Researcher recognised for revolutionary cancer vaccine

A leading scientist whose discoveries led to the world’s first vaccine for cervical cancer has received a prestigious award from the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Ian Frazer pictured wearing a suit
Professor Ian Frazer

The work of Professor Ian Frazer, of the University of Queensland, has been instrumental in significantly reducing rates of cervical cancer across the world.  

In recognition of this important research and its transformative impact, Professor Frazer has been awarded the Cameron Prize for Therapeutics. 

The University awards the prize every two years for a highly important and valuable addition, within the past five years, to the field of practical therapeutic techniques to treat illnesses. 

Immune response

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally with around 660,000 new cases and around 350,000 deaths each year. 

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV).  

Professor Frazer, and his late colleague Dr Jian Zhou, also of the University of Queensland, were among the first scientists to study the link between HPV infections and cervical cancer. In 1991 they collectively succeeded in making virus-like particles that trigger an immune response against HPV in humans – a discovery that formed the basis of the vaccine.  

Successful campaign

The vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2008 and has been hugely effective. A 2021 study of women in their 20s showed it had reduced cervical cancer rates by almost 90 per cent. 

Experts behind the study said it showed the potential for HPV vaccination in combination with cervical cancer screening to almost eradicate cervical cancer.  

A further study this year by Public Health Scotland found zero cases in fully vaccinated women since the introduction of the programme.  

The development of a vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer has been one of the major breakthroughs in cancer and public health over the past 20 years. We are incredibly proud to be giving this award to honour such a major achievement in human medicine.

Professor David ArgyleVice Principal and Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

The HPV vaccine was among the first of many healthcare success stories arising from genetic engineering, and it is extremely satisfying to see the impact it has had and will continue to have in the future.

Professor Ian Frazer

International renown 

Born in Scotland, Professor Frazer studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and trained as a renal physician and clinical immunologist.  

In 1981, he emigrated to Australia to research viral immunology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, where he became interested in HPV.  

After taking up a Senior Lecturer position with the University of Queensland, he continued his research into the link between HPV and cervical cancer.  

In recognition of his work in developing the HPV vaccine, he was named Australian of the Year in 2006. 

He is now an Emeritus Professor at the University of Queensland and leads a research group at the Translational Research Institute in Brisbane. 

Prestigious award 

The Cameron prize was first awarded in 1879 and lists numerous Nobel and Lasker prize winners amongst its awardees. It is not awarded posthumously. 

Previous winners include Dr Katalin Karikó and Dr Drew Weissman, who received a Nobel prize for work that led to the development of mRNA vaccines – the technology that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines were based upon.  

Professor Frazer will deliver a presentation on his work at the University’s annual pharmacology day on 7 November.  


Related links

College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

Image credit: Justine Walpole