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European specialists honoured with Prince Mahidol Award

German virologist and British physician recognised in the fields of Medicine and Public Health

A German virologist and a British physician specialising in Infectious and Tropical Diseases have been recognised with this year’s Prince Mahidol Award for their great achievements in the fields of medicine and public health respectively.

Professor Dr Prasit Watanapa, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, in his capacity as Vice President of the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation, told a press conference at Siriraj Hospital on Thursday (November 21) that the Prince Mahidol Award in the field of Medicine has been given to German expert Professor Dr Ralf  FW Bartenschlager, while the Prince Mahidol Award in the field of Public Health went to British expert Professor David Mabey.

Photo Courtesy: The Prince Mahidol Award Foundation

The Board of Trustees, chaired by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, selected the awardees at their November 1 meeting from 66 nominations from 35 countries. The Scientific Advisory Committee had screened all the candidates shortlisted from 2017-2019 and submitted the list to the International Award Committee and the Board of Trustees.

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn as the representative of His Majesty the King will preside over the Presentation Ceremony of the Prince Mahidol Award 2019 at the Chakri Throne hall on January 30.  A day prior to the Ceremony, Siriraj Hospital will invite the 2019 Prince Mahidol Award Laureates to give lectures based on their achievements.

Professor Dr Ralf FW Bartenschlager
Photo Courtesy: The Prince Mahidol Award Foundation

Professor Dr Ralf FW Bartenschlager is currently Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases Molecular Virology at University of Heidelberg and Head of the Division of Virus-Associated Carcinogenesis at the German Cancer Research Centre. He won the award for his most prominent work on the life cycle of hepatitis C virus (HCV) that provides the basis for the development of effective and safe specific antivirals.

Over 71 million people worldwide suffer from chronic HCV infection, which claims some 400,000 lives a year. HCV infection also leads to liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. For a decade after the discovery of HCV in 1989, scientists failed to replicate it in cell culture. Professor Bartenschlager and his colleague identified a method to replicate HCV in cell culture and make “replicons” (fragments of the virus’s RNA). This made possible the rapid screening for thousands of candidates of antivirals. He also identified the viral nonstructural protein 3 (NS3) as viral protease that is now a central target structure for antivirals. His studies resulted in the invention of the new generation of anti-HCV drugs called the DAA (Direct Acting Antiviral) with a 95-per-cent success rate in curing HCV infection with minimal side effects.

Professor David Mabey
Photo Courtesy: The Prince Mahidol Award Foundation

Professor David Mabey is currently Professor of Communicable Diseases, Clinical Research Department at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom. He won the award for his outstanding work in trachoma, the most common eye infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis which leads to blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people globally annually.

Professor Mabey’s research prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish a global eradication program using the SAFE strategy – (S) control through surgery, (A) mass treatment with antibiotic, (F) face washing, and (E) environmental and sanitation improvements. More than 700 million doses of azithromycin were provided to people in 40 countries between 1999  and 2017. To date, 13 countries have reportedly achieved the goals of eradicating trachoma. The WHO projections suggest that trachoma will be eradicated as a public health problem and cause of blindness in all countries by 2025.

Since its January 1, 1992 establishment in commemoration of the centenary of the birth of His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol of Songkla, the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation under the Royal Patronage has annually conferred Prince Mahidol Awards upon two individual(s) or institution(s) who have demonstrated outstanding and exemplary contributions to the advancement of the world’s medical and public health services. Each Award consists of a medal, a certificate, and US$100,000.

In the past 27 years, the awards have been granted to 83 individuals, groups of individuals, and institutions.

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