HPV vaccine pioneer targeting skin cancer jab

Scientific advances have broadened the range of vaccine targets over the past 20 years. Before 1990, development of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines was stopped by an inability to grow the virus in tissue culture. Now, the scientist who helped solve that quandary is working on skin cancer.

Professor Ian Frazer co-invented the viruslike particle (VLP) method that facilitated the creation of HPV vaccines. Frazer licensed the VLP method to Merck ($MRK)--and later GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK)--before turning his attention to other diseases. Work is now under way to see whether a vaccine can cut the risk of developing skin cancer. Researchers have linked immunosuppression with increased risk of skin cancer, suggesting that an infection plays a role in disease development.

Frazer believes that skin cancer--like its cervical counterpart--may originate from a viral infection. "You get the virus, it starts the process off but then the virus goes away but the process carries on and you end up with cancer. We know that happens in some cancers. We are now working on the basis that we should be looking for the virus that might cause skin cancer much earlier in the process before there's actually a cancer there," Frazer told The Scotsman.

The research team led by Frazer at the Translational Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia, hopes to identify a virus involved in the development of skin cancer later this year. If the team achieves that goal, work on a vaccine can then begin. Based on the time it took to develop the HPV vaccines, Frazer believes the availability of a skin cancer jab is still at least a decade away. Frazer has already taken one skin cancer vaccine candidate through preclinical, and last year a team at the Mayo Clinic reported positive results in mice for its immunotherapy.

- here's The Scotsman article