Inventor of Hepatitis C cure receives prestigious prize

A medicinal chemist who found a cure for the viral disease hepatitis C has received a prestigious award from the University of Edinburgh.

Picture of Michael J Sofia
Michael J Sofia

Dr Michael J Sofia, who devised the drug sofosbuvir, is the winner of this year’s Cameron Prize for Therapeutics.

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that primarily affects the liver. Without intervention, it can progress into a life-long chronic disease that causes extreme liver damage and liver cancer. Around 71 million people worldwide are affected.

Blocking the virus

Sofusbuvir works by stopping the virus from reproducing, by blocking a key protein that the virus needs to reproduce its genetic material.

The drug does not have the same harsh side effects as older, less effective therapies and has slashed treatment times from one year to just 12 weeks.

Improving patient lives

Dr Sofia created sofosbuvir in 2007 and the drug was approved for use in 2013. Greater than 95 percent of patients with the most common form of hepatitis C can now be cured by the treatment.  With sofosbuvir as the backbone of combination therapies, all forms of hepatitis C can now be cured.

More recently, researchers have begun exploring whether drugs based on sofosbuvir could also be used to treat Covid-19.

“Sofosbuvir is widely regarded as one of the greatest medical advances in our lifetime and I am delighted Dr Sofia has accepted this prize in recognition of his discovery.

Professor Moira WhyteVice Principal and Head of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine,  University of Edinburgh

Dr Sofia is currently Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Arbutus Biopharma, a US-based biopharmaceutical company dedicated to discovering, developing and commercializing a cure for patients suffering from chronic hepatitis B infection.

Dr Sofia said he was  deeply honoured to have been selected to receive the Cameron Prize for Therapeutics from the University of Edinburgh. 

The Cameron Prize has a long and distinguished history and past winners represent the very best of those who have made important contributions to medicine.  It is humbling to be counted among those who have transformed medicine over the years. Today, as we are faced with the specter of a global pandemic, we are reminded that we must continue to commit ourselves to the advancement of medicine on every front.  The Cameron Prize for Therapeutics recognizes how science has been able to solve critical medical challenges for the betterment of mankind, and it is for this recognition that I am truly appreciative.

Dr Michael J SofiaCo-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Arbutus Biopharma

Dr Sofia studied chemistry at Cornell University, received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois and was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University. He has received numerous awards for his work on the hepatitis C virus including the 2015 Economist Innovation Award, the 2016 IUPAC-Richter Prize, and the 2016 Lasker-DeBakey Award in Clinical Medical Research.

History of the Cameron Prize

The Cameron Prize for Therapeutics is awarded every two years by the University of Edinburgh to a person who has made a highly important and valuable addition to the treatment of illnesses. The Prize was first awarded in 1879 and lists numerous Nobel and Lasker prize winners amongst its subsequent awardees. The list of winners includes a truly diverse array of innovations from the 20th century: from transplant surgery, bone marrow transplants, and haemodialysis, to ground-breaking vaccines, antimicrobials and novel medicines.

Winners are invited to deliver a lecture about their work at the University of Edinburgh. Owing to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s award lecture has been postponed until further notice.


Related links

College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine


Image credit - Michael J Sofia