Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil is used for its ability to protect women and girls against HPV infection. However, it seems as if it may also help some women who are already infected. In fact, data from a study published in the British Medical Journal demonstrate women who are diagnosed with and treated for HPV-related disease may have a considerably reduced risk of reoccurring disease if they have had the shot.
The study looked at the 1,350 women who were vaccinated in the FUTURE I and FUTURE II studies and then diagnosed with HPV-related vaginal or vulval diseases (including genital warts) or had cervical surgery. Previous studies have shown vaccination doesn't lower a woman's chance of developing cervical pre-cancers if she had an HPV infection at the time of vaccination. However, this study showed that for women who had cervical surgery after the trials, the chance of developing another bout of HPV-related disease was almost halved. For women with vaginal or vulvar disease, the risk of another HPV disease was cut by around a third.
According to the authors, only long-term surveillance can determine the effectiveness of the vaccination in this population. There are a number of ongoing trials to look at the safety and impact of HPV vaccines on subsequent diseases.
Still, "[t]he current study moves us closer to understanding the full scope of benefits from HPV vaccination by showing for the first time that vaccine protection against disease can endure beyond the management of HPV related disease in women already vaccinated," states Jane Kim, assistant professor of health decision science at the Harvard School of Public Health, in the BMJ editorial. However, she adds it's too early to generalize from these results. To find out more about the value of Gardasil in women who are already infected will take more and longer studies, but this one does show a glimmer of hope.