The trio produced novel proteins used in everything from environmentally friendly detergents and biofuels to cancer drugs.
The fruits of their work include the world’s top-selling antibody injection Humira for treating rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology, George Smith of University of Missouri and Gregory Winter of Britain’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology received the prize for pioneering science in enzymes and antibodies.
Arnold, the fifth woman to win the prize in chemistry, was awarded half of the 9 million Swedish crown ($1 million) prize while Smith and Winter shared the other half.
“This year’s Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles, genetic change and selection, to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
Arnold is the second woman to win a Nobel prize this year after Canada’s Donna Strickland shared the physics award on Tuesday.
Her research on enzymes, proteins that catalyze chemical reactions, laid the bedrock for the development of better industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Smith developed a method using a virus that infects bacteria to produce new proteins while Winter used the same phage display technique for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing more effective medicines.
Humira, or adalimumab, was the first drug based on Winter’s work to win regulatory approval in 2002.
The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.
For the first time in decades, the Nobel line-up did not feature a literature award after a rift within the Swedish Academy over a rape scandal involving the husband of a board member left it unable to select a winner.
The science and peace prizes are selected by other bodies.
Chemistry is the third of this year’s Nobel Prizes after the winners of the medicine and physics awards were announced earlier this week.