10 years of saving lives

3 Nov 2016

Pictured: Dr Xiao-Yi Sun and (left) Professor Ian Frazer (right).

Since the introduction of the Gardasil vaccine 10 years ago, the rate of cervical cancer-causing infections in Australian women has dropped by nearly 90 per cent.

Gardasil was created from technology first developed by UQ researchers Professor Ian Frazer and the late Dr Jian Zhou in conjunction with an international network of scientists.

The vaccine works by immunising against certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), which cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

In Australia, Gardasil was first approved for use and administered privately in mid-2006. Free universal immunisation programs for young women were then rolled out by the Australian Government in 2007.

Findings published in the 2016 journal Clinical Infectious Diseases suggest Australian women who received the full three courses of Gardasil have experienced an 86 per cent reduction in HPV infection.

Professor Frazer said the success of Gardasil was promising.

“The early figures are very encouraging; the vaccine is safe, as effective as we expected and can be delivered worldwide. The real success will be with universal adoption of immunisation,” said Professor Frazer.

In July 2016, the HPV vaccine was also officially approved for use in mainland China. The push to have the vaccine adopted by the Chinese Government was supported by Dr Zhou’s widow, Dr Xiao Yi Sun, who also worked as a researcher on its development.

Dr Sun said the rollout and success of the vaccine in Australia sets a clear precedent for other governments.

“I feel very humbled to have played a small part in the development of the vaccines, [it] has meant so many women will now enjoy longer and healthier lives. 

“So many people have devoted a large part of their lives to keeping the fight against this terrible disease in the forefront of government thinking all around the world. Ian [Frazer] has worked tirelessly with so many countries to develop vaccination programs. Our hard work in China has finally paid off and while it has taken longer than any of us ever thought, it is now a reality,” she said.

Professor Frazer said development of the vaccines was only possible through research funding and support.

“UQ provided an environment where high-risk, high-potential gain research was possible. Entrepreneurship and innovation were achievable because there was freedom for researchers to pursue their vision; the time and opportunity to follow up on product development.

“The work on the vaccine was greatly helped by the generous gifts to the laboratory I ran from visionary individuals and charities, and by the start-up support for my research programs, made possible by the University of Queensland and the Princess Alexandra Hospital,” he said.

The vaccines are currently available in 120 countries and more than 200 million doses have been distributed worldwide.

Professor Frazer said he is now working on a range of new vaccines that fight infection with infection.

“My research now is focussed on a new set of vaccines to treat existing infections with common infections including herpes and HPV, and on using our knowledge about skin immunology to help better prevent skin cancer.”