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Pharmaceuticals Slammed

DW staff (th)October 8, 2008

Germany's Harald zur Hausen, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine for research into cervical cancer, spoke out against the high cost of a new vaccine against the virus which mostly kills women in developing nations.

German cancer researcher Harald zur Hausen stands in his laboratory
Zur Hausen believes the cancer vaccine should be made more affordableImage: AP

Harald zur Hausen's research helped link human papillomaviruses (HPV) to cervical cancer, the key to eventually developing a vaccine to prevent the disease.

Yet zur Hausen said he was disappointed in the initial lack of interest from pharmaceutical companies in his team's findings and the slow pace at which a vaccine was developed. Zur Hausen also lamented the high cost of the vaccine, which he said keeps it out of the reach of most poor women.

Vaccine cost prohibitive for poor women

Woman is vaccinated
The vaccine is "way too expensive," zur Hausen says

Each year 250,000 women die of cervical cancer, 83 percent of them in developing coutnries, zur Hausen said. Yet a vaccine against cervical cancer, available in Germany since 2006, costs 500 euros ($682).

That is "much too expensive," the scientist told Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper in an interview published Wednesday, Oct. 8.

But zur Hausen said he was hopeful that the price will eventually drop.

"I assume that countries such as India and China will begin producing it themselves and that there will be complete immunization programs in developing countries within a few years," he told the newspaper.

Calls for earlier immunization

Zur Hausen worked as a professor, chairman and scientific director of the Management Board of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg up to his retirement. He shares the award, the highest for medicine, with two French researchers who studied the HIV virus which causes AIDS.

Zur Hausen dismissed the notion that regular pap smears make a vaccination unnecessary. Even though cervical cancer is often detected early and can be surgically removed, preventing it is a far better option, zur Hausen said.

Zur Hausen also said he supports giving vaccinations to girls as young as nine. Currently, girls between the ages of 12 and 17 are vaccinated. Zur Hausen said he would also advocate extending the age upwards for women who are not sexually active. He also said that young men should be given the vaccine, since they can transmit the virus.