Harald zur Hausen studied viruses and discovered that certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, can cause cervical cancer, in Europe during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Zur Hausen spent his research career identifying the viruses that cause diseases, particularly cancer-causing viruses (oncoviruses). He primarily focused on HPV and cervical cancer. Zur Hausen hypothesized that HPV was cancerous and discovered that two strains, HPV 16 and 18, caused cervical cancer. That discovery led to improved diagnosis of cervical cancer and the later development of the HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix. In 2008, zur Hausen won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
On 20 August 2007, in Frazer v. Schlegel, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided that researchers Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou owned the rights to the vaccine patent for Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, instead of a research team led by Richard Schlegel. Frazer v. Schlegel reversed the decision that the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences had previously made, awarding the patent to Schlegel on the basis that Frazer’s patent application contained inaccurate science. However, once appealed, the Federal Circuit judges found Frazer’s science to be accurate, granting him rights to the vaccine patent. In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approved the first HPV vaccine, which has since been effective in protecting women from cervical cancer by up to ninety-seven percent if they were vaccinated before contracting HPV. The Circuit’s decision gave Frazer ownership of the patent for the HPV vaccine, which physicians have administered over 120 million doses of to people in the US.
In 2006, the article “HPV in the Etiology of Human Cancer,” hereafter “HPV and Etiology,” by Nubia Muñoz, Xavier Castellsagué, Amy Berrington de González, and Lutz Gissmann, appeared as the first chapter in the twenty-fourth volume of the journal Vaccine. Muñoz and colleagues discuss the role of the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, in uterine cervical cancers. The authors introduce the mechanisms of HPV infection that lead to genital and non-genital cancers, establishing a link between HPV and multiple human cancers. The authors end by mentioning how other factors, such as pregnancy, smoking, and age, can influence HPV progressing into cervical cancer, which can be fatal. In the article, Muñoz and colleagues use meta-analyses of case studies and clinical trials to show which specific types of HPV are linked to cervical and other human cancers and the impacts of cofactors on the development of those cancers.
In 2006, the United States branch of Merck & Co. received FDA approval for Gardasil, a human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine that protects against HPV and the cervical cancer that can come with it. In 1891, George F. Merck founded the US branch of the company to distribute chemicals with high purity for use in research, in New York City, New York, and other areas nearby. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts, regular skin warts, cervical cancer, and other cancers. Since 2016, Gardasil has been the only HPV vaccine in use in the US and over people received 28 million doses in the country between 2014 and 2017, reducing people’s chances of contracting cancer.
From 1977 to 1987, Harald zur Hausen led a team of researchers across several institutions in Germany to investigate whether the human papillomavirus (HPV) caused cervical cancer. Zur Hausen's first experiment tested the hypothesis that HPV caused cervical cancer rather than herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the then accepted cause. His second and third experiments detailed methods to identify two previously unidentified HPV strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, in cervical cancer tumor samples. The experiments showed that HPV 16 and 18 DNA were present in cervical tumor samples. Zur Hausen concluded that HPV, not HSV-2, caused cervical cancer, which enabled researchers to develop preventions, such as the HPV vaccine.