For 25 years Professor Ian Frazer has pursued an interest in development of vaccines to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and the estimated 500,000 annual deaths from papillomavirus related human cancers in the cervix and elsewhere. In 1985, with colleagues in Melbourne Professor Frazer demonstrated, at a time when the association of papillomavirus infection with cervical cancer was still contentious, that papillomavirus infection also contributed to anal precancer, particularly in men with immunosuppression as a result of HIV/AIDS.
In 1990, Professor Frazer and his then postdoctoral scientist, Dr Jian Zhou, developed the technology for producing human papillomavirus virus like particles. This technology, licensed through the University of Queensland, is now the basis of vaccines recently brought to market by GSK (Cervarix) and Merck (Gardasil) to prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is only the second vaccine to be produced using recombinant DNA technology, which was necessary because papillomaviruses could not be grown in cell culture. The development of HPV virus like particles was an early product of the application of comparative genomics. Sequence alignment for the genes for the major capsid proteins of a range of papillomaviruses showed that expression of the major capsid protein of the HPV16 virus from the second initiation codon in eukaryotic cells was likely to induce particle formation where conventional expression strategies had failed.
Professor Frazer has also developed two different therapeutic vaccines for chronic HPV infection, one currently in Phase 2b clinical trials through CSL Ltd, an Australian Biotechnology company, and one in Phase 2b clinical trials in China and Brisbane with funding from the Cancer Research Institute of New York and The Wellcome Foundation. Professor Frazer has also developed a technology for improving the immune response to polynucleotide vaccines based on differential preferences for codon usage between cells of different lineages, which has been licensed to Coridon Pty Ltd and is currently being used to develop polynucleotide vaccines for Herpesviruses.