The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of a new vaccine that targets five additional strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) fortifies a proven cancer-prevention weapon, according to Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The FDA greenlighted use of Gardasil 9 for the prevention of certain cancers caused by nine HPV strains - five more than its predecessor, Gardasil. The FDA said Gardasil has the potential to prevent the vast majority of cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers.
"This is an incredible step forward in our fight to end cancer," said DePinho. "Up to 80 percent of the world will be infected with HPV at some point, according to estimates. MD Anderson hopes the vaccine approval will change the conversation about HPV vaccination from sex to saving lives."
Vaccination of HPV in children has been at the center of the discussions leading to today's FDA announcement. DePinho, the father of three young children, believes MD Anderson can help lead the way in protecting children through HPV vaccination. He considers HPV vaccination a "national child welfare priority and major parental responsibility."
MD Anderson clinicians and researchers are spearheading an institution-wide approach to addressing HPV-related cancers. Programs already are underway for parents, educators, clergy, policy makers and the general public to increase HPV vaccination rates in Texas and across the nation, improve early screening and detection and develop novel therapies.
MD Anderson's priorities include efforts to improve screening capabilities and move biomedical research findings from the laboratory to the bedside in a timely manner. Clinical research efforts using high-resolution microendoscopy (HRME), a low-cost alternative to colposcopy and biopsies, may prove especially valuable in low-resource settings. A community outreach program to improve screening and prevention in Texas' Lower Rio Grande Valley on the Texas-Mexico border will benefit patients in an area where cervical cancer rates are up to 30 percent higher than the state average.
"In addition, we are developing a national partnership with peer institutions in 18 states to increase HPV vaccination rates," said DePinho. "One initiative funded for $1.5 million will result in an unparalleled effort to accelerate the conversion of scientific discoveries into clinical advances."
According to Lois M. Ramondetta, M.D., associate professor, gynecologic oncology, this new vaccine will cover close to 90 percent of cervical cancers, one of the most common forms of cancer caused by HPV.
"If we can increase vaccination rates in this country, this vaccine approval has the power to save thousands of lives," she said.
Below are facts about HPV-related cancers and vaccination in the United States:
- HPV infection accounts for 5 percent of all cancers worldwide - cases comprising cervical, oropharangeal (head/neck), anal, vulvar, vaginal and penile cancers.
- This accounts for 45,000 cases of preventable cancers and 10,000 deaths, this year, in the U.S. alone.
- Oropharyngeal cancers affect men by a ratio of four-to-one and are on course to eclipse that of cervical cancer, the disease for which the vaccine was originally approved and marketed.
- Annual direct medical costs of preventing and treating HPV-related cancers are estimated to be $8 billion.
- Just 57 percent of girls and 35 percent of boys are estimated to be vaccinated, far short of the Healthy People 2020 goal of at least 80 percent of children vaccinated against HPV.
- Only one in three girls and fewer than one in six boys receive all three vaccine doses.