Dr. Satoshi Omura is a Japanese microbiologist who shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in developing Ivermectin, a highly effective and safe drug against parasitic worms in humans. It is a reformulated version of Avermectin, an equally successful drug that combats parasites in animals. He and Dr. William Campbell of the United States developed both drugs, and for their research, they shared the Nobel Prize.
According to the World Health Organization, Ivermectin has improved the lives of billions of people in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, and South Asia. It is best known for treating river blindness (onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis. In the first disease, severe itching and visual impairment or blindness are caused by the bite of the blackfly that transmits parasites in larval form.
The second disease occurs following a bite from a mosquito infected with harmful larvae. Eventually, the worms inside the body attack the lymphatic vessels. Disfiguring swelling of the legs and genital organs is the result. According to the Nobel Assembly, this disease afflicts more than 100 million people.
Dr. Omura is an expert at isolating natural microorganisms for medicinal purposes. In his career, he has discovered over 470 formulations. In Tokyo, he set the stage for the discovery of Avermectin when he took soil samples containing bacteria. He made cultures of several thousand of these samples, and then he selected about 50 that looked like parasite fighters. Dr. Campbell used Dr. Omura’s cultures to develop Avermectin in the late 1970s. Ivermectin has been used to treat humans since the late 1980s.
Born in Japan in 1935, Dr. Omura holds doctorates in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Tokyo and in chemistry from the Tokyo University of Science. A former professor at Kitasato University in Japan, he now holds the title of Professor Emeritus there.
In 1995, the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control began with the objective of reaching 120 million people in 19 African countries in order to control the disease. The ongoing program has the support of many African leaders who favor Ivermectin because it gives their nations healthier people who can lead productive lives. The drug company Merck donates the drug to countries where river blindness and lymphatic filariasis are endemic. The use of Ivermectin may expand in future, as research is ongoing for potential additional uses against other mosquito-borne infectious diseases.
For decades, the fruit of Dr. Omura’s labors has bettered the lives of the poor in highly susceptible regions, and with the medication’s continued and potential new uses, will likely continue to improve countless more lives in the future.