AIDS pioneers and cancer scientist win Nobel prize

Mon Oct 6, 2008 2:39pm EDT
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By Niklas Pollard

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Two French scientists who discovered the AIDS virus and a German who bucked conventional wisdom to find a virus that causes cervical cancer were awarded the 2008 Nobel prize for medicine on Monday.

Luc Montagnier, director of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Institut Pasteur won half the prize of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.4 million) for discovering the virus that has killed 25 million people since it was identified in the 1980s.

Dr. Harald zur Hausen of the University of Duesseldorf and a former director of the German Cancer Research Center shared the other half of the prize for work that went against the established opinion about the cause of cervical cancer.

"The three laureates have discovered two new viruses of great importance and the result of that has led to an improved global health," said Jan Andersson, a member of the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute.

The discoveries made it possible to diagnose both infections, and led to the development of two vaccines that prevent cervical cancer, and more than 20 drugs that can keep HIV patients healthy.

But Montagnier said those who most need the diagnosis and treatments for AIDS are not getting either.

"It's Africa which is carrying the weight of the epidemic at this moment. Out of millions of people infected, a large number are not being treated, either because they don't have access to treatment or because they don't know they are infected," Montagnier told Reuters in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he was giving a lecture.

The award is a decisive vote for Montagnier in a long-running dispute over who discovered and identified the virus, Montagnier or Dr. Robert Gallo, then of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.   Continued...

<p>Professor Harald zur Hausen joint Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine 2008, poses in a laboratory at the cancer research center of the university in Heidelberg October 6, 2008. REUTERS/Alex Grimm</p>