Diane Harper, a researcher at Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, N.H., has studied the link between human papillomavirus infection and cervical cancer for 20 years. Harper now believes she may have found a vaccine that protects against the two strains of HPV that are linked to 70% of cervical cancers. The vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, was tested from 2000 to 2003 on 1,113 women ages 15 to 25 from the United States, Canada, and Brazil. In women who received three injections and follow-up testing, the vaccine was 100% effective. In those who received only one or two injections, the vaccine proved to be 91% effective. The vaccine offers protection for three to five years. No side effects, except for pain or redness at the injection site, were reported, said Harper, who added that she is an independent researcher and is not paid by GlaxoSmithKline.
"It offers such an advantage for women and such a change in health care, one that we will actually see in the next five years," Harper said of the vaccine. If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it could be available early next year. "I'm extremely excited about the possibilities."
According to preliminary findings, said Harper, the vaccine may protect against HPV-associated diseases such as anal cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvular cancer, esophageal cancer, abnormal Pap smears, and mouth or oral cancer. "It's going to take us 20 to 30 years to get the data, but we're really hopeful this has long-term protective effects," she said.
The vaccine is now in phase III trials--the final step before licensing the drug for general use--and involves 15,000 women worldwide. If approved, said Harper, the vaccine would be recommended for girls ages 10 to 12 with booster immunizations later. Harper and her research team also are examining an HPV vaccination for men, who often unknowingly carry the infection.
HPV is believed to be the most common sexually transmitted disease among gay men. Studies suggest that more than half of all sexually active gay men and as many as 90% of HIV-positive gay men carry HPV. The virus can cause anal or genital warts, and certain strains have been linked with an increased risk of anal cancer. (AP, with additional reporting by Advocate.com)