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How are the HPV vaccines produced?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for a significant number of cancers globally, including the majority of cervical cancers. Biotechnological advancements have allowed the development of vaccines that not only curb the prevalence of this virus but also promise a future with a reduced burden of HPV-associated diseases [1].

Recombinant DNA Technology

The foundational technology behind HPV vaccines is recombinant DNA technology. Instead of using live viruses, which can be risky, the HPV vaccines utilize virus-like particles (VLPs). These VLPs are non-infectious as they don't contain the viral DNA necessary for replication, but they closely mimic the structure of the virus. This resemblance ensures that when introduced into the body, the immune system recognizes these VLPs as foreign invaders, leading to the production of antibodies against HPV [2].

To produce these VLPs, scientists identify and isolate the genes in HPV responsible for producing the outer protein shell of the virus. These genes are then inserted into yeast or insect cells, which act as factories, producing vast quantities of the VLPs. This method bypasses the need to handle or produce the actual HPV virus, ensuring both safety and scalability in vaccine production [3].

The HPV vaccines, with Gardasil 9 at the forefront, represent a confluence of advanced molecular biology, genetics, and immunology.

While its predecessors (Cervarix and the original Gardasil) offered protection against a limited number of HPV types, Gardasil 9 broadened this protection spectrum. It covers nine HPV types: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. This inclusion is not just a numbers game; it's a calculated enhancement to provide protection against HPV types responsible for approximately 90% of cervical cancers and a significant percentage of other HPV-related cancers.

Moreover, the success of the HPV vaccines offers a blueprint for tackling other infectious diseases. The methodologies used, from VLP production to multi-valent vaccine development, can potentially be repurposed to address other global health threats.


Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.
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