Ready for the HPV vaccine smackdown? GlaxoSmithKline finally won U.S. approval for its cervical cancer shot Cervarix, just as Merck nabbed a new indication for its competing vaccine Gardasil. Will Cervarix be able to capture significant market share in the U.S.? Or would Glaxo be better served by focusing on new international markets such as Japan?
Up to now, Cervarix has captured only about one-sixth the worldwide sales that Gardasil has racked up. And the Glaxo shot is handicapped by Gardasil's first-to-market advantage in the U.S. Indeed, the U.S. market may not be as lucrative as either drugmaker hoped; Gardasil itself has been lagging, despite the fact that only about one-third of eligible girls and young women have yet been vaccinated.
To combat that lag, Merck has been campaigning for broader use of its HPV shot, which protects against strains that cause genital warts, as well as those implicated in cervical cancer. Hence its new indication as a genital-warts preventative in boys and young men. Obviously, Cervarix doesn't have that option, because it targets the cancer-causing strains only.
But Glaxo just won Japanese approval for the vaccine, giving it first-to-the-party advantage in the world's second-largest drug market. We'll just have to wait and see whether either vaccine can generate new momentum, either in the U.S. or elsewhere.