Nobel Prize for Medicine

Avermectin Discovery Recognized Internationally

Parasite controls were noticed by this year's Nobel Prize organization for their contributions to improved global health. (Image from Indian Broadcasting Network)

Two scientists whose combined work led to the discovery of Avermectin were recognized with the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Those scientists are William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura.

Their work focused on control of parasitic disease, which in its many forms affects people all around the world. Work by the two led to the development of Avermectin, derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis (Elephantiasis) globally. Parasitic worms are estimated to afflict one-third of the world's population, according to the Nobel Prize organization.

Omura is a Japanese microbiologist; Campbell is an Irish-born American expert in parasite biology. Using Omura's bacteria cultures, Campbell found a component that worked well against parasites in domestic and farm animals. The bioactive agent was purified and named Avermectin, which was subsequently modified to the compound Ivermectin.

The animal health industry built on Campbell's work to create the first endectocide for internal and external parasites in cattle, Ivomec from Merial.

"In 1984 when Ivomec was launched in the U.S., it was truly a game changer due to its unique broad spectrum, efficacy and safety," said Bruce Nosky, veterinarian and director of Merial Large Animal Veterinary Services.

"The animal health industry had never seen anything like it. The product is administered at such a low dose rate, researchers had to develop new methods to measure it. This was a brand new concept for pharmaceutical companies."

Ivermectin has been used outside of the livestock industry, as well, including in preventive medications for heartworms in dogs.