Capitalist considerations may blight distribution of cervical cancer vaccines
Published 2006-06-18 01:33 (KST)
Alexander Krabbe (AlexKrabbe)
Three years ago in Spring 2003 news of a possibly revolutionary vaccine made the rounds of the scientific press. It was suggested that humanity would be able to fight a deadly cancer type in women with just a simple vaccination.
In Australia tests of a vaccine against cervical cancer had been successful, leading to hopes for the extermination of one of the most common female cancers.
People at high risk of developing cervical cancer, including prostitutes, were included among the many test subjects. According to the study’s results, five years after vaccination no woman in the vaccinated group showed any signs of developing cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in her cervix.
Rates of cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in the unvaccinated placebo group appeared at the same percentage as in the common population. No serious side effects of the vaccine were observed.
It looked as if two subtypes of the human papilloma virus family (HPV), type 16 and 18, which are responsible for more than 70 percent of all cervical cancers, were about to lose their grip on humankind.
HPV 6 and 11, responsible for genital warts both in males and females, were also targeted by the vaccine.
In November 2004 a subsequent study was completed at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center and Dartmouth Medical School in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. Only the license for this smart weapon against the retro viruses HPV 16 and 18, which by DNA modification change normal cells into cancer cells, was needed.
2006: HPV 16/18 vaccine licensed for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
In early June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the license for the cervical cancer vaccine. Under the name Gardasil it will be distributed by the pharmaceutics company Merck & Co.
The company, which seems to be pushing humanity towards a great victory against cervical cancer, is less than altruistic. During the Rofecoxib (Vioxx) scandal it became clear that Merck & Co had early knowledge of serious cardio- vascular side effects from the drug, such as deadly heart attacks, but withheld this knowledge for about four years. This was revealed by The Lancet in 2004.
GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine is also near to being licensed.
When it comes to profits, the love of money outguns the rights of man. Is it any different with the HPV 16/18 vaccine?
What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is located at the top end of the vagina. Two different types of inner lining cell material meet at this point of the female body, causing an unstable cell region in which cancer can easily develop. The presence of HP-viruses is all that is needed to finally cause malignant cell deformations.
Cervical cancer can be asymptomatic in its earliest stages, when it is most easily treated. According to the work of Canavan & Doshi, 2000, 4,800 women in the U.S. die of the disease annually and 12,800 women are diagnosed.
Human papilloma viruses are transmitted mainly, but not exclusively, by sexual intercourse and thus considered an STI (Sexually transmitted infection).
One out of a million men will get cancer of the penis due to papilloma viruses; rates are much higher in countries with low hygiene standards.
The first problem: Selection pressure
Following the news in 2003, I began to research the fight against HPV 16 and 18. I interviewed two experts from the University of Greifswald, the director of the institute for gynecology and the director of the institute for microbiology, asking them what they thought about this apparently revolutionary innovation.
Both agreed that wiping out only HPV 16 and 18, the virus subtypes responsible for over 70 percent of all cervical cancers, will very probably lead to selection pressure. This means the HPVs which cause the remaining cervical cancers could become as prevalent as HPV 16 and 18 are at this present time.