International reference materials such as International Standard reagents facilitate quality assurance of essential biopharmaceutical products and related in vitro diagnostic tests. Standardization of antibody and DNA measurements and harmonization of laboratory procedures are key to the success of cancer prevention strategies through screening methods as well as for development and implementation of vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). The WHO supported the preparation and initial analysis of a panel of candidate serological and DNA reference reagents aimed at facilitating inter-laboratory comparisons and detection of HPV worldwide. Two international collaborative studies assessed the performance of various HPV antibody and HPV-DNA detection assays and examined the feasibility of generating HPV antibody and DNA standard reagents. These studies showed that improvement in performance and comparability of assays is urgently needed and that the use of the same International Standard reference reagent could significantly improve performance and comparability. It is hoped that the establishment of International Units and International Standards for HPV antibody and DNA analysis will be pursued with high priority.