The pharmaceutical giant Merck has announced successful results in a study of its vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Of the 12,000 women who participated in the two-year study, 100 percent of those who received the vaccine were free from precancerous lesions and early-stage cancers, while 21 cases of lesions were reported in the group that received a placebo. The vaccine targets two types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that has led to an estimated 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.
The cervical cancer vaccine, being developed by Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (Glaxo), a competing pharmaceutical company, “is the first real advance in women’s medical care in 50 years,” said Diane Harper, M.D., in Ms. magazine’s summer 2005 issue. “It will really change the way our daughters and granddaughters are cared for.”
Glaxo’s vaccine has also had successful results. Both Merck and Glaxo expect to gain approval by next year. Once approved, the vaccine will be administered to pre-teen girls and boys who are not yet sexually active.
Approximately 20 million men and women are estimated to have contracted HPV. In some women, HPV can lead to cervical cancer. An estimated 10,400 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2005 in the US, and an estimated 3,700 deaths will be caused by the disease.