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Scientists in China will soon launch the first clinical trial of a vaccine to prevent nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC).
NPC, which affects around 40,000 people in China each year, has a five-year survival rate of less than 50 per cent. It is particularly prevalent in China’s Cantonese-speaking Guangdong Province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
In 1973, virologist Zeng Yi revealed a link between NPC and Epstein-Barr virus infection. This was met with some controversy as direct proof of the connection has remained elusive.
But with cancer becoming the number one killer in the country in 2005, the Chinese government is willing to back a US$1.2 million one-year trial of a preventative vaccine for Epstein-Barr virus. If successful, the vaccine will be administered to 300 volunteers.
The trial has been met with some criticism, with scientists claiming that such a large-scale vaccination is "economically unjustified".
A safety trial in 30 patients is planned for the end of this year.