Jab to wipe out cervical cancer just a year away

Last updated at 09:25 13 December 2005


A revolutionary vaccine that could end cervical cancer and save thousands of lives should be available within a year.

The drug was found to be 100 per cent effective at preventing the precursor changes that signal the disease.

The vaccine is designed to protect against two strains of a virus called the human papilloma virus, or HPV, that trigger 70 per cent of cervical cancers. It also acts against virus strains which cause genital warts.

Controversy

However, use of the drug is set to spark controversy. Although teenagers and adults took part in the trials, the vaccine is likely to be administered to girls as young as 10-years-old.

Because HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse, some critics have argued that treating young girls with the vaccine might encourage under-age sex.

Drugs company Sanofi Pasteur MSD is applying for a licence to market Gardasil in 25 European countries.

If the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) gives the vaccine the go-ahead, Gardasil's manufacturers hope the drug will be available within a year.

Dr Nick Kitchin, medical director for Sanofi Pasteur MSD, said he was optimistic the application would be successful.

"Hopefully this is a milestone step on the path to be able to protect future generations against cervical cancer," he said.

Professor Margaret Stanley, an expert on HPV from Cambridge University, said if there was blanket coverage it could put an end to cervical cancer for good.

Experts point out that cervical cancer affects some 470,000 women a year worldwide and 33,500 in Europe. Each year, 15,000 women die from the disease in Europe, making it the second biggest cancer killer after breast cancer for women aged 15 to 44.

However, survival chances are good if the disease is detected and treated early.

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