From 1977 to 1987, Harald zur Hausen led a team of researchers across several institutions in Germany to investigate whether the human papillomavirus (HPV) caused cervical cancer. Zur Hausen's first experiment tested the hypothesis that HPV caused cervical cancer rather than herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the then accepted cause. His second and third experiments detailed methods to identify two previously unidentified HPV strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, in cervical cancer tumor samples. The experiments showed that HPV 16 and 18 DNA were present in cervical tumor samples. Zur Hausen concluded that HPV, not HSV-2, caused cervical cancer, which enabled researchers to develop preventions, such as the HPV vaccine.

Gertrude Belle Elion was a twentieth-century scientist in the US who researched the structure of viral DNA to help develop anti-viral medications. For her work on drug development, Elion was a co-recipient of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, even though she lacked a PhD or MD. In the 1970s, Elion helped to develop acyclovir, an early anti-viral medication, alongside a team of other researchers. Acyclovir was one of the first selective medications to effectively treat herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2, or HSV-1 and HSV-2. Those are common viruses that can be transmitted via close contact or sexual intercourse, and cause sores on the mouth and genitals. The medications that Elion helped develop were also some of the first to specifically inhibit the replication of viral DNA. By creating medications like acyclovir based on her knowledge of chemistry and biology, rather than through trial and error, Elion helped create a new model for drug development, in addition to making an effective treatment for herpes, which afflicts billions of people globally, and can cause life-threatening illness in infants.