3 Forgotten Nobel Prize Winners Relevant to the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

The Nobel Prizes in science are a beacon of hope as they highlight the importance of scientific achievement every year.  Especially in a pandemic, it’s important to look at the science and see how far we’ve come — from mapping the human genome and learning about the mechanisms by which our cells grow and die, to studying immunity.  The Nobel Prizes remind us of the big challenges in science and how possible it is to overcome them with perseverance. In this post, Nidhi Parekh of The Shared Microscope and Sheeva Azma of Fancy Comma will discuss 3 past Nobel Prize winners whose research has been relevant and applicable to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Through this post, we would like to highlight research conducted by some of the forgotten Nobel Prize winners.  While their names may not be familiar to you, they have made it possible to study the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. 

1. Ronald Ross

Dr. Ross was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1902 for his work on malaria. He laid the foundation for successful research on this disease and methods to prevent it. His work, which studied the method by which the Plasmodium parasite causes infection, eventually led to the discovery of chloroquine — a drug still used for the treatment of malaria — in the 1930s. This drug received much attention from the media for its use in COVID-19, although the RECOVERY (Random Evaluation of COVid ThERapY) trials in the UK (which recruited 11,000 patients in total) put a nail in that coffin and concluded that there was no beneficial effect of hydroxychloroquine in patients hospitalised with COVID-19. In science and medicine, knowing something does not work is just as important as finding a cure.

Ronald Ross researched malaria and methods to prevent it — his work was important in the discovery of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, drugs that were extensively studied for COVID-19 #FancyScienceShared @fancycomma

2. John Robert Vane 

Sir John Robert Vane was a British pharmacologist who shared the 1982 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Swedish scientists Sune Bergstrom and Bengt Samuelsson on their research on how aspirin prevents heart attacks and strokes. Their research led to the discovery of ACE inhibitors for the treatment of hypertension. As with the case with chloroquine, although ACE inhibitors are not currently being used for the treatment of COVID-19, research is ongoing on their use as an alternative treatment for COVID-19. ACE inhibitors have been associated with a significantly reduced risk of COVID-19. The jury is still out on its use for COVID-19 treatment.

Sir John Robert Vane won the Nobel Prize with two others for their research on how ACE inhibitors prevent heart attacks and strokes. ACE inhibitors are still being studied for the use against COVID-19. #FancyScienceShared @fancycomma

3. Max Theiler 

Max Theiler won the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology in 1951 for his discoveries concerning yellow fever and its treatment which resulted in the development of a vaccine against the disease. In his research, Theiler discovered that passing the yellow fever virus among mouse models weakened the virus’ ability to cause infection (due to what we now know as herd immunity). After he won the Nobel Prize, he continued his research and went on to develop two vaccines against yellow fever virus — the first-ever Nobel Prize awarded for a vaccine made against a viral pathogen.

Max Theiler won the first-ever Nobel Prize awarded for a vaccine made against a viral pathogen. #FancyScienceShared @fancycomma

As you can probably see from the examples above, science is a process — and sometimes it may feel slow. Now is a good time to reflect on the current global pandemic and how quickly we are finding information – and how it is constantly changing. 

The SARS-CoV-2 virus was only discovered less than a year ago, and scientists have been struggling to get one step ahead of the pandemic virus ever since. Research is still ongoing for the search for multiple vaccine and therapeutics. 


To learn more about the top COVID-19 vaccines in development, check out our COVID-19 resources here. You may also wish to subscribe to our weekly COVID-19 vaccine newsletter below:

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