The cervical cancer vaccine was discovered by Australian medical researcher and immunologist, Professor Ian Frazer AC.
In 1985, Dr Frazer received seed funding from the Lions Medical Research Foundation to research drugs used in the treatment of HIV (human immuno-deficiency virus). An observation during this research indicated that HPV (human papillomavirus) infection seemed to induce pre-cancerous cells.
HPV-related cancers include almost all cancers of the cervix, and a proportion of cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis and throat.
Working with virologist Jian Zhou, work began on developing the HPV vaccine and sending it to clinical trials. The first vaccine, Gardasil, completely protected unexposed women against four HPV strains responsible for 70% of cancers and was made available to Australian girls in 2007.
Ongoing research revealed that the cervical cancer vaccine also protected boys and men from HPV infection – responsible for cancers in men such as throat cancers, anal and penile cancers, and genital warts.
In 2018, research by the Cancer Council of Australia showed that Australia is set to become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer following the success of the HPV vaccination program and changes to the National Cervical Screening Program.
The more recent iteration – Gardasil 9 – provides fully vaccinated people with protection against nine types of HPV including:
- types 16 and 18, the two types that cause the majority of HPV-related cancers
- the five next most common HPV types associated with cervical cancer (types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58)
- two non-cancer-causing HPV types (types 6 and 11), which cause 90% of genital warts.
Gardasil 9 is used in the school-based National HPV Vaccination Program (from 2018). It replaced Gardasil, which protected against four HPV types and was in use between 2007 and 2017