"We naively thought that the discovery of the virus would allow us to quickly learn more about it, to develop diagnostic tests — which has been done — and to develop treatments, which has also been done to a large extent and, most of all, develop a vaccine that would prevent the global epidemic," she told the newswire.
The work of the other Nobel awardee, Harald zur Hausen, 72, set the stage for the new cervical cancer vaccine.
In 1974 zur Hausen speculated that cervical cancer—the second-most common tumor in women—might be caused by HPV. Nine years later, he identified one strain of the sexually transmitted virus, HPV-16, determining it was found in 53 percent of cervical cancers. Zur Hausen, former scientific director of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, went on to isolate another strain, HPV-18, which is responsible for another 17 to 23 percent of cases.
Today, the vaccine's manufacturer, Merck, says the vaccine is 95 percent or more effective in preventing tumors in women who receive the three-shot series.
"I'm not prepared for this," zur Hausen told the AP. "We're drinking a little glass of bubbly right now."
Diane Harper, who worked on the cervical cancer vaccine for both Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, which is making its own shots, said she “was delighted this morning to hear the news.”
“It is an honor very much deserved towards our understanding of alternate mechanisms of oncogenesis by virus infections,” Harper said in an e-mail. “His discovery has led to much understanding about HPV, cervical cancer screening and the primary prevention of some cervical cancers.”
Updated at 3:40 p.m. with comment from Gallo, Montagnier, Barre-Sinoussi and zur Hausen.