Indian authorities report that the country has developed its own cervical cancer shot, a compound that will soon be commercially available.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the single largest producer of vaccine shots in the world. And now it can boast its own composition against cervical cancer, according to an announcement on Thursday.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer among women globally. With an estimated 604,000 new cases recorded each year, it is responsible for an estimated 342,000 deaths (according to 2020 figures), explains the World Health Organization. The vast majority of those new cases, around 90%, occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The new vaccine could help to dramatically improve the availability of doses against this type of cancer and lower costs, meaning more families around the world could immunize their daughters and lower the number of cases of cervical cancer in the future.
A new option
Cervical cancers are one of the very few types that are directly preventable, through the use of vaccines. Over 90% of cases are caused by certain strains of HPV (Human Papillomavirus); this virus is sexually transmitted and almost ubiquitous, especially among young, sexually-active men and women. It is the second-most-common cancer among Indian women.
The new vaccine produced by the SSI would be effective against the type 16 and 18 strains of HPV, which are together responsible for at least 70% of all cervical cancers in the world, as well as against type 6 and 11, which are not known to be carcinogenic but can cause warts.
“[The indigenously developed vaccine] Cervavac will make India self-sufficient in controlling female mortality caused by cervical cancer. The government of India will induct it in the national [vaccination] program in a few months,” SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said in a statement.
Girls 9-14 years old will receive two doses via injection, while those 15-26 years old will receive three.
“The vaccine will be chiefly beneficial for girls aged 9 to 15 or women who are not yet sexually active,” says Dr. Smita Joshi, leader of the SII’s HPV vaccine study. “If we vaccinate adolescent girls now, its effect on reducing the cancer burden in the country will be seen within three to four decades,” she adds.
According to Joshi, the effectiveness of the vaccine is lower among adult women, who will require cervical cancer screenings—preferably with an HPV test—followed by appropriate management for those who test positive for sexually transmitted HPV.
Poonawalla added that the vaccine should be available for purchase in a few months — first in domestic markets and then worldwide. The institute currently estimates a price of between 200 and 400 rupees ($2.5-$5) per dose, aiming to manufacture around 200 million doses for the first two-year production run. Most cervical cancer vaccines today are produced by Merck & Co and GSK Plc which, while effective, are quite expensive, potentially costing up to $250 per dose.
SII will be offering the vaccine at such a low price compared to other options available today because of the company’s “philanthropic philosophy” and in order to protect under-privileged children all over the world.