Historical Pioneers: Ian Frazer & the HPV Vaccine

Contributed by Kathryn Howerton, Class of 2019

Ian Frazer was born in Glasgow, UK in 1953. He attended the University of Edinburgh, earned his Bachelors of Medicine and Bachelors of Surgery degrees, and became a renal physician and clinical immunologist. In 1980, he moved to Australia to study viral immunology at the University of Queensland, where he began conducting research on cervical cancer (Ratner, 2001). Frazer was drawn to cervical cancer in particular because it is caused entirely by an infection with human papilloma virus, or HPV, and is one of the only cancers known to be caused by a virus (Frazer, 2008).

Frazer began studying the virus alongside his colleague and collaborator Jian Zhou. After studying the virus, Frazer and Zhou hypothesized that by creating a vaccine against the strains of the virus responsible, the rates of cervical cancer worldwide could be reduced by up to 70%. They designed a vaccine that would provide immunity against the “high risk” types of HPV: 6, 11, 16, and 18, which are the most aggressive types and the most likely to cause cancers or genital warts (Ratner, 2001). The final HPV vaccine is an inactivated vaccine made from the virus-like particles, or VLP’s, which were isolated from each of these four types of HPV and patented by Frazer and Zhou (Frazer, 2008).

The final vaccine, named Gardasil, was licensed by Merck in 1995, underwent clinical trials, and came to market in 2006.  However, Frazer has not rested on this achievement. He has since used his newfound fame to educate the world about cervical cancer risks, treatment, and prevention. He was named Australian Man of the Year in 2006, and used this position to advocate for more effective public-private partnerships for vaccine research and development (Ratner, 2008). His willingness to use his time and position to continue to advocate for public health shows his determination to eradicating the disease and helping to make the world a healthier place for the women and men who may be affected by HPV.

Despite all of his education efforts, it would seem that Frazer’s most important contribution to medical and pharmaceutical knowledge is still the incredible effect his vaccine has had on disease rates since its release. A study published in 2013 by the CDC announced that since the vaccine’s release, the prevalence of these 4 types of HPV had decreased by 56% in the US among teenage girls aged 14-19 (CDC, 2013). In the future, with increased vaccination rates and awareness, Frazer’s goal of eliminating cervical cancer due to HPV may be realized even sooner than he had thought. The research, development, and marketing that he has put into this vaccine have yielded incredible results even in the short time since its release. Ian Frazer’s work has had a remarkable impact on public health, and because of it, he can certainly be considered a hero in the world of pharmacy and vaccines.


CDC. (2013, June 19). New study shows HPV vaccine helping lower HPV infection rates in teen girls. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0619-hpv-vaccinations.html

Frazer IH. (2008). HPV vaccines and the prevention of cervical cancer. Update on Cancer Therapeutics;3(1):43-48. doi:10.1016/j.uct.2008.02.002. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1872115X08000054

Ratner, M. (2007). Ian Frazer. Nat Biotech, 25(12), 1377. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt1207-1377

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