Sacramento-born virologist, UC Davis alum, wins Nobel Prize for hepatitis research

Michael McGough
·2 min read

A Sacramento-born virologist who received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Davis, was among a trio of researchers awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday.

Charles M. Rice, PhD, received the prestigious honor jointly with Harvey J. Alter and Michael Houghton for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus, and their pioneering research and study of the disease that has made it curable.

The Nobel Assembly in a statement said the trio “made seminal discoveries that led to the identification of a novel virus.”

“For the first time in history, the Hepatitis C virus can now be cured,” the Nobel Assembly wrote. “The 2020 Medicine Laureates’ discoveries revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.”

The methods Rice developed and used to study hepatitis C are now being used in an effort to develop or identify treatments for the novel coronavirus, which according to Johns Hopkins University has infected tens of millions and killed more than 1 million people worldwide since being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Rice leads a lab at The Rockefeller University in New York City that “seeks a broad knowledge of how host factors facilitate virus replication.”

“These studies may reveal novel therapeutic targets for the viruses, including SARS-CoV-2,” which is the scientific name for the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease known as COVID-19. “Rice is also using methods his lab developed to study HCV replication in order to screen a large collection of registered drugs from around the world for those that may inhibit SARS-CoV-2.”

Rice was born in Sacramento in 1952 and received his bachelor’s degree in zoology at UC Davis in 1974, according to his biography page for Rockefeller University, where he has been a professor since 2001. Rice received his PhD in biochemistry at Caltech in 1981.

“Rice pioneered novel methods for growing and studying hepatitis C virus (HCV), including a mouse with a human liver that allowed the first studies of HCV replication and tests of candidate drugs in a small animal model,” his biography reads. Rice’s research group is now using human-liver mice to study hepatitis B.