(RxWiki News) Human papilloma virus (HPV) has long been known to be a primary cause of cervical cancer. Scientists have discovered that an existing drug can put the body's natural defense system into action to kill this virus before cancer develops.
University of Manchester researchers, working with colleagues in Canada, have discovered that an HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) drug is effective in killing cells infected with HPV before they become cancerous.
"A popular HIV drug could be used to prevent cervical cancer."
Lopinavir is an antiviral (kills viruses) drug that's used to treat HIV. Lopinavir has been shown to be able to attack HPV by turning on the body's natural defense system in the infected cells.
These new findings build on the team's earlier work that found the medication worked on HPV-related cervical cancer in cell cultures.
The current research demonstrates that lopinavir kills HPV-infected, non-cancerous cells without bothering healthy cells.
Dr. Ian Hampson, from Manchester's School of Cancer and Enabling Sciences, says these are important findings because the cells they were working with in the study are "the closest thing to being like the cells found in a pre-cancerous HPV infection of the cervix."
While HPV vaccination programs are under way in developed countries, these vaccines are not effective in women who are already infected with the virus. And current vaccines, which are expensive and not widely used in developing countries, don't protect against all types of HPV.
Study authors suggest a less expensive medicine that women could use themselves, possibly in a cream or salve form, could eliminate early-stage HPV infections before they turn into cancer.
HPV-related cervical cancer is one of the most common female cancers in developing countries, causing some 290,000 deaths a year worldwide.
The same virus also causes a large number of cancers of the mouth and throat in both men and women. This HPV-related cancer is showing an alarming increase in developed countries, such as the UK, where it is now more than twice as common as cervical cancer.
This study has been published in the journal Antiviral Therapy.