Identification of HPV infection as the etiologic agent of virtually all cases of cervical cancer, as well as a proportion of other epithelial cancers, has led to development of three FDA-approved multivalent prophylactic HPV vaccines composed of virus-like particles (VLPs). This essay describes the research and development that led to the VLP vaccines; discusses their safety, efficacy, and short-term effect on HPV-associated disease; and speculates that even a single dose of these vaccines, when given to adolescents, might be able to confer long-term protection. The HPV field exemplifies how long-term funding for basic research has lead to clinical interventions with the long-term potential to eradicate most cancers attributable to HPV infection. Although this essay is the result of my receiving the 2015 Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine from the Harrington Discovery Institute and the American Society for Clinical Investigation, this clinical advance has depended on the research of many investigators, development of commercial vaccines by the pharmaceutical companies, and participation of many patient volunteers in the clinical trials.
Douglas R. Lowy