Vaccine against cervical cancer ‘100% effective’

A CONTROVERSIAL vaccine against cervical cancer could be available within a year following dramatic trial results which proved 100% effective at preventing the precursor changes that signal the disease.

A total of 12,167 women aged 16 to 23 from 13 countries took part in the trial of the drug, Gardasil.

Half were given three injections of Gardasil spanning six months and half jabs of an inactive dummy drug. They were then monitored for an average of two years.

Gardasil is designed to protect against two strains of a virus called the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that trigger 70% of cervical cancers. The vaccine not only acts against the HPV 16 and 18 strains, but also strains six and 11 which cause genital warts.

The trial findings showed Gardasil to be 100% effective at preventing high-grade and non-invasive pre-cancerous lesions associated with the 16 and 18 strains.

None of the women were infected with HPV at the start of the trial and they remained infection-free throughout the treatment course.

Gardasil’s manufacturers are on track to apply for a US Food and Drug Administration licence to market the vaccine in the fourth quarter of next year.

This will be followed by a licence application to the European Medicines Agency.

The vaccine is a joint venture by the pharmaceutical companies Sanofi Pasteur and Merck & Co Inc.

It is in head-to-head competition with another HPV vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline called Cervarix, which is also undergoing trials.

The vaccines could be among the biggest-selling drugs of all time. One analyst has estimated that Gardasil could be worth €821 million a year.

But their use will be controversial. The vaccine is likely to be administered to girls as young as 10 to 13.

Because HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse, older sexually active girls are more likely to be infected.

Some critics have argued that treating young girls with the vaccine might encourage underage sex.

But experts point out that 15,000 women die from the disease in Europe each year, making it the second biggest cancer killer after breast cancer for women aged 15 to 44.

In Ireland, cervical cancer mortality does not have comprehensive population-based screening and has been increasing by an average of 1.5% per year since 1978.

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