MetroWest Medical Center has won town health board approval for a drug trial to treat the most common sexually transmitted infection.
With the backing, MetroWest Medical can soon join a 58-site nationwide clinical trial for a drug from pharmaceutical giant The Roche Group for human papillomavirus, or HPV.
HPV is passed through genital-to-genital contact and oral sex, with at least 50 percent of sexually active Americans getting it at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In most cases, HPV infections are not serious, and they typically go away without treatment. But some types of the virus can lead to genital warts. And some strains are the main cause of cervical cancer, a disease that kills 12,000 American women yearly and does not have symptoms until it becomes advanced.
Both vaccines on the market – Merck’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix – are recommended for girls ages 11 and 12, although they can also be given up to age 26 for those who did not receive shots earlier in life or did not complete the series. Gardasil is also approved for boys and men ages 9 to 26.
But the existing vaccines provide prevention, rather than a cure. Roche’s drug is meant to treat the abnormal appearance of cells on the cervix, a condition called dysplasia that is caused by HPV and can lead to cancer. Rather than attack the virus directly, the liquid injection delivers a protein similar to one found in HPV, priming the immune system to release antibodies.
The drug is a biologic, meaning it’s created not through the old method of using chemistry equipment to create medications but rather through living organisms. Like most other drugs in the growing biologics category, Roche’s tweaks the DNA of the organism – not publicly identified by the hospital because it’s a Roche trade secret – for production.