Professor Dr.Ralf F.W. Bartenschlager received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Heidelberg in 1990. He was appointed as Professor of Molecular Virology at the Institute for Virology, University of Mainz, in 2000, and moved to University of Heidelberg in 2002. He is currently Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases Molecular Virology at University of Heidelberg and Head of the Division of Virus-Associated Carcinogenesis at the German Cancer Research Center, Germany.
Professor Bartenschlager’s most prominent work is on the life cycle of hepatitis C virus (HCV) that provides basis for the development of effective and safe specific antivirals. At present, over 71 million people worldwide suffer from chronic HCV infection and approximately 400,000 people die each year. HCV infection also leads to liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
For a decade after the discovery of HCV in 1989, scientists had failed to replicate it in cell culture. Professor Bartenschlager and his colleague identified a method to replicate HCV in cell culture and make “replicons” (fragments of the virus’s RNA). This made possible the rapid screen for thousands of candidates of antivirals. He also identified the viral nonstructural protein 3 (NS3) as viral protease that is now a central target structure for antivirals. His studies resulted in the invention of the new generation of anti-HCV drugs called the DAA (Direct Acting Antiviral) with a 95% success rate in curing HCV infection with minimal side effects.
However, the concern is the high expense of full treatment. With the prospect of ending HCV epidemics, supports have been offered for low-income countries resulting in the increasing number of patients who receive DAA-based treatment for HCV from 1 million to 1.5 million between 2015 and 2016. In Thailand, the National Health Security Office has bargained the drug price down over 70% and put it into the National Drug List so all Thais can access to the drug.
Professor Bartenschlager has published his research of more than 300 articles in renowned journals. He was a recipient of many awards including Robert Koch Award (2015), Lasker-DeBakey Award (2016), and Hector Prize (2017) and his tireless effort has led to the discovery of a cure for hepatitis C, and saved millions of lives worldwide.