Leading industry and academic figures have hailed this year's Nobel Prize for medicine, which is shared for pivotal advances in AIDS/HIV and cervical cancer.

Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris and his colleague Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, were recognised for discovering the AIDS virus. Prof Montagnier's team isolated the virus they labelled lymphadenopathy associated virus (LAV), subsequently called HIV-1, in 1983. They found it in white blood cells taken from a patient suffering from a mysterious immune disorder now known as AIDS.

The Nobel committee said: "Never before have science and medicine been so quick to discover, identify the origin and provide treatment for a new disease entity." As a result of the work, drug companies were able to develop anti-retroviral therapy that resulted "in life expectancies for persons with HIV infection now reaching levels similar to those of uninfected people", it said.

Noticeably, the Nobel Foundation failed to mention the US virologist Robert Gallo who controversially claimed to have been the co-discover of HIV. The American isolated the virus from the same tissue sample used by the French team. His laboratory regularly swapped tissue samples during the 1980s But how the "contamination" occurred that allowed him to get hold of infected tissue and isolate the virus has never been fully explained.

Prof Gallo of University of Maryland School of Medicine, issued a statement congratulating the winners and thanking Prof Montagnier for his "kind statement...expressing that I was equally deserving".

The other scientist to share this year's prize for physiology or medicine, Harald zur Hausen, of the University of Dusseldorf, was praised by the Nobel committee for going "against current dogma" to show that HPV infection caused cervical cancer. The committee said Professor zur Hausen's was instrumental in the development of vaccines against HPV, which are now routinely given to millions of teenage girls in many countries to prevent cervical cancer.

Dr Nicholas Kitchin, the UK medical director of Sanofi Pasteur MSD, which makes Gardasil, one of the currently available HPV vaccines, said: "Prof zur Hausen's discoveries have allowed others to innovate, specifically in the development of HPV vaccines. HPV vaccination is increasingly recognised as an important public health tool in tandem with cervical screening, used to prevent cervical cancer across Europe and the rest of the world."

Crispin Slee, head of communications for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry told PharmaTimes: "These tremendously important advances have laid the foundation for all the important progress we've seen both areas of medicine; both with live-saving drugs for those infected with HIV and for the vaccines that will hopefully protect millions of women from cervical cancer."

Dr Adriano Boasso of Imperial College London and the Wellcome Trust, noted however, that in terms of vaccines, HIV research had a lot of catching up to do. "Two seminal discoveries for both the fields of virology and immunology, yet medical research on these two viruses appears to have followed two different fates. The availability of a vaccine against HPV is now a reality thanks to the original discovery of the virus by Harald zur Hausen.

"HIV vaccine research has instead recently suffered the failure of promising clinical trials, but there is no doubt that the discovery of HIV by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier will be the pillar on which an efficient vaccine will eventually be built," he said.