People don't like to think of cancers being caused by infectious
agents, but some of them are, and that's good news in a way, because it
means they can be avoided. One such example is cervical cancer,
which is caused by a member of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
family. In this case, both men and women can be infected
with HPV, and both can suffer from genital warts, but only women are likely to
develop cancer from it, hence the yearly ritual of the pap smear.
Enter Gardasil .
This is a new and somewhat contentious vaccine that, in clinical
trials, has been shown to be highly effective at conferring immunity
against four members of the HPV family, HPV-16 and -18, responsible for
the majority of cervical cancers, and HPV-6 and -11, which cause the
majority of cases of genital warts. Today, the FDA approved
Gardasil for use in female patients from 9-26, in order to better
protect young women against cervical cancer.
But Gardasil's hurdles haven't just been of the regulatory kind – right
wing bioconservatives like the Family Research Council and the
Christian Medical and Dental Associations had attempted to pressure the
FDA not to approve the vaccine, in much the same way Plan B was campaigned against .
As HPV is contracted sexually, the idea of providing protection
against a disease that may come from unmarried sex was evidently
more than they could cope with. Eventually, saner thoughts came
to rule the day, and even groups like the Concerned Women of America
have realized that condemning women to hysterectomies and even death
just because there might be some unwed coupling going on is probably a
little extreme for this day and age.
This approval is bound to be good news for Merck. The drug
company is still in hot water over Vioxx, and trials are underway to
see if Gardasil will be approved for use in men, doubling their
market. Merck won't have it all their way though, as GSK has
their own vaccine, against HPV-16 and -18, in trials as we speak.