Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice together with Briton Michael Houghton won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, the Nobel jury said.
The three were honoured for their "decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world," the jury said.
Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have "essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health", the Nobel committee said.
Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C.
"For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population," the jury said.
The award for work on a virus comes as the world battles the new coronavirus pandemic.
The trio will share the Nobel prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million, 950,000 euros).
They would normally receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.
But the in-person ceremony has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, replaced with a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.
Last year, the honour went to US researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Britain's Peter Ratcliffe on for discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.
The winners of this year's physics prize will be revealed on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry Prize on Wednesday.
The literature prize will be announced on Thursday and the peace prize on Friday, with speculation that Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and other climate activists or press freedom groups could get the nod for the latter.
The economics prize will wrap up the Nobel prize season on Monday, October 12.
Recent winners of the Nobel Medicine Prize
Here is a list of the winners of the Nobel Medicine Prize in the past 10 years following the announcement of the 2020 award on Monday:
2020: Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice, together with Briton Michael Houghton, for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, leading to the development of sensitive blood tests and antiviral drugs.
2019: William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza of the US and Britain's Peter Ratcliffe for establishing the basis of our understanding of how cells react and adapt to different oxygen levels.
2018: Immunologists James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, for figuring out how to release the immune system's brakes to allow it to attack cancer cells more efficiently.
2017: US geneticists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young for their discoveries on the internal biological clock that governs the wake-sleep cycles of most living things.
2016: Yoshinori Ohsumi (Japan) for his work on autophagy -- a process whereby cells "eat themselves" -- which when disrupted can cause Parkinson's and diabetes.
2015: William Campbell (US citizen born in Ireland) and Satoshi Omura (Japan), Tu Youyou (China) for unlocking treatments for malaria and roundworm.
2014: John O'Keefe (Britain, US), Edvard I. Moser and May-Britt Moser (Norway) for discovering how the brain navigates with an "inner GPS".
2013: Thomas C. Suedhof (US citizen born in Germany), James E. Rothman and Randy W. Schekman (US) for work on how the cell organises its transport system.
2012: Shinya Yamanaka (Japan) and John B. Gurdon (Britain) for discoveries showing how adult cells can be transformed back into stem cells.
2011: Bruce Beutler (US), Jules Hoffmann (French citizen born in Luxembourg) and Ralph Steinman (Canada) for work on the body's immune system.