Harvey Alter Receives 2015 Fries Prize for Improving Health

Harvey Alter, M.D., M.A.C.P., today received the 2015 Fries Prize for Improving Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for his life-saving research and leadership in translating science into practice, which has prevented millions of new infections and cases of disease and death from Hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and HIV infections.

In the mid-1970s, Alter and his research team demonstrated that most post-transfusion hepatitis cases were not due to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses. Alter and Edward Tabor, a scientist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, proved through transmission studies in chimpanzees that a new form of hepatitis caused infections. This work led to the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus in 1988. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, which is most commonly spread through sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. According to CDC, an estimated 2.7 million people in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C, and most people do not know they are infected.

Spearheading a project that uncovered the causes and reduced the risk of transfusion-associated hepatitis, Alter’s discoveries helped provide the scientific foundation for establishing blood-donor screening programs that have reduced the incidence of hepatitis transmitted through blood transfusions to near zero. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

“Dr. Alter’s achievements generated significant public health and research advances in curbing new infections and developing life-saving treatment options,” said Dr. James F. Fries, professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford University and chairman of the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation, which in partnership with the CDC Foundation awards the annual Fries Prize for Improving Health. “Dr. Alter has dedicated his career to protecting the world’s blood supply from blood-borne pathogens and for that we are very grateful.”

“ I must admit that I have some feelings of guilt in accepting a personal award that was dependent on the work of so many wonderful collaborators. I do, however, take credit for choosing them well,” said Alter. “I am deeply honored that my long-term studies have had sufficient clinical impact to garner the recognition of the prestigious Fries Prize selection committee. I am deeply grateful and humbled by this level of peer recognition.”

Alter is chief of clinical studies and associate director for research in the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center. In addition to his work with Hepatitis C, Alter is also known for co-discovering the Australia antigen, a key to detecting the hepatitis B virus. He has received numerous honors and recognition including the Distinguished Service Medal of the U.S. Public Health Service, the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research, and the Canada Gairdner International Award. Alter has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and Mastership in the American College of Physicians.

First presented in 1992, the Fries Prize for Improving Health recognizes an individual who has made major accomplishments in health improvement with emphasis on recent contributions to health in the United States, and with the general criteria of the greatest good for the greatest number. It is intended for an individual who has done the most to improve health. The Fries Prize for Improving Health award is $60,000.

The James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation is a nonprofit corporation incorporated in 1991. The mission of the Foundation is to identify and honor individuals, organizations, or institutions which have made great contributions to the health of the public. The Foundation seeks to reward accomplishment rather than promise, practicality rather than theory. For more information on the Fries Foundation, visit http://www.friesfoundation.org. For more information on the Fries Prize, visit http://www.friesfoundation.org/friesprize.html.

The Fries Foundation provided an endowment to the CDC Foundation to manage and administer the Fries public health award programs, which includes The Fries Prize for Improving Health and the Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award. The transition to the CDC Foundation will be completed by the end of 2015.