Can Helmsley Help Bring Down the Cost of HPV Vaccines?

Nearly four thousand American women died of cervical cancer in 2010—and almost all of them could’ve been prevented by a three-course vaccine that guards against HPV (human papilloma virus), the bug that brings on cervical cancer in most cases. Trouble is, this vaccine runs $130 per dose, putting it out of reach for many disadvantaged or uninsured women.

Since 2010, researchers at the University of Louisville, led by cancer center director Dr. Donald Miller, have been pioneering lower-cost alternatives to pricy treatments like these, such as a $3 tobacco-based cervical cancer vaccine, that could substantially change the landscape of cancer treatment worldwide.

Seeing significant potential here, the Helmsley Charitable Trust this week stepped up to the plate and gifted the UofL a three-year, $5.5 million grant to bolster this research. It’s part of the HCT’s biomedical infrastructure program: a brand new initiative that “seeks to catalyze new technologies and systems that will enable the pooling of ideas, resources and efforts in the quest for vital laboratory discoveries and high quality clinical care,” according to the Trust’s website.

The cancer treatment research at U of L would seem to be a perfect fit with the priorities of this emerging initiative. It’s cracking away at not just a tobacco-derived cervical cancer vaccine, but also a wealth of other plant-based cancer drugs tailored not only to be more affordable, but also more effective than what’s currently on the market.

Kicking off their Biomedical Infrastructure Program with this gift to the U of L was a smart move on Helmsley’s part. Not only is the research stellar, but this grant is actually the second installment in a U of L-HCT relationship that’s been yielding dividends since 2010. That’s when Miller’s research first caught HCT’s eye, and the Trust sent $3 million his way. Now, HCT is furthering their support, this time sending it out under a different title, a good way to ease the transition into a new grantmaking space while also providing good PR for the new program.

Perhaps Miller’s work served in some way to inspire the creation of the biomedical infrastructure program. Perhaps it’s just a coincidentally good fit. Regardless, it’s exciting to watch a new initiative develop, especially at such a diverse and dynamic funder as Helmsley.