Eliminating cervical cancer globally
The University of Queensland’s medical research is eliminating cervical cancer globally. Two preventive vaccines developed have the capacity to save an estimated quarter of a million lives annually.
The vaccines are now available in 130 countries and more than 187 million doses of HPV vaccines Gardasil™ and Cervarix™ have been distributed worldwide.
Research conducted by Professor Ian Frazer and the late Dr Jian Zhou on virus-like particles led to the development of the HPV vaccines, for the prevention of cervical cancer and other HPV related cancers.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women globally and kills 275,000 women annually. HPV infection is also a common cause of head and neck cancer, and the vaccine is also effective against genital warts.
In addition to developed countries, the vaccine has been made available at low cost to developing nations where cervical cancer has the greatest mortality rate.
Four out of five people are believed to have been exposed to human papilloma virus (HPV) which is proven to cause genital warts and cervical cancer and is linked to the development of cancers of the anus, penis, mouth and throat. Cervical cancer is the second biggest killer of women worldwide.
Gardasil™ and Cervarix™ are the only vaccines that help protect against four types of HPV. These revolutionary vaccines are based on technology first developed and patented by UQ’s Professor Ian Frazer and the late Dr Jian Zhou, in collaboration with researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Georgetown University, and University of Rochester.
The prescription-only vaccine is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Melbourne-based pharmaceutical manufacturer CSL and distributed worldwide by US drug maker Merck & Co. The vaccine is administered via three doses over six months.
The efficacy of the vaccine is astonishingly high. In girls and young women aged 9 to 26, Gardasil™ has been proven to protect against two types of HPV that cause about 75 per cent of cervical cancer cases, and two more types that cause about 90 per cent of genital warts cases. It also protects against approximately 70 per cent of vaginal cancer cases and up to 50 per cent of vulva cancer cases.
In boys and young men aged 9 to 26, Gardasil™ helps protect against approximately 90 per cent of genital warts cases.
In Australia, Gardasil™ was first made available, free of charge, to teenage girls in 2007. In 2012, the Australian government announced the extension of the Gardasil™ vaccination program to include teenage boys.
The President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Steve Hambleton, has described Gardasil™ as ‘one of the most potent vaccines that we have’.
In 2006, Professor Ian Frazer was named Australian of the Year, with the Board of the National Australia Day Council stating his research ‘has the potential to eradicate cervical cancer within a generation.’
Now available in 120 countries, more than 205 million doses of HPV vaccines Gardasil™ and Cervarix™ have been distributed worldwide.
But while young women in the developed world have easy access to these potentially life-saving vaccines, many women in poorer countries are less fortunate. Most of the 275,000 deaths from cervical cancer each year occur in the developing world, where pap smears to screen for the disease are not widely available.
Professor Frazer and colleagues are determined to address this inequity, and have worked with the Gates Foundation and World Health Organisation to make the drug more affordable to girls and young women in the developing world.
Apart from its impact on women’s health worldwide, Gardasil™ has also been a huge economic success. The vaccine was one of the first Australian pharmaceutical successes to result in a fair share of economic flow back into Australia.
In July 2013, Professor Frazer became chief executive of the Translational Research Institute (TRI), the first institute in Australia to take medical breakthroughs from research and trial to manufacture. TRI aims to keep the economic gains from breakthroughs such as Gardasil™ in Australia. TRI is supported by UQ, QUT, Princess Alexandra Hospital and Mater Research.
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