On October 5, Drs. Youyou Tu, William Campbell, and Satoshi Ōmura jointly received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their seminal discoveries of the natural products avermectin and artemisinin. The announcement underscored something that NCCIH has been saying for many years, that natural products research is very important. Many drugs now on the market—such as digitalis, taxol, and vincristine—were originally derived from natural products.
Dr. Tu isolated artemisinin, an anti-malarial, from Artemisia annua, a plant that has been used in reducing fevers for centuries and is well documented in traditional Chinese medicine formularies. Drs. Campbell and Ōmura discovered the antibiotic avermectin when they screened Streptomycetes, microorganisms commonly found in soil, for natural products with anti-infectious activity. These two structurally and pharmacologically unique compounds and their derivatives have revolutionized the treatment of parasitic diseases. In the fight against the tropical infections that result in malaria, river blindness, and elephantiasis, these drugs have made a tremendous impact for the hundreds of millions who suffer these devastating diseases each year.
NCCIH congratulates Drs. Tu, Campbell, and Ōmura. This award not only recognizes their achievements but spotlights the rich resource of natural products that show promise in medicine and health.