With GlaxoSmithKline cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix getting a nod for use in Europe, most of the developed world has two vaccines to choose from, the other being Merck’s Gardasil launched last year.
The vaccines will take time to reach India — which accounts for one-fourt of the world’s cervical cancer cases — because clinical trials to test their safety and effectiveness on the Indian poplation are yet to begin. “The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has signed an MoU with Merck to conduct clinical trials of its cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil in India. The ICMR is currently studying the protocols of the trial, and once these are finalised, the trials will start with approval from the drug controller general of India,” Dr Kishore Chaudhry, deputy director general, ICMR, said.
Cervical cancer is the leading cancer among women in India, with 125,000 new cases being reported each year. It accounts for 24 per cent of India’s cancer cases among women, compared with 20 per cent for breast cancer, and kills an estimated 74,000 women in India each year.
While the vaccine is almost 100 percent effective in protecting against four variants of HPV, it may not protect people already infected and might increase their risk of developing the kind of lesions that can lead to cervical cancer. “These vaccines are established to offer protection against HPV for four years, after which booster shots may be needed,” Dr Chaudhry said.
Gardisil is priced at about $120 per dose (Rs 4,800), and protection will require three doses over six months. GSK is yet to announce the price for Cervarix.
Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss says it is too early to say whether the vaccine can be made part of routine immunization. “That will depend on how effective the vaccine is established to be on the Indian population once the trials in India are over,” says Ramadoss.