The Australian development has been hailed as one of the biggest advances in women’s health since the contraceptive pill.
The vaccine is known as Gardasil.
Final trials show it to be 100 per cent effective against the most common strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) which cause an estimated 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
But the dreaded pap smear won’t be consigned to history just yet.
Women will still need pap smears even if they have been vaccinated, but not every two years, as doctors currently advise.
The vaccine was developed by Australian scientist Ian Frazer and
his University of Queensland colleagues in the early 1990s.
Scottish-bred Dr Frazer began the research 20 years ago working out of a basement at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.
He switched his scientific focus from hepatitis to cervical cancer.
“When I came here … in 1985, we worked in the basement of the dialysis unit and I worked in a cupboard,” he joked in a recent interview.
Two decades on, his research is being described as Nobel Prize-winning stuff that will revolutionise women’s health.
It has the potential to save many millions of dollars in medical costs worldwide.
The latest study of more than 12,000 women from 13 countries found Gardasil prevented early stage cervical cancer and pre-cancerous lesions.
Half the women received three doses of the vaccine and half were given a placebo, or inactive treatment.
No pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix were found in those who were given Gardasil.
However 21 women in the control group developed lesions during the two-year study.
Gardasil is based on Dr Frazer’s 1991 discovery of a way to create artificial HPV in the test tube, minus any infectious material.
The vaccine works by provoking an immune response to HPV, which
is sexually transmitted.
“What we did was make the skin of the virus without the insides,” he explained from New York today.
“It looks like the virus to the immune system … but it’s not infectious and it can’t cause any disease.
“It’s just the shell of the virus.”
That breakthrough, using genetic technology, was almost 15 years
“It’s been that long since we thought of the idea and put it into the test tube, if you like,” Dr Frazer said.
“It’s been very exciting watching it develop from there but obviously, 15 years is a long time and we’ll be very pleased to see the vaccine out there next year.”
Applications to licence the vaccine were expected to be submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration and Australia’s Therapeutic Drugs Administration by the end of the year.
Gynaecological oncologist Gerry Wain from Westmead Hospital in Sydney described the trial results as monumental.
“We’ve already had one Nobel Prize in Australia this week. This is Nobel Prize winning stuff. This is a huge step forward for women across the world. I’m one of the people who sits there and watches these women die. I’d love to be out of a job,” Dr Wain said.
He said ideally women would be vaccinated before becoming
“It will be of most benefit for younger women but it’ll also be beneficial for older women as well, assuming they haven’t been in contact with the strains of the virus targeted by the vaccine,” he said.
Gardasil was developed by Merck and Co, based on technology licensed from Australian pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd.
Around 300,000 women worldwide die from cervical cancer annually.
The cancer killed 227 Australians in 2002.
Many of the other women live in countries with no pap smear programs and where a vaccine would save lives.