The news that Australian scientists are “on the verge” of developing a skin cancer vaccine has consumed significant amounts of prime-time media space in the past few days. It’s even made international headlines.

This has all been superb publicity for the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress, where the work was due to be presented today. It’s been excellent publicity for the scientist featured in the reports, Professor Ian Frazer (not that his public profile really needs boosting). And it’s likely all the publicity will prove extremely helpful if the scientists are looking for commercial partners to help develop their vaccine.

But is it really page-one news worthy of an international splash? We don’t even know if the vaccine works in humans – all the hype is based on animal studies (and none of the stories I’ve seen actually mention any details of what these studies showed, or didn’t show) whose relevance for humans is far from clear.

And even if the vaccine is at some stage proven to have some beneficial effect in humans, unless it is effective at preventing all types of skin cancer (which is so unlikely I’d be stake a wager that it won’t), it could potentially raise more dilemmas than it solves.

Maybe I’m being too much of a curmudgeon here. But so much of the coverage is sounding just a little too much like an unthinking cheer squad…

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