Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1148th General Monthly Meeting

"The cervical cancer vaccine"

Professor Ian Frazer, Director of the Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research, University of Queensland and Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, and 2006 Australian of the Year

Wednesday 1 November 2006, 6.30 for 7 pm
Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road


About 25% of cancers are initiated by infections, and therefore potentially preventable. Immunotherapy already plays a significant role in cancer control: innate immunostimulators (e.g. imiquimod), passive immunotherapy (e.g. Herceptin) and active specific immunotherapy (e.g. Dendreon's prostate cancer therapeutic) are demonstrated effective, and many further therapies are in late stage clinical trial. Uniquely amongst human cancers, cancer of the cervix can be entirely attributable to an infectious agent. A subset of about 10 human papillomaviruses, termed high risk, are responsible, and two types (HPV16 and HPV18) account for more than 70% of cancers. Infection with high risk human papillomaviruses is extremely common, with up to 50% of women becoming infected during the first 5 years after commencing sexual intercourse. Up to 98% of these infections regress without intervention. Persistent infection conveys substantial risk of cervical cancer . Prevention of cervical cancer at present relies on screening programs. Future programs will likely be based on vaccines, to prevent HPV infection, now licensed in the USA, and Australasia. If administered prior to sexual activity, they will prevent up to 70% of cervical cancer in an unscreened population.


Professor Ian Frazer is the Director of the Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research at the University of Queensland. He was trained as a renal physician and clinical immunologist in Edinburgh, before emigrating to Melbourne in 1981. In 1985 he moved to the University of Queensland and now holds a personal chair as head of the Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research. His current research includes immunoregulation and immunotherapeutic vaccines for papillomavirus-associated cancers. He is on the board of the Queensland Cancer Fund, is Vice-President of the Cancer Council of Australia and advises WHO on papillomavirus.

Report on the General Monthly Meeting by William Sewell

The lecture on 1st November was delivered by Prof Ian Frazer, Australian of the Year for 2006, and Director of the Centre of Immunology and Cancer Research at the University of Queensland. He presented a fascinating overview covering not only his work on the development of the cervical cancer vaccine, but also the role of microbial infections in human cancers in general. The papillomavirus or wart virus is the cause of cervical cancer, which leads to about a quarter of a million deaths per year worldwide. In the early 1990s, Ian Frazer and colleagues developed a mechanism of producing non-infectious virus-like particles from papillomavirus. They were able to use these particles in a vaccine, which leads to long-lasting immunity against papillomavirus infection, and confers protection against cervical cancer. As a result of Ian Frazer's pioneering work, cervical vaccines will shortly become widely available. Cervical cancer is only one example of a cancer caused by a virus. About 25% of cancers worldwide are caused by viruses or bacteria. Ian Frazer highlighted the work of the Australian researchers Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, who discovered the link between Helicobacter pylori and stomach ulcers, which are a major cause of stomach cancer. The excellent lecture concluded with an overview of prospects for the future control of cancer.

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