One of the virologists who first discovered and cloned the hepatitis C virus (HCV) surprised the international research community by becoming the first person to decline the prestigious Gairdner Award in its 54-year history, reports Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Michael Houghton, MD, said he could not accept the Canadian foundation’s $100,000 prize for scientific excellence because two close colleagues—Qui-Lim Choo and George Kuo—were not given equal recognition. Their discoveries in the 1970s and ’80s laid the foundations for modern screening tests that have reduced the risk of acquiring hepatitis C through blood transfusion from about one in three to one in 2 million.

The Gairdner is Canada’s most renowned international science prize and has a reputation for anticipating future Nobel Prize winners. Houghton has previously been recognized for his work with hepatitis C, and in 2000, he accepted the Lasker Award, the highest U.S. award for life sciences. Faced with a Gairdner, Houghton said he did not want to re-live the conflict he felt over accepting the Lasker without his collaborators.

“I agonized over it,” said Houghton about his prior acceptance. “And I decided I didn’t want to do that again.”

His award was to be one of three that spotlight a chain of key hepatitis C-related discoveries during the past 30 years. The other two winners are Daniel Bradley of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Harvey Alter, a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health.

This year, Houghton’s prize instead went to James Hogg, a pathologist who transformed the research field for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The Gairdner Foundation awards five international research prizes each year.

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