The prize was jointly awarded to Professor Ratcliffe, Professor William Kaelin and Professor Gregg Semenza for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to changing oxygen levels.
Wellcome has been supporting Professor Ratcliffe’s work since the early 1990s.
Understanding how cells are able to cope with varying amounts of oxygen opens up the possibility of targeting these processes to boost or dampen the body’s response when this happens.
The research could lead to new therapeutic applications for a wide range of disorders in which cells die because they are getting either too much or too little oxygen. Drugs are already being developed that aim to treat anaemia by fooling the body into sending round more oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Commenting on the award, Wellcome’s director Jeremy Farrar said: “We’re delighted that today’s Nobel prize recognises Peter Ratcliffe’s research into how our cells cope with varying amounts of oxygen. Peter and his colleagues’ work on the fundamental processes taking place in our cells is now leading to new treatments for a range of disorders such as anaemia, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration and cancer.
“As a clinical researcher myself, I’m really pleased that the long journey between laboratory research and improving the treatment of patients is being celebrated.
“These discoveries are only possible thanks to researchers working together and collaborating. A Nobel prize can only honour the efforts of three individuals, but research is built on the efforts of teams of researchers. I know Peter cares deeply about those he works with, and many of those he has supported have gone on to achieve amazing things in their own careers.”