Michael Houghton

Michael Houghton

Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology

University of Alberta

“Michael Houghton’s discovery of the hepatitis C virus is one of the most significant biomedical breakthroughs in the last 20 years. His work is the foundation of research to improve and save the lives of millions of people around the world.”

― Indira Samarasekera, president, University of Alberta


Michael Houghton is an internationally recognized expert in hepatitis virology. Working with researchers at world‑leading blood diagnostics company Chiron and the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he was the first to successfully identify and clone the hepatitis C virus. The breakthrough allowed him to develop new blood‑screening tests now used worldwide to ensure safe blood supplies. His work also led to the identification of important new drug targets for hepatitis C, which are being pursued by groups around the world.

Houghton holds a PhD in biochemistry from King’s College London. Before becoming Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology at the University of Alberta, he was chief scientific officer at Epiphany Biosciences in California. Previously, he spent 25 years in a distinguished career at Chiron, ultimately serving as vice‑president of HCV and virology research. In 2000, Houghton received the prestigious Albert Lasker Clinical Research Award for his work.

Houghton has published more than 200 articles on topics critical to human health, including gene regulation, human beta interferons (proteins that interfere with the spread of viral infections) and hepatitis C and D viruses. He also holds numerous patents on recombinant human interferons, bacterial expression plasmids, and diagnostics, drug targets and vaccines for hepatitis C and D viruses.

Breakthroughs in Hepatitis Prevention and Therapy

The hepatitis B and C viruses, particularly as spread through ways other than transfusion, still represent major health problems in Canada and around the world, despite significant advancements in blood‑screening techniques. In Canada, it is estimated that there are 300,000 carriers of each of hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV). Worldwide, these numbers have reached 350 million and 170 million, respectively.

Currently, there is no vaccine for HCV, and existing treatment methods only work for about half of infected patients. While there is a vaccine to prevent HBV, patients with a chronic infection often need to stay on long‑term anti‑viral treatments that lead to drug‑resistance and, ultimately, end in permanent liver damage.

Building on the knowledge he gained while making his breakthrough discovery of the virus that causes HCV and his identification of the hepatitis D viral genome, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology Michael Houghton is working to develop low‑cost prophylactic vaccines against HCV and therapeutic vaccines for HBV.

Houghton’s commitment to developing low‑cost vaccines could have enormous benefits for hepatitis sufferers in Canada and across the globe, helping them overcome these diseases and reducing the costs and impacts of HBV and HCV on both sufferers and the health‑care system.

Joining a prestigious team of internationally recognized virologists, immunologists and molecular biologists at the University of Alberta, Houghton and his research team are maintaining Canada's pioneering position in biomedicine. His move from industry to academia will also allow him to train a new generation of researchers who are equipped for careers in both academia and the biotechnology industry.



Release date

October 11, 2011

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One of my proudest accomplishments was the discovery of the hepatitis C virus, in the late 80s. And subsequently, we developed blood tests to protect the blood supply around the world, and the discovery led to the development of new drugs and vaccines.

The goal of my research here is to advance the development of a vaccine to protect people against hepatitis C, which is a very common virus, causing various forms of liver disease. Secondly, we want to try to develop a vaccine to actually help in treating patients, who already have the infection and have disease. And then thirdly, I’d like to contribute existing efforts here at the university, to try to identify a cause of other diseases by viral pathogens, by new viruses.

I’m very pleased to be at the University of Alberta, because they have excellent researchers, experimental researchers, and excellent clinical researchers in the diseases that I’m very interested in. For example, viral hepatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.