By Dina Fine Maron
Imagine a vaccine that protects against more than a half-dozen types of cancer—and has a decade of data and experience behind it.
We have one. It’s the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, and it was approved for the U.S. market back in June 2006. It can prevent almost all cervical cancers and protect against cancers of the mouth, throat and anus. It also combats the sexually transmitted genital warts that some forms of the virus can cause.
On Wednesday, two researchers who completed fundamental work on these vaccines received one of this year’s prestigious Lasker Awards, a group of medical prizes sometimes called the “American Nobels.” Douglas Lowy and John Schiller, whose research provided the basis for the HPV vaccine, were selected alongside a researcher who separately unraveled key aspects of metabolic control of cell growth. Planned Parenthood was also given an award, for its public service. Lowy and Schiller, who both work at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), received the Lasker for their research on animal and human papillomaviruses—work that enabled the development of a vaccine against HPV-16 type, a form of the virus that fuels many HPV malignancies. The duo’s experiments proved that the vaccine is effective in animals, and they also conducted the first clinical trial of an HPV-16 vaccine in humans. That gave pharmaceutical companies the evidence they needed to invest in their own vaccines designed to protect against multiple kinds of HPV, and ultimately led to the versions administered around the world today.
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