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First HPV vaccines are just two years away

Vaccines against human papilloma virus may be licensed in the UK in as little as two years, according to Government advisers.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has concluded the evidence for HPV vaccines is 'very promising' with phase III trials well under way.

Experts say an effective vaccine could make cervical screening redundant, but warn vaccines to prevent all types of HPV infection are still some way off.

They say vaccination would ideally take place as part of the infant vaccination programme, but it is not yet clear whether immunity would last to adulthood. The alternative – vaccinating adolescents before they become sexually active – remains controversial.

Professor Peter Sasieni, an epidemiologist with Cancer Research UK, said if vaccination proved to be as effective as screening it would be the cheaper option.

'But to target 95 per cent of infections you would need a vaccine against eight HPV types', he said. 'The questions are when would you know that vaccination would be as good as screening and when would you decide to spend the extra money.'

Glaxo SmithKline and Merck have both developed combination vaccines against HPV 16 and 18 – together accounting for about 80 per cent of HPV infections – which have been shown to prevent infection.

Merck is testing a quad-ravalent vaccine that also confers immunity against types six and 11, which cause genital warts.

Professor Peter Stern, professor of immunology at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester, said studies showed these vaccines were effective at preventing infection. But he pointed out the UK already has a highly successful screening programme.

'If you knew the vaccine work- ed in everyone then you might do it but I'm not convinced there is a market in the UK.'

By Emma Wilkinson

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