Anti-Cancer Vaccine with Rochester Roots Recommended for Boys Too

October 26, 2011

Richard Reichman, M.D., Robert Rose, Ph.D., and William Bonnez, M.D.

A vaccine created in part by virologists at the University of Rochester Medical Center has been recommended for use by boys as well as girls to prevent certain types of cancer.

Yesterday the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that boys and young men receive the vaccine, which protects against human papillomavirus or HPV – the most common sexually transmitted disease – to prevent oral and anal cancers.

The action marks the first recommendation to use the vaccine to prevent cancer in males.

The recommendation comes at a time when increasing evidence points to the practice of oral sex as a factor in the growth of certain types of oropharyngeal cancers, which includes cancers of the tonsils, at the base of the tongue, and the back of the throat. Scientists now say that more than half of such cancers are caused by sexual activity; in the past, the majority of these cancers were caused by tobacco and alcohol use.

“Oropharyngeal cancers represent a significant portion of all head and neck cancers,” said William Bonnez, M.D., one of the three Rochester virologists who developed the vaccine technology. “In some regions of the world, the number of these cancers related to HPV has skyrocketed. Since the vaccines prevent infection by HPV, it’s expected that these cancers caused by HPV will be prevented as well.”

“We’re indeed pleased to learn that this technology will now be used to protect men as well as women against cancer,” added Bonnez.

At Rochester, during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, Bonnez worked with Richard Reichman, M.D., and Robert Rose, Ph.D., in the Infectious Diseases Division of the Department of Medicine, on research projects that helped bring about the HPV vaccine. Their contributions have been recognized with several awards and also several key patents worldwide that govern the use of virus-like particle (VLP) technology, which serves as the basis for the current HPV vaccines.

The first HPV vaccine became available in 2006, when it was approved for girls ages 9 to 26, to prevent cervical cancer. Since then, a second HPV vaccine has also become available, and one of the vaccines was approved two years ago to protect boys from genital warts. 

While there are more than 100 types of HPV, most cases of cancer are caused by two types, type 16 and type 18. Both available vaccines – Gardasil, made by Merck & Co., and Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline – protect against both HPV types.

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