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Geneva: The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded Monday jointly to three people – Harvey J Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M Rice. They were honoured for the discovery of the ‘Hepatitis C’ virus.

The medicine prize carries particular significance this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has highlighted the importance that medical research has for societies and economies around the world. However, it is unlikely that the winners will have been directly involved in researching the new virus, as the prize usually goes to discoveries made many years or even decades ago. Often the Nobel Assembly recognises basic science that has laid the foundations for practical applications in common use today.

It is common for several scientists who worked in the same field to share the prize. Last year, British scientist Peter Ratcliffe and Americans William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza received the award for discovering details of how the body’s cells sense and react to low oxygen levels.

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1,118,000), courtesy of a bequest left 124 years ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The amount was increased recently to adjust for inflation.

The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

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