New strategy against cervical cancer
The German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg and the Spanish company Chimera Pharma SL have signed an exclusive licensing and cooperation agreement. Under the agreement, the two partners will develop a therapeutic vaccine against cervical cancer to prevent women who are already infected with human papillomaviruses from developing cancer and to eradicate existing cancer prestages.
Vaccination against cervical cancer – women have been benefiting from this breakthrough in preventive medicine since 2006. Scientists at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) have made considerable contributions to developing the world’s first anti-cancer vaccine. The serum prevents HPV (human papillomavirus) infections and protects women against cervical cancer, which is a dangerous consequence of HPV infections. The vaccination gives reliable protection if immunisation takes place prior to the woman’s first sexual contact and hence prior to HPV infection. However, it is also desirable to protect women already infected with HPV against this cancer at the same time as eliminating existing cancer prestages. This is important because approximately 70 per cent of all people become infected with papillomaviruses at least once in their lifetime.
Dr. Angel Cid-Arregui, Prof. Harald zur Hausen and other colleagues at the DKFZ have developed a promising candidate for a “therapeutic vaccine” against HPV16 and HPV18, two human papillomavirus types linked to cervical cancer. Experimental investigations on mice revealed that a vaccine prototype prevented the animals from developing cancer. The Spanish vaccine specialist, Chimera Pharma SL, has now acquired the rights for the worldwide commercialisation of the substance and signed a cooperation agreement with the German Cancer Research Centre under which the vaccine will be further improved.
Fusion protein stimulates antibody formation
Angel Cid-Arregui used a clever technique to make the immune system aware of papillomavirus-infected cells. He combined E7 (papillomavirus protein that is constantly produced by infected cells) with a protein of the hepatitis virus that brings two beneficial characteristics to the protein partnership: firstly, it assembles spontaneously to form empty, virus-like structures although combined with the papillomavirus protein. Secondly, the empty virus shells cause the stimulation of the human immune system and direct it against E7-producing cells. In addition, the virus shells transport further proteins that stimulate the immune system.
“This therapeutic vaccine might help prevent cervical cancer in all women, not only those that have not yet been infected by HPV. With this, we are closing an important gap that still exists in terms of the prevention of cervical cancer,” said Cid-Arregui.
Cervical cancer is the second most frequent cancer in women all over the world; every year, approximately 230,000 patients die. The two high-risk HPV types, HPV16 and HPV18, account for about 70 per cent of all cervical cancers. In Germany alone, every year approximately 100,000 cervical cancer prestages are treated.
Source: German Cancer Research Centre - 8th May 2008