admin on Oct 30, 2011 • 7:47 am
The world’s first vaccine designed to prevent cancer was not developed by a pharmaceutical company. Instead, its development was funded by public institutions on two continents, including three universities, and the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
The vaccine prevents human papillomavirus (HPV), an ailment that can lead to deadly cervical cancer. HPV is spread through sexual contact, and 80% of males and females become infected during their lifetimes. But, thanks the to HPV vaccine, it doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
The HPV vaccine relies on virus-like particles (VLPs). The VLPs in the HPV vaccine share the same outer protein coat (L1) as human papillomavirus, however, the VLPs do lack the genetic material in HPV necessary to infect a human. Thanks to the protein coat, the VLPs can assemble in the same way as HPV, and this structural similarity allows the components of the vaccine to produce an immune response without subjecting the patient to the virus in any way.
The creation of the HPV vaccine was an effort two decades in the making. Researchers at Georgetown University are credited with the dominant patent for the the HPV vaccine due to their initial background research.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the NIH separate and apart from universities, were the first to produce an active virus-like particle that produced an immune response in animals.
The University of Rochester team was responsible for the first studies showing an immune response in humans.
Gardisil, the first HPV vaccine on the market, is manufactured by Merck and protects against four different strains of HPV. This protection covers HPV-16 and HPV-18, with these causing 70% of cervical cancer cases, cases which kill as many as 300,000 women annually. HPV-16 has also been linked to oropharyngeal cancer.