Prof Ian Frazer, “creator” of the cervical cancer vaccine and Research Director at TRI Brisbane, Australia, is advocating the roll-out of universal vaccination programmes in some of the world’s poorest countries.
He said one in 100 women in some developing countries is infected with Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV) which cause cervical cancer. Weak healthcare systems, lack of screening programmes and very limited access to medicines means dramatically lower survival rates for women in poor regions of the world whose infections develop into cancer.
Professor Ian Frazer discusses his invention of the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer
“The only hope for cervical cancer in the developing world is universal vaccination. Many countries can scarcely afford to deliver even the most basic of vaccine programmes. That’s why we need organisations like [the] GAVI [Alliance] and the World Health Organisation to step in and facilitate vaccine programmes,” he says.
Prof Frazer says cervical cancer is unique among the cancers that are caused by infections in that every case of cervical cancer is caused by a papilloma virus infection. “So if there are no papilloma virus infections there are no cancers. This strong link with an earlier infection made cervical cancer an ideal target for the development of a vaccine.”
He describes vaccines as “single most effective public health measures after clean water” and is now pushing for more women to have access to the HPV vaccine.
“The [HPV] vaccine is available widely in the developed world and is used quite extensively but to get it out into the developing world is really the major breakthrough that will help prevent cervical cancer globally.”
Prof Frazer also gives an inspiring account of how his and others’ basic laboratory work led to the development of vaccines for HPV infection. It is, he says, a rare privilege for a scientist to see their work make the journey from basic science, through clinical trials, to saving people’s lives.