According to a recent opinion piece by Dr. Lorne Tyrrell in the Edmonton Journal, the identification of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) in 1989 by Michael Houghton, now Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology at the University of Alberta, was “one of the most important recent discoveries in medicine”—and is worthy of a Nobel Prize.
In the op-ed marking World Hepatitis Day on July 28, Tyrrell notes that Houghton’s discovery 25 years ago while working at Chiron, a biotechnology company in the United States, has meant that HCV, once a virus with no known effective therapies, is now curable.
In addition to identifying HCV, Houghton and his team at Chiron also sequenced the genome of the virus and identified several targets for future development of highly selective and effective antiviral drugs.
Thanks to Houghton’s research, HCV is detectable in blood supplies, which means “our blood supply is now safe and, for all practical purposes, free of HCV (less than one in 10 million units). And people with HCV are currently being cured with just eight to 12 weeks of treatment.”
As Tyrrell writes, “[t]his extraordinary achievement deserves to be celebrated.”