Scots scientist behind HPV vaccine wins top award

Glasgow-born scientist Professor Ian Frazer. Picture: Getty
Glasgow-born scientist Professor Ian Frazer. Picture: Getty
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GLASGOW-born scientist Professor Ian Frazer has won a prestigious international award for the invention of a cancer vaccine which has saved the lives of millions of women.

Hailed as one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in the last century, Professor Frazer and his late colleague Dr Jian Zhou developed the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) against cervical cancer, which kills more than a quarter of a million women each year.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine being administered. Picture: AP

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine being administered. Picture: AP

The vaccine has been used over 125 million times since its market entry in 2006.

The 62-year-old immunologist won the Popular Prize at the 10th European Inventor Awards in Paris yesterday, which he collected alongside Zhou’s widow Xiao Yi Sun.

The duo won a landslide victory in the awards – dubbed the Oscars of innovation – with nearly a third of the public vote.

Professor Frazer said: “Obviously it is a wonderful honour, because it recognises that the work has really made a difference.

“The award was done through a popular vote, which shows that there is an awareness of the vaccine and that the message has filtered through.”

The father-of-two said: “I would like to see what we have done be an example to young scientists, that you can do challenging research and even if you have setbacks, you can still reach your goal.

“It has been extraordinary for me to do this research and see the benefits within my lifetime. I mean, we did the research 25 years ago, and to be able to come along in 2015 and see the impact it has had.

“It has mostly wiped out the problem we were trying to fix.”

Prof Frazer is currently working on a vaccine for herpes and another treatment for non-melanoma cancer, which is a major disease in Australia where he now lives.

Collecting the award was a poignant moment for Prof Frazer without his research partner Dr Zhou, who died in 1999 from hepatitis.

Dr Zhou’s widow Xiao Yi Sun, a fellow researcher, collected the award.

She said: “If Jian could have seen how successful his work has become then it would have been great. Unfortunately that was not the case, so it has been a very emotional day for me.

“I am just very proud and I hope this will inspire young scientists.” The vaccine provides “hope and assurance” to millions of women, said Benoît Battistelli, president of the European Patent Office.

He told the awards ceremony: “Developing a vaccine has saved countless lives and also saved many women from a protracted and painful course of treatment, involving surgery and chemotherapy.

“The award shows how grateful people are to Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou for this pioneering invention.”

Prof Frazer became interested in science at an early age, studying at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen before going on to Edinburgh University to read medicine. His interest in cervical cancer was influenced by his early studies in public health while at Edinburgh.

The World Health Organisation and public health officials in Australia, Canada, Europe and the US now recommend vaccination against HPV for young women aged nine to 25.

Prof Frazer also campaigned to ensure the vaccine was available to everyone so royalties have been waived on sales in 72 developing countries, where most deaths from cervical cancer occur due to lack of preventive diagnostics.

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