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The Nobel Prize and biotechnology have been intertwined for decades.

Though the prizes in the scientific field always go to basic researchers, scientists have won the Nobel Prize for some obviously translatable discoveries. Some have won for discovering specific treatments, like penicillin and artemisinin and insulin. They’ve won prizes for discovering the underlying causes of a disease, like the HPV and HIV viruses. One team of scientists even won a Nobel Prize for putting those two things together. Gertrude Elion and two of her colleagues won the prize in 1988 for figuring out that rational drug design — designing drugs based on a specific target — could be a thing; she used that technique to discover Daraprim, AZT, and acyclovir.


The newest group of Nobel laureates has already inspired several drug development programs. According to BioMedTracker, Gossamer Bio (GOSS), FibroGen (FGEN) and Akebia Therapeutics (AKBA) are all developing drugs based on hypoxia-inducible factor, one protein behind the Nobel awarded early Monday to Gregg Semenza, William Kaelin, and Peter Ratcliffe. 

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  • Excellent piece. Always suspected that Nobel prizes were awarded post hoc after R&D conducted by companies established the actual value of the discovery for patients. It would be interesting to provide actual dates between the initial publication of the seminal paper(d) and the FDA approval. Looking just at immuno-oncology and hepatitis C, it looks like a 25-30 year lag. Do you know of a paper that looked into this lag between first publication / first drug approved ?

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