Buckland speaks on developing HPV vaccine

Friday, February 23, 2007

One of the creators of Gardasil, pharmaceutical giant Merck’s widely discussed vaccine for the human papillomavirus – a sexually transmitted disease that is a major cause of cervical cancer – spoke Thursday in Salomon 001 on the scientific process of creating the vaccine and making it safe and practical for widespread use.

The lecture by Barry Buckland, vice president for bioprocess research and development at Merck, was sponsored by Students for Choice, Colleges against Cancer and the Global Alliance to Immunize against AIDS.

Buckland said Gardasil protects against high-risk HPV types 16 and 18, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancer, and low-risk types 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts.

Buckland was introduced by Allison Pappas ’08, president of Students for Choice, and Annie DeGroot, adjunct associate professor of community health, who is director of the TB/HIV Research Laboratory and founder of GAIA.

Though the talk was advertised as covering both the creation of the vaccine and its possible effects on society, Buckland spoke only on the scientific process of developing the vaccine.

Buckland explained that the researchers took the L1 protein – a major capsid protein of HPV – from each of the four types of the virus the vaccine protects against and cloned them in yeast to create a non-infectious vaccine. Buckland said his group chose this method because they had previously used a similar process on a vaccine for hepatitis B.

He explained that unlike other vaccines – such as those for polio or measles, mumps and rubella – the HPV vaccine did not use the complete virus. As a result, the vaccine provides protection without introducing the virus itself, he said.

Buckland said the HPV vaccine had been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration relatively quickly – approval had only taken about six months.

After the lecture Buckland told The Herald he had been excited to work on the HPV vaccine. “A project like this everybody wants to work on – I mean, it’s a dream project, but you don’t really know that in the beginning, because in the beginning you don’t really know whether it’s going to work or not,” he said.

His group worked on the vaccine for eight years, he said, and only about half of the vaccines they work on actually prove successful. “It’s just been a great project. I’ve been really proud to have been a part of it,” he said.

Pappas said Students for Choice had begun preparations to bring Buckland to campus last fall and “lucked out” with the recent publicity of the vaccine. “We got in contact with Buckland in November, and then all of a sudden, this exploded on the news,” she said.

Buckland gave the lecture without compensation, Pappas said. “He agrees that the vaccine is so important that spreading the word about it is the most important thing, so he wanted to come talk about it,” she said.

The lecture was especially important because of the health implications of the vaccine, said Emily Lau ’09, co-president of Brown’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer. “Cervical cancer really is one of the leading killers of women,” she said.

“It obviously was very science-focused, but I think it’s important for people to be informed about the vaccine itself so they can then go and make their own opinions about its place in society and whether or not they want to have it,” Pappas said.

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