AbbVie Inc. (ABBV)’s AIDS drug Kaletra cleared pre-cancerous cervical lesions from 90 percent of patients in a study in Kenya that may lead to the first non-surgical treatment to prevent a disease that kills a woman every two minutes.
Among 40 women with pre-cancerous lesions caused by the human papillomavirus, the drug cleared cells infected with the virus in 36 women after two weeks of treatment, the University of Manchester, England said in a statement today.
The findings, if confirmed by a larger trial now being planned, may change the treatment of the disease for women in poor nations who often have to wait for surgery, and for those in wealthy nations who are diagnosed with early-stage lesions and told to “watch and wait” to see whether the disease progresses, said Lynne Hampson, a lecturer in viral oncology at the university who led the study with her husband Ian Hampson.
“These results were far better than we expected,” Lynne Hampson said in a telephone interview. “When we saw these women coming back, and we actually saw that we were getting resolution of the lesions, we just thought wow, this is fantastic.”
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a sexually-transmitted virus that’s responsible for almost all cervical cancers, the second-most common cancer among women globally, according to the World Health Organization. About 300,000 women die each year from the disease.
While vaccines such as Merck & Co. (MRK)’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK)’s Cervarix help to prevent infection with HPV, the cost of the shots can limit their use in poor nations, the researchers said. Once a woman is infected with the virus, there’s no treatment other than surgery to remove the pre-cancerous lesions it causes, they said.
While Kaletra was active against cancer cells in laboratory experiments, five women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the trial were referred for surgery instead of receiving the drug, and the researchers don’t know whether Kaletra may also help fight cancer in a human.
The drug may also be useful against other cancer types, Lynne Hampson said.
“There are other cancers that are known to have an HPV involvement,” Hampson said. “There’s a lot of women with vulval cancer, anal cancer. It’s potentially going to be very useful for a lot more cancers yet.”
The researchers used a generic version of Kaletra made by Mumbai-based Cipla Ltd. (CIPLA) in the trial. The women took the drug as a pessary, a capsule that is inserted in the vagina, twice a day.
The study was funded by the Caring Cancer Trust, United in Cancer Charitable Trust, the Humane Research Trust, Quest Cancer, the Cancer Prevention Research Trust and Hologic Inc. (HOLX), a Bedford, Massachusetts-based maker of medical screening systems.
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