New HPV vaccine may offer broader protection against cervical cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A major international research programme has found that not only does the new Cervarix vaccine provide protection against the most common cervical cancer-causing viruses, it also provides additional protection against other viruses associated with the disease.

Cervarix, produced by GlaxoSmithKline, is the second of two vaccines developed to protect against certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the viruses that can cause warts and cervical cancer. Cervarix protects against HPV strains 16 and 18, which cause the majority of human cervical cancers.

The other vaccine, Sanofi-Pasteurs's Gardasil, protects against HPV 16 and 18, and also strains 6 and 11, which can cause genital warts. It was licensed for use in the EU in September 2006. The UK Government is currently considering how to introduce the vaccine.

Now a Phase III study involving 18,644 women from 14 countries has revealed Cervarix provides up to 100 per cent protection against advanced precancerous lesions caused by HPV 16 and 18 ? a similar figure to Gardasil.

In addition, the study has provided evidence that the vaccine provides significant protection against other cancer-causing virus types which account for a further ten per cent of cervical cancers.

Lead investigator Professor Jorma Paavonen, a researcher at Helsinki University Central Hospital's department of obstetrics and gynaecology, commented: "This provides a strong indication that this vaccine can protect women from the infections that may develop into cervical cancer."

Professor Margaret Stanley, of the University of Cambridge pathology department, added: "These results suggest protection from persistent infection with additional cancer-causing virus types beyond those contained in the vaccine.

"This is important because persistent infection is a necessary first step in the development of precancerous lesions and cervical cancers."

Nearly 2,800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK every year, making it the second most common cancer in women under the age of 35.

Dr Rachel Skinner, who led the Perth component of the international study, noted that women could benefit from a reduction in abnormal smear tests as well as additional protection against the disease.