A widely-used HIV drug was being heralded Wednesday as a possible treatment for cervical cancer.

Researchers from the University of Manchester, in northern England, said the antiviral drug lopinavir kills cells affected by the human papilloma virus (HPV), 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," said Dr. Ian Hampson, who led the research.

Lopinavir, a protease inhibitor, works by re-activating an antiviral system that is suppressed by HPV and might also fight malignant cells, said the researchers, who collaborated with colleagues in Canada.

The drug would have to be administered in doses 10 to 15 times higher than that taken by HIV patients, which would mean applying it as a cream or pessary.

HPV-related cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women in developing countries, accounting for approximately 290,000 deaths a year.