New HPV vax could treat cancer rather than prevent it

HPV (human papillomavirus) infections are linked with 99% of cervical cancers, and HPV vaccines can cut the risk of these cancers by preventing the infections that cause them. However, the available preventive vaccines are not approved to treat cancer (though early results suggest that Gardasil could cut cancer in women already infected with HPV). A team of U.S. researchers has created a synthetic vaccine that was effective in treated animals with HPV-derived cancer, and could be a step towards a cancer treatment with fewer side effects, according to a paper published in Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy.

The researchers have created a synthetic vaccine called TriVax. This includes a fragment of the HPV16-E7 protein, which is expressed in cervical cancer, as well as anti-CD40 antibodies to trigger an immune response and an adjuvant to boost the response. In mice with HPV16-induced tumors, the vaccine triggered a large and long-lasting T cell response and eradicated the tumors completely in most of the mice. The tumors in unvaccinated mice continued to grow.

Cancer chemotherapy can be very toxic, and around 10% of cervical cancers recur. A therapeutic vaccine would be a less toxic, and maybe even a more effective, alternative. This approach does show promise, but it is still at a very early stage--as Kelly Barrios-Marrugo of the University of South Florida College of Medicine said: "Although the magnitude of the T-cell responses achieved with TriVax in mice is impressive, we do not know whether similar effects can be accomplished in humans."

In other news, the creator of the HPV vaccine, Professor Ian Frazer, has been appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours List 2012, for "eminent service to medical research, particularly through leadership roles in the discovery of the human papilloma virus vaccine and its role in preventing cervical cancer, to higher education and as a supporter of charitable organisations."

- read the press release
- see the abstract
- check out the Honours List