When a major global vaccine alliance announced today that it had struck an agreement with two pharmaceutical companies to drastically reduce the price of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines in poor countries, there was plenty to celebrate at Fred Hutch.
Fred Hutch, via Dr. Denise Galloway and colleagues, made major breakthrough contributions to the vaccine that prevents HPV.
Their work showed that HPV is associated with nearly all genital-tract cancers and with many head and neck cancers. Her team also played a pivotal role in identifying how HPV causes cancer.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death among American women, but thanks to widespread use of the Pap test, early detection and the introduction of the HPV vaccine, it’s no longer one of the biggest cancer threats.
“In just 25 years, we went from not having any idea what viruses were involved in these cancers to having a vaccine,” Galloway said in a previous interview about her work. “That’s amazingly fast.”
However, Galloway has often said it is imperative to take the vaccine into low-income countries, where HPV is a major killer of women, and where a vaccine would do the most good.
The price of the vaccine, which is about $300 for the three needed doses in the U.S. and other developed nations, is out of reach for poor women in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other parts of the world.
And yet, according to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer remains the second most common cancer in the world, with more than 500,000 new cases and 275,000 deaths each year—virtually all linked to HPV. More than 85 percent of cervical cancer deaths occur in developing countries.
Both companies have agreed to sell their vaccines in poor countries for under $5 per dose.
It’s certainly a transformational moment—a cause for celebration here and around the globe as research continues to move forward against cancer.