Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Cervical cancer vaccine on test
Scientists hope a single jab will offer protection
An effective vaccine to prevent cervical cancer came a step closer on Wednesday as scientists unveiled plans to run trials in the UK, US, China and Australia.
The UK trials will begin in December, while the others are entering their second phase at the moment.
It will offer immunity against the virus that causes 95% of all such cancers, the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV).
However, specialists warn that it is early days yet and it could be up to 10 years before a vaccine is widely available.
The UK study will be carried out at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester in December, when 30 volunteers will be vaccinated with the new drug.
Dr Daron Ferris, who is running a trial in the US, told the BBC's Tomorrow's World programme: "If the vaccine is successful then we would want to vaccinate the population and that would include vaccinating schoolchildren before individuals become sexually active.
"Since this is a sexually acquired infection, it would also make sense to vaccinate young boys."
The UK version of the vaccine was developed by 50 scientists from the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF).
UK vaccine 'cheaper'
Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the CRC, said: "It has taken many years of work and we have had a few false starts but we believe that our vaccine is simpler and cheaper than the US version.
"If that is successful we will extend the trials, but we will need to get the backing of a pharmaceutical company to do that and at the moment the industry is understandably nervous about these vaccines."
He added: "It could be ten years before this vaccine hits the streets but we want to make sure it is safe and works.
"These are exciting developments and we will be closely watching what is happening in the US."
A successful vaccine would save 1,800 lives a year in the UK and could eliminate the need for a national smear test programme.
Although it has been proven to save lives, the UK's has been dogged by mistakes and controversy in recent years.
'Reason for optimism'
Dr Peter Sasieni, of the ICRF, said: "There is reason for optimism.
"This is something that people have been working on for many years and the fact that there are going to be trials is very good news.
"However, people should remember that there will probably still be many years before this can be used to prevent cervical cancer - and we can do away with the cervical cancer screening programme.
"Even if the vaccine becomes widely available in 10 years time it will be many years before women will be able to say that they no longer need to go for cervical cancer screening."
Tomorrow's World is broadcast on BBC One on Wednesday at 19.30 BST