ONI: Should developing cancer-specific vaccines be a priority in US research efforts?
DR. DANNENBERG: Yes, but it's important to be specific when talking about vaccine therapy.
Obviously, there is tremendous interest in developing vaccines to treat cancer and this continues to be an important area of research. However, vaccines that protect against certain infections are already preventing the development of cancer and saving lives.
For example, in 1976, Baruch S. Blumberg, MD, PhD, won the Nobel Prize for discovering the hepatitis B virus and for developing the first vaccine against hepatitis B. As of 2000, in excess of 1 billion hepatitis B vaccinations have been carried out. The vaccine clearly leads to a reduction in the risk of developing liver cancer, so the benefits from this particular vaccine have been substantial.
Add to that the new vaccines we have against HPV [human papillomavirus]-related cervical cancer, and the cumulative accomplishments and promise in cancer prevention are nothing short of remarkable.
ONI: Where do we go from here?
DR. DANNENBERG: There's a real need to put this issue into proper perspective in the public forum. There are currently 350 million carriers of chronic hepatitis B, and more that 100 million infected with hepatitis C, many of whom are predisposed to preventable liver cancer. Gastric cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide, is caused, at least in part, by H pylori-associated infection. And HPV infection is the major cause of cervical cancer.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Thus, there needs to be a greater emphasis on understanding the mechanistic link between infection, inflammation, and the development of cancer.