Three Researchers Receive Inventor Award for Anti-Cancer Vaccine

April 04, 2006

Three researchers from the University or Rochester Medical Center have won the Rochester Intellectual Property Law Association’s 2006 Distinguished Inventor of the Year Award for developing a key piece of the first human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Richard Reichman, M.D., William Bonnez, M.D. and Robert Rose, Ph.D. won the award for their contribution to the vaccine, which is designed to prevent a type of cancer that kills more than 250,000 women worldwide each year. Vaccines based on their work are in the final stages of testing in studies by two pharmaceutical companies, Merck and Co. and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which have licensed the technology from the University of Rochester Medical Center.  If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the vaccines could become available later this year as some of the first to be used in preventing a form of cancer.

The vaccine targets a group of HPV viruses that cause 12,000 cases of cervical cancer in women in the United States annually. The toll is much worse in other parts of the world, where Pap smears to detect the disease in its earliest stages are not widely available.

The Rochester Intellectual Property Law Association (RIPLA) is an organization of intellectual property attorneys and paraprofessionals that seek to promote science and industry through patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Nominees for the inventor award were judged based on the creativity of their innovation, its influence on science, industry and society, and on their diligence.

“Since 1973, RIPLA has selected a local citizen as its Distinguished Inventor of the Year based on their contributions to the community through invention and innovation, said Susan Parulski, vice president of RIPLA and chair of the Inventor of the Year Selection Committee. Researchers will be recognized at an award ceremony on May 4, 2006, at the Rochester Museum & Science Center in the museum’s Riedman Gallery, she said.

Virus-like particles (VLPs) are the key to the new vaccine technology.  Over several years, the research team developed a deep understanding of how HPV triggers the immune system to produce antibodies that destroy the disease. They then developed a harmless particle that mimics the HPV virus, a virus-like particle, which triggers the body’s immune defenses without actually infecting patients with the virus. Like all vaccines, VLPs are designed to trigger an immune response, so that if the person later encounters the disease, the body is primed to fight it off.

Although cervical cancer is the main target for the HPV vaccine, there are other cancers whose prevention is likely to benefit from the vaccine now in development (e.g. certain squamous cell carcinomas).

“The public health impact of this work – which has the potential to prevent a condition that causes significant morbidity and mortality in women – is enormous, both nationally and internationally,” said David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. ”This extraordinary achievement of these three local researchers, in which basic science discoveries were translated into clinical and public health practice, is the essence of what an academic health center is all about.”

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