William C. Campbell, a former Merck researcher who continued his work at Drew University, has been awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work combating parasitic infections.
He shares the prize with Satoshi Ōmura, a Japanese microbiologist and expert in isolating natural products. Omura isolated the bacteria from soil that Campbell then used to invent a drug, Ivermectin, that treats two illness that strike millions worldwide: River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, (better known as Elephantiasis).
Dr. Campbell and Dr. Omura collaborated but worked independently on different aspects of the discovery of Ivermectin by developing Avermectin, the parent of Ivermectin.
Dr. Campbell was born in Ramelton, Ireland, in 1930 and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. He worked for decades at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research before moving to Drew University in Madison, N.J., as part of a program where retired industrial scientists direct research of individual undergraduates. At Drew, Campbell is Charles A. Dana Research Fellow in Drew’s Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti (RISE).
“The importance of Ivermectin for improving the health and well-being of millions of individuals with River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, primarily in the poorest regions of the world, is immeasurable,” said the Nobel Committee. “Treatment is so successful that these diseases are on the verge of eradication, which would be a major feat in the medical history of humankind,” said the Nobel Committee in a statement.
The prize was announced this week in Sweden. Dr. Campbell learned of his award when a reporter awakened him. “I thought he was kidding, and when I asked how I could find out, the reporter suggested the website,” Dr. Campbell said in an interview.