A widely used HIV drug could be used to prevent cervical cancer, scientists have found.

Researchers at The University of Manchester in the UK have discovered that lopinavir, an antiviral drug produced by Abbott Laboratories , attacks cells infected by human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer.

The study, published in Antiviral Therapy, builds on the team’s previous work in 2006, which identified lopinavir as a potential therapeutic for HPV-related cervical cancer following laboratory tests on cell cultures.

Dr Ian Hampson, from the University of Manchester’s School of Cancer and Enabling Sciences, said, “Since publishing our earlier work, we have now found that lopinavir selectively kills HPV-infected, non-cancerous cells, while leaving healthy cells relatively unaffected.

“This is a very significant finding as these cells are not cancer cells but are the closest thing to being like the cells found in a pre-cancerous HPV infection of the cervix,” Hampson said.

Lopinavir, a protease inhibitor, works to reactive the antiviral protein ribonuclease L in HPV positive cervical carcinoma cells.

In many developing countries, HPV-related cervical cancer is still one of the most common women’s cancers accounting for approximately 290,000 deaths per year worldwide, said the researchers, who collaborated with colleagues in Canada.

The same virus also causes a significant proportion of cancers of the mouth and throat in both men and women.

Dr Hampson added, “Our results suggest that for this drug to work against HPV it would be necessary to treat virus-infected cells of the cervix with roughly 10 to15 times the concentration that is normally found in HIV-infected patients taking lopinavir as tablets.

“This implies that, for this treatment to work, it would need to be locally applied as a cream or pessary.”