The vaccine's technology was generated by a team of Georgetown University researchers in the early 1990s and licensed for commercial development. On June 8, the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine, which scientists say could eliminate most new cases of cervical cancer worldwide. Called Gardasil, the vaccine blocks four strains of HPV, including two that give rise to nearly 75 percent of cervical cancer cases and two other strains that cause about 50 percent of genital warts.
"It's a researcher's dream to see something that started as a very cerebral idea in the laboratory to advance through animal and clinical trials, gain FDA approval and ultimately have a major global impact," Schlegel said. "It's highly unlikely but extremely gratifying to see it through so far."
Schlegel, professor and chair of Georgetown's Department of Pathology, in the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, began a research project in the late 1980s studying the molecular biology of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the precursor to most cervical cancers. Looking at the biological makeup of the virus through an advanced microscope, Schlegel said he never imagined he was laying the groundwork for something that could change the face of global medicine.
Instead, he focused on the millions of people worldwide infected with the sexually transmitted disease, particularly those in developing countries where HPV strikes 400,000 women annually. Without access to routine preventative care and annual Pap screening, HPV can develop into cervical cancer, the most common form of cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in developing nations.
"We realized these deaths were largely preventable that's really all the motivation we needed," he said
Contact: Laura Cavender
Georgetown University Medical Center