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The "Next-generation" HPV Vaccine

Even before the original was approved by the FDA in 2006, work was under way to create the next generation of vaccines to prevent cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society funded Dr. Richard Roden's HPV vaccine work at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine from 2002-2006, and today that work continues in part through the Society's funding of a research project directed by Dr. Warner Huh at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (2008-2012).

A second-generation HPV vaccine could prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women worldwide from cervical cancer. The new experimental vaccine has the potential for being produced at a lower cost than the current HPV vaccine and for preventing infection by the more than 100 strains of the HPV virus; the current vaccines are likely to be too expensive for extensive use in global vaccination programs.

Just recently, Drs. Huh and Roden have collaborated to leverage their American Cancer Society support and receive an $11.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. The grant, which funds researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Colorado at Boulder, will include a Phase 1 clinical trial in humans to determine the effectiveness of the new vaccine. The new vaccine targets the L2 minor capsid protein instead of L1, which is in the current vaccine. In addition, since global vaccine programs have been limited by a lack of access to refrigeration in developing countries, the requirement for a cold-chain for the L2 based vaccine will be evaluated.

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"The importance of the work on a 'next-generation' vaccine is that it has the potential to cover all oncogenic or high-risk HPV types that cause cervical cancer and other female lower genital tract malignancies," said Warren Huh, an associate scientist at the University of Alabama's Comprehensive Cancer Center, who is working on the HPV vaccine project. "The current vaccines, while highly protective, do not have this ability. If we are able to demonstrate that this vaccine does protect against all types and has similar levels of clinical protection as the commercially available vaccines, we might be able to cease cervical cancer screening altogether; that is, if women and girls are widely vaccinated. That is particularly relevant in countries that do not have the resources to provide mass screening and subsequent treatment."

Cervical cancer is a major killer of women in developing countries and the second most common cancer diagnosed in women around the world. According to the American Cancer Society's Global Facts and Figures 2nd Edition, in 2011 there were an estimated 529,800 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed worldwide with an estimated 275,100 deaths.

"We will need to prove that this vaccine actually works as well as we hope it will," Huh said. "We also need to meet certain clinical standards and benchmarks before we can even think about access, distribution, and other programmatic issues related to vaccine delivery. We are likely years away from that, but the prospect of creating a pan-oncogenic HPV vaccine that is effective and cheap has significant future ramifications on prevention of HPV related malignancies."

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