraries and large high throughput screens was routine. Unlike in recent years, the Nobel committee is not recognizing recent basic science work but drug discovery science from decades ago. One can only wonder if this is a stab at the pharmaceutical industry. Also it is hard to remember the last time this prize was given for drug discovery, let alone anything for parasitic diseases. Maybe the work of Paul Muller and discovery of DDT comes to mind and he won his award in 1948. We all know how that played out and decades later was banned. Before that there was the 1945 award to Alexander Fleming, Ernest Chain and Howard Florey for discovery of Penicillin. Prior to this there was Gerhard Domagk who got his prize in 1939 for discovery of prontosil, an earlier antibiotic. So you can count on your fingers how many scientists have won the Nobel prize in medicine for discovering drugs. Perhaps in 30-40 years they will be giving out the next prize for drug discovery and if so what will it be for, immunotherapy, antibody drug conjugates, gene therapy..Its hard to predict, all I know is by then I will be the average age of some of these recipients now! I just hope we find cures for many of the neglected diseases that continue to kill millions of people before then.


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  1. Bob says:

    Oh, that was so good until Sean called prontosil an antibiotic. I still liked the rest, though.

    1. sean says:

      So while technically a dye it had antibiotic activity vs streptococci.

  2. Dr Gian Singh Aulakh says:

    Wonderful information.Thanks for bringing out historical aspects.

    1. sean says:

      History is important, should be mindful of it.

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