Pew Scholar Charles Rice Wins Lasker-DeBakey Award for Hepatitis C Breakthrough

Innovative lab process enabled development of effective new drug therapy

Pew Scholar Charles Rice Wins Lasker-DeBakey Award for Hepatitis C Breakthrough
Hepatitis C treatment

Three scientists are being honored with the Lasker-DeBakey award for the development of a drug therapy that revolutionized the treatment of hepatitis C, a virus that attacks the liver.

© Shutterstock

Charles Rice, Ph.D., a molecular virologist at Rockefeller University and 1986 Pew biomedical scholar, received the 2016 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award on Sept. 23 for his role in finding an effective treatment for hepatitis C, an infectious disease that afflicts more than 130 million people worldwide and contributes to 700,000 deaths annually. Rice devised a system to grow the hepatitis C virus in laboratory settings, allowing scientists to study its replication and ultimately invent medication that eliminates these infections in about 90 percent of patients. He shares this year’s prize with two other researchers instrumental in these discoveries: Ralf Bartenschlager, Ph.D., of Heidelberg University in Germany, and Michael Sofia, Ph.D., of Arbutus Biopharma Corp.

First recognized in 1989, hepatitis C is a bloodborne disease that often becomes chronic. No vaccine is available, and while cases vary in severity, prolonged infection can cause liver failure and cancer. The virus was notoriously difficult to study until Rice’s breakthrough in the mid-1990s. He identified a piece of its RNA sequence that had eluded other researchers and is key to its reproduction.

Based on this discovery, Rice and Bartenschlager engineered an efficient way to replicate the virus in lab-grown host cells, making it possible to observe its entire life cycle and develop tests to screen for infections. Sofia and his team built on this foundational research in their successful quest for a compound that would block the virus’ machinery for making copies of itself. Their resulting drug therapy was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013 to treat patients with chronic hepatitis C infection.

Rice was part of the second annual class of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences and is the fifth alumnus to be honored with the prestigious Lasker Award, joining previous winners Stephen Elledge, Richard Scheller, Carol Greider, and Roderick MacKinnon. The advances in scientific knowledge and human health that earned these scholars this distinction are a testament to the importance of investing in promising researchers early in their careers.

Kara Coleman directs Pew’s biomedical research programs.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Ancient evolutionary DNA can help fight modern viruses
Ancient evolutionary DNA can help fight modern viruses

Viral DNA May Help Human Body Fight Infections

Pew scholar unlocks immune system trait that is possible key to survival

Quick View

In the March issue of Science magazine, 2012 Pew scholar Nels Elde, Ph.D., and his colleagues unveiled research that illustrates one of the most elegant characteristics of human evolution: Our bodies are remarkably adaptable and programmed to take in that which could harm us and repurpose it for our benefit.


In Step With Pew’s Programs in the Biomedical Sciences

A chat with project director Kara Coleman

Quick View

In June, the Pew Programs in the Biomedical Sciences will announce its 2016 class of Pew biomedical scholars, Latin American fellows, and Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research. We interviewed project director Kara Coleman about the programs’ work supporting early-career scientists.

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.