Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015

Author: ChemViews Magazine

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2015 has been awarded in one half jointly to

  • William C. Campbell (pictured left), Drew University, Madison, NJ, USA, and
  • Satoshi Ōmura (pictured middle), Kitasato University, Tokyo, Japan,

for “their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites”.

And in the other half to

  • Youyou Tu (pictured right), China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, China,

for “her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”.


William C. Campbell, born 1930 in Ramelton, Ireland, gained his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA, in 1957. During his career, he worked at several institutes and from 1957–1990 at Merck, Sharp & Dohme Corp. (MSD), USA. Currently, he is Emeritus at Drew University, Madison, NJ, USA.

William C. Campbell’s research interests include parasitology and chemotherapy of parasitic infections.

Campbell discovered the bioactive compound avermectin in bacteria cultures provided by Satoshi Ōmura. The substance was found to be very effective against parasites in animals. It was chemically modified, and the resulting ivermectin turned out to kill parasite larvae in humans, leading to an entirely new class of drugs against parasitic worms. Ivermectin is used to treat conditions such as river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, improving human lives especially in the poorest regions of the world.

Satoshi Ōmura, born in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, in 1935, gained his PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Tokyo, Japan, in 1968. In 1970, he received a PhD in Chemistry also from the Tokyo University of Science. From 1963–1965, he was Research Associate at Yamanashi University, Japan. In 1965 he started as researcher at Kitasato Institute, Tokyo, Japan. In 1990, he was appointed President. He was President Emeritus of The Kitasato Institute, from 2008–2012, and is currently a Distinguished Emeritus Professor and Special Coordinator of the Research Project for Drug Discovery from Natural Products in the Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences, Kitasato University. Ōmura also is inaugural Max Tishler Professor of Chemistry at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, USA, since 2005.

Satoshi Ōmura is best known for his research in the field of Bioorganic Chemistry, particularly for the discovery, development, biosynthesis and manipulation of useful chemicals obtained from naturally-occurring microorganisms.

Ōmura isolated new strains of the bacterium Streptomyces in soil samples and cultured and characterized them in the laboratory. The bacteria were known to produce antibacterial agents such as the antibiotic streptomycin. He selected promising cultures to test them for new bioactive substances. One of these cultures later turned out to be Streptomyces avermitilis, the source of the antiparasitic compound avermectin discovered by William C. Campbell.

Youyou Tu, born in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China on 30 December 1930, studied at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences of what is now known as the Peking University Health Science Center, Beijing, China, and graduated there in 1955. In addition, Tu was trained for two and a half years in traditional Chinese medicine. Tu worked at the Academy of Chinese Medicine (now China Academy of Chinese Medical Research), Beijing, and was promoted to a researcher in 1980 and to academic advisor for doctorate candidates in 2001. Currently, she is the Chief Scientist in the Academy.

Youyou Tu used traditional herbal medicine as an inspiration for finding a new and effective malaria treatment. In a large-scale screening of herbal remedies on animals, an extract of the plant Artemisia annua showed promise. Tu found and extracted the active component, artemisinin (also known as Qinghaosu). The compound turned out to be very effective against malaria, killing the parasites at an early stage of their development. It reduces the disease’s mortality and saves many lives.

Selected publications by Campbell

  • J. R. Egerton, D. A. Ostlind, L. S. Blair, C. H. Eary, D. Suhayda, S. Cifelli, R. F. Riek, W. C. Campbell, Avermectins, New Family of Potent Anthelmintic Agents: Efficacy of the B1a Component, Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 1979, 15(3), 372–378. Link
  • William C. Campbell, Ivermectin, an antiparasitic agent, Med. Res. Rev. 1993, 13(1), 61–79. DOI: 10.1002/med.2610130103
  • William C. Campbell, Ivermectin: A Reflection on Simplicity (Nobel Lecture), Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2016, 55, 10184–10189. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201601492

Selected publications by Ōmura

  • Burg et al., Avermectins, New Family of Potent Anthelmintic Agents: Producing Organism and Fermentation, Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 1979, 15(3), 361–367. Link
  • Satoshi Ōmura, A Splendid Gift from the Earth: The Origins and Impact of the Avermectins (Nobel Lecture), Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2016, 55, 10190–10209. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201602164

Also of interest and free to read till 10 December, 2015:

  • Takeshi Yamada, Tetsuya Ideguchi-Matsushita, Tomoyasu Hirose, Tatsuya Shirahata, Rei Hokari, Aki Ishiyama, Masato Iwatsuki, Akihiro Sugawara, Yoshinori Kobayashi, Kazuhiko Otoguro, Satoshi Ōmura, Toshiaki Sunazuka, Asymmetric Total Synthesis of Indole Alkaloids Containing an Indoline Spiroaminal Framework, Chem. Eur. J. 2015, 21, 11855–11864. DOI: 10.1002/chem.201501150
  • Takeshi Yamada, Tomoyasu Hirose, Satoshi Ōmura, Toshiaki Sunazuka, Organocatalytic α-Addition of Isocyanides to Aldehydes, Eur. J. Org. Chem. 2015, 296–301. DOI: 10.1002/ejoc.201403313
  • Hiroyuki Shimamura, Hiroaki Gouda, Kenichiro Nagai, Tomoyasu Hirose, Maki Ichioka, Yujiro Furuya, Yutaka Kobayashi, Shuichi Hirono, Toshiaki Sunazuka, Satoshi Ōmura, Structure Determination and Total Synthesis of Bottromycin A2: A Potent Antibiotic against MRSA and VRE, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2009, 48, 914–917. DOI: 10.1002/anie.200804138
  • H. Tanaka, S. Ōmura, Screening of Novel Receptor-Active Compounds of Microbial Origin, in Biotechnology: Products of Secondary Metabolism, Volume 7, Second Edition eds H.-J. Rehm and G. Reed), Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH, Weinheim, Germany, 1997. DOI: 10.1002/9783527620890.ch3
  • A. Ducruix, C. Pascard, S. Ōmura and A. Nakagawa, 5,9-Diacetyl (3,6)bicycloleuconolide A3, Acta Crystallographica Section B 1977, 33 (7), 2314–2316. DOI: 10.1107/S0567740877008334

Selected publications by Tu

  • Tu et al., Studies on the constituents of Artemisia annua L., Yao Xue Xue Bao 1981, 16, 366–370 (in Chinese). Link
  • Youyou Tu, Artemisinin – A Gift from Traditional Chinese Medicine to the World (Nobel Lecture), Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2016, 55, 10210–10226. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201601967


Also of Interest

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  • The Nobel Prize,
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    Collection of information on the Nobel Prize


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