Updated: Sunday, 12th July 2020 @ 9:02am

Cervical cancer treatment breakthrough using anti-HIV drugs discovered at Manchester University

Cervical cancer treatment breakthrough using anti-HIV drugs discovered at Manchester University

| By Claudia Kelly

Cervical cancer could soon be treated using anti-HIV drugs following a breakthrough discovery by Manchester University scientists.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most commonly transmitted sexually disease worldwide and leads to cervical cancer, killing around 800 women a day.

Drs Ian and Lynne Hampson, husband and wife from Sale, work closely in the University’s Institute of Cancer Sciences.

They examined Kenyan women diagnosed with HPV positive early stage cervical cancer who were treated with the antiviral HIV drug lopinavir.

Dr Ian Hampson said: “For an early stage clinical trial the results have exceeded our expectations. We have seen women with high-grade disease revert to a normal healthy cervix within a short period of time." 

Dr Lynne Hampson added: “Further work is needed but it looks as though this might be a potential treatment to stop early stage cervical cancer caused by HPV.”

The world-first clinical trial looked at 40 HPV positive women with varying degrees of high and low grade pre-cancerous disease of the cervix.

They were treated with one capsule twice a day for two weeks and self-administered the antiviral drug directly to the cervix as a pessary.

The results showed that a high proportion of women diagnosed with HPV returned to normal following a short course of the new treatment.

After three months, out of 23 women with high-grade disease, 19 (82.6%) had returned to normal and two now had low-grade disease, giving an overall positive response in 91.2% of those treated.

Furthermore the 17 women initially diagnosed with borderline or low-grade disease also showed improvement. 

Photographic images of the cervix before and after treatment showed clear regression of the cervical lesions and no adverse reactions were reported.

Although vaccination programmes against HPV are well underway in the UK, these are not effective in women already infected with the virus.

The current vaccines are also expensive, which can limit their use in countries with low resources.

The researchers believe that this treatment offers distinct advantages to health and expenses, particularly in early stage HPV infections, by stopping the virus from developing into a cancer.

Dr Lynne Hampson said: “Current HPV Vaccines are prophylactics aimed at preventing the disease rather than curing or treating symptoms.

"Other than surgery, as yet there is no effective treatment for either HPV infection or the pre-cancerous lesion it causes which is why these results are so exciting."

The Drs worked in conjunction with Dr Innocent Orora Maranga, Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

Dr Ian Hampson added: “This is not something we could have done in the UK due to the associated costs and red tape.

"We have full ethical approval in Kenya and chose to conduct the trial there because of the extreme need for treatment for early stage cervical cancer.

“It is very significant that during this process we also identified five women who already had invasive cervical cancer and these were immediately referred for surgery.”

Lord Saatchi, whose wife novelist Josephine Hart died of ovarian cancer, has submitted a Private Member’s Medical Innovation Bill to Parliament.

The Bill argues would promote ‘responsible’ innovation for medics to try new treatments without the fear of negligence claims.

This comes amid claims there is currently an estimated average time lag of 17 years for new treatments or research evidence to reach clinical practice in the UK.

“What Drs Lynne and Ian Hampson have done is amazing," said Lord Saatchi.

"The fact that they needed to run their trial in Nairobi and that even now there is no guarantee the treatment will be available in the UK any time soon, is a source of immense frustration.”

In developing countries, HPV-related cervical cancer is one of the most common women’s cancers, accounting for approximately 300,000 deaths per year worldwide.

This equates to one  death every two minutes and is five times more prevalent in East Africa than the UK.

HPV also causes a significant proportion of cancers of the mouth and throat that also affects men which is showing an large increase in developed countries, such as the UK, where it is now more than twice as common as cervical cancer.

The research was funded by the UK Philanthropist Mr Ken Chorlton, the Caring Cancer Trust, United in Cancer Charitable Trust, The Humane Research Trust, Quest Cancer, the Cancer Prevention Research Trust and Hologic.

Professor Pierre Martin-Hirsh, Consultant in Gynaecological and Oncologist and Associate Editor in Chief, the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecological, has described the research as very impressive.

Copies of the international conference presentation with stats and graphs are available on request.

The research is due to be submitted to a journal soon and the findings are due to be presented at the Gynaecolgical Oncology Forum in Egypt on February 27 and the International Conference on Urban Health in Manchester on March 5.

Image courtesy of UC Davis College of Engineering, via LiMSwiki, with thanks.