Low-cost cervical cancer vaccine moves to human trials

By Staff

A low-cost cervical cancer vaccine developed by University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers will be tested in human trials.

Cervical cancer, caused by infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), kills more than 350,000 women each year worldwide. Although the disease is less prevalent in the United States and developed nations, it is rampant in developing countries such as India where women don't have easy access to regular PAP screens and where two cervical cancer vaccines now on the market—Gardasil and Cervarix— are impractical because of their cost (about $360 for each three-shot vaccine).

"The incidence of cervical cancer is primarily localized to resource-poor countries," says Bob Garcea, M.D., UCCC member and professor in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "We need a vaccine that can reach those people."

Gardasil and Cervarix are expensive because they use fully assembled virus-like particles [VLPs] made from HPV proteins to stimulate the immune system against the virus. Garcea discovered that an HPV vaccine doesn't require VLPs to work. Instead, subunits called capsomeres work just as effectively at activating the immune system to prevent infection. What's more, capsomeres can be manufactured in large quantities at a fraction of the cost of VLPs.

Garcea has worked for a quarter of a century in the development of effective cervical cancer vaccines. His early work helped lead to the development of the VLP-based vaccines. He received a National Cancer Institute grant in 2002 as well as a $3.4 million grant in 2005 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund his work.

"This trial is the next important step toward bringing a low-cost HPV vaccine to women most in need," he says. He anticipates the first human trials of the vaccine will begin in a year.

The clinical trial will be funded by the National Cancer Institute as part of an $11.5 millionSpecialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant awarded to the University of Alabama Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center. SPORE grants are designed to enable the rapid transition of basic science discoveries in the laboratory into clinical treatments, a process known as translational research. This SPORE grant in cervical cancer will help fund cervical cancer prevention and treatment research at UAB, The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University and UCCC. Garcea is co-leader of the SPORE project that will develop the clinical trial.