Merck, GSK shrug off rec to make HPV vaccine routine

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A shift that could make HPV vaccines part of every boy's pre-adolescence has met with a big "Meh" from the industry.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the Centers for Disease Control on health matters, has helped move vaccination for HPV into the roster of routine, scheduled vaccinations for boys between the ages of 11 and 12.

The vaccine was already approved for boys between the ages of 9 and 18, but the committee decided in October to move it into to the standard roster of immunizations, thereby encouraging parents and healthcare professionals to see that boys get the shots.

This would seem a significant opportunity for the two companies which manufacture HPV vaccines – Merck, which owns Gardasil, and GlaxoSmithKline, which owns Cervarix – and yet neither views this as a watershed decision, or a reason to broaden their promotional efforts accordingly.

Merck spokesperson Jennifer Allen Woodruff said there is simply no need. Among the reasons she listed were that Gardasil has a strong presence on formularies nationwide, and that the company added males to their vaccination messaging last year. The Gardasil website includes prompts such as “Parents, why Gardasil for your son or daughter?”

Woodruff said the recommendation will be beneficial, but that it's not a big deal. “[ACIP] are the leading policy organization in the United States, so having that recommendation for routine use is clearly going to help improve access for boys to get vaccinated,” she said.

Merck saw Gardasil prescriptions rise 24% in the U.S. last year, which is a rebound from the 28% slide it saw from 2009 to 2010, according to research company IMS Health.

Competitor GSK, which saw U.S. prescriptions of its vaccine Cervarix fall 45% last year, according to IMS health, is also holding firm on its messaging.

“GSK supports all CDC (ACIP) recommendations, including this one. We have chosen, though, to solely focus on providing a vaccine specifically designed to protect against cervical cancer in girls and young women,” spokesman Rob Perry wrote in an email to MM&M.

The two companies have diverged on their advertising support for their respective vaccines. Nielsen's latest numbers show that Merck spent $34 million promoting Gardasil for the first three months of 2011, while Glaxo spent nothing. The year before, the two spent more than $128 million for their vaccines, according to Nielsen.

The two vaccines also differ in their scope. Merck's Gardasil protects against four strains of HPV, including HPV 16, which is linked with cervical and throat cancers. The brand's site says the vaccines protects against 4 types of HPV in total, including the ones that cause 75% of cervical cancers. Gardasil also protects against genital warts.

In contrast, Cervarix protects against two strains of HPV which cause 70% of cervical cancers.

HPV has been linked to cervical, anal and throat cancers and a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that 1 in 15 Americans are infected with oral HPV, according to The New York Times, which crunched the numbers. The report also shows that it affects more men then women.

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