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One more cervical cancer vaccine

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Lisa Napoli: Drug company Merck has racked up big sales with its cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil — $365 million for the first quarter of the year so far; billions of sales are expected. Now there’s competition on the horizon. A new study shows Glaxo’s Cervarix is effective. I talked to Stephen Beard in London about it this morning.

Stephen Beard: These are the interim results from the biggest cervical cancer vaccine trial so far. It involved more than 18,000 women and girls aged 15 to 25. They were given Cervarix and it proved more than 90 percent effective in preventing the viruses that cause most cases of cervical cancer.

Napoli: And so this drug will roll out and what kind of threat will it pose to Merck, which has sort of had the lock on this market up until now?

Beard: Well it’s clearly a big challenge to Gardasil, that’s the Merck product. Gardasil is already quite well established though in international markets and it’s selling pretty briskly in the first quarter this year. It clocked up sales of $365 million. Cervarix so far, the only large market in which it’s been licensed is Australia, but it’s launching in Europe later this year and in the U.S. next year. Both vaccines are gonna get a big boost actually from the U.K. very shortly because the British government is poised to make a decision on a mass vaccination program.

Napoli: I know when Gardasil was rolled out in this country it was enormously controversial. Is that happening there?

Beard: Not so much. I mean there have been some religious and moral campaigners who oppose these vaccines on the grounds that giving the jab to a girl of 12 or 13 might be seen as encouraging or condoning underage sex, but I think these really are very much minority reactions. We’re talking about a life-saving measure here. In the U.K. alone it is thought up to a thousand lives a year could be saved.

Napoli: That’s our Stephen Beard in London.

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