By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
Robbie Jones isn’t here today to celebrate the news. The Tigard, Oregon woman died last year from cervical cancer. “I only wish the help had come earlier,” said Jones’ husband, Steve. “We tried every thing to save her, but it was the virus that won in the end.” Jones adds that it was HPV16, a particular strain of what’s known as the human papillomavirus (pap-i-lo-ma virus or HPV) that was the beginning of the end for his partner of 25 years.
| What you need to know about HPV from womeningovernment.org:|
Cervical cancer is highly preventable – regular screening is key.
A Pap test looks for changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by a common virus – human papillomavirus (or HPV).
Most women will have HPV, but few will develop cervical cancer.
Only HPV infection that persists can lead to cancer.
Emerging technologies offer new opportunities for the prevention of cervical cancer.
Women should talk to their healthcare providers about the most advanced and appropriate technologies available for cervical cancer screening.
Merck stands ready to change all that – or at least a good percentage. The drug company is working on a vaccine that clinical trials thus far show is 100 percent effective in protecting women from cervical cancer arising from HPV16 and HPV18. Those strains cause 70 percent of the cervical cancers known today.
The vaccine known as Gardasil has undergone clinical trials at Phase I and II levels. If experimental testing continues successfully, Merck plans to apply to the Federal Drug Administration for approval before the end of the year.
Luisa Villa, Ph.D., a biologist at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and colleagues conducted the Phase II trial of the vaccine among 552 women ages 16 to 23 in the United States, Europe, and Brazil. “If larger Phase III studies demonstrate the vaccine is as effective as this,” Villa said, “I’m sure that it will change the history of cervical cancer.”
Similarly, director of women’s and perinatology pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Christopher Crum, M.D., called the trials a “huge discovery,” adding that “if placed into practice, it should have tremendous impact.”
Currently 15,000 U.S. women develop cervical cancer each year, and one third of these patients die from the disease. It doesn’t have to be that way according to according to MAMM Magazine, the publication devoted to women, cancer and community. “Although cervical cancer is highly preventable,” stated MAMM, “a recent report from the non-profit organization Women in Government [see side bar] concludes that the 50 states are not doing enough to prevent the disease.”
While the states may be laggards, Merck and its British competitor GlaxoSmithKline that expects regulatory approval for its vaccine called Cervarix in 2006, are forging ahead. Indeed, the companies are coming up with similar results in their trials and concluding that the HPV vaccine will be effective in targeting the two strains – HPV16 and HPV18 – responsible for most of the cervical cancers clinicians diagnose.
Not only do HPV16 and HPV18 cause 70 percent of the cervical cancers generally, these two high risk strains are most prevalent in Europe and potentially the United States. According to Gary Clifford of the International Agency for Research Cancer in France, a study of women in 11 countries in Asia, South American, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, showed that while HPV was most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, cases of HPV16 particularly were significantly higher in populations of European women.
In results published in The Lancet, Clifford only slightly qualified his team’s results. “The proportion of high-risk HPV infections preventable by a vaccine for HPV16 or HPV18 might vary by region, being highest in Europe (and perhaps North America) and lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.”
That’s excellent news for Merck researchers who say the vaccine would be recommended as a preventive measure and given to girls and young women ages 10-13 before they become sexually active. Crum, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the vaccine would be effective throughout a woman’s life, while Eliav Barr, M.D., who led the development of the vaccine for Merck stated that “we’re thrilled about the results. The immune responses seem to be really long-lasting.”
Barr also said that Merck is in discussions with groups such as the World Health Organization to make HPV vaccines available in developing countries. That’s good thing according to infectious disease expert at Columbia University, Scott Hammer, M.D. “This is a very important issue for women’s health around the world.”
If Robbie Jones were here today, she’d definitely champion the news, her husband said. “To have a vaccine that not only helps control HPV in sub-Saharan Africa where it is so prevalent, but also focuses on the strains most typically found in European and American populations,” he said, pausing to collect himself, “Robbie would think that’s a miracle. Yes, she would – to save women from tragedy of cervical cancer and give them life. That’s what she wanted for herself so very much.”
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