UAMS Scientist Awarded $3.3 Million Grant to Study Therapeutic Vaccine for HPV

By Susan Van Dusen

Mayumi Nakagawa, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology in the UAMS College of Medicine, received the five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant Program. William Greenfield, M.D., associate professor in the UAMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will be involved in recruiting subjects for the trial.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus passed through sexual contact. About 50 percent to 80 percent of sexually active men and women acquire a genital HPV infection at some point in their lives.

In about 90 percent of these cases, the virus clears itself from the body naturally. However, in about 10 percent of cases the virus persists, potentially leading to cervical cancer.

“Prophylactic HPV vaccines are now available but only work for women or girls who have never been exposed to HPV,” Nakagawa said. “The vaccine we are developing will be a therapeutic vaccine for women who are already infected and may have precancerous cervical lesions.”

This grant will support a Phase I clinical trial of the HPV therapeutic vaccine. Phase I clinical trials include evaluating a new drug or treatment in a small group of people to determine such things as a safe dosage range and potential side effects before the trial becomes available to a larger group of participants.

Women with high-grade precancerous lesions will be enrolled, and the effectiveness of the vaccine will be assessed by monitoring the lesions.  

“The vaccine will consist of synthetically made peptides of the E6 protein of HPV since this protein has been shown to be important in clearing HPV infection,” Nakagawa said.

Her work will include studying how Candida, a naturally occurring yeast in the body, which will be used as a novel adjuvant, works to enhance immune response. An adjuvant is an agent administered with a vaccine to enhance the immune response.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 12,200 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2010 and about 4,210 women will die from it.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a 540,000-square-foot hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and six institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. UAMS has 2,775 students and 748 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or