GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck ($MRK) are slashing the prices of their HPV vaccinations in a deal with the GAVI Alliance, which delivers immunizations to the developing world. It's the first big push to protect girls in poor countries from the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.
It's these girls and young women who need HPV protection most, GAVI officials said. Poor countries lack the widespread screening common in the U.S., where annual Pap smears are recommended to test for cervical changes. There isn't much treatment available, either. So more than 85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in the developing world, GSK said.
In established markets, the shots normally cost around $100 for each dose in a three-dose course. Glaxo's Cervarix will go to GAVI at $4.60 per dose, the company said. Merck's Gardasil will be supplied at $4.50 per dose. With the help of donations, GAVI will subsidize the cost to the countries themselves at prices as low as 20 cents per dose.
"A vast gap currently exists between girls in rich and poor countries. With GAVI's programmes we can begin to bridge that gap so that all girls can be protected against cervical cancer no matter where they are born," GAVI Alliance CEO Seth Berkley said in a statement. "By 2020 we hope to reach more than 30 million girls in more than 40 countries."
Eight African nations will be first in line for the HPV vaccinations, including Kenya, where the program will begin. Merck has already vaccinated 95% of adolescent girls in Rwanda, Bloomberg notes, under a pilot program to determine whether the shots could be properly administered in the developing world, where health facilities are scarce.
Doctors Without Borders criticized the deal, saying the prices charged by GSK and Merck are still too high. "[I]t will still cost nearly $14 to fully protect a girl against HPV--a price that is too high for the world's poorest countries," Kate Elder said in a statement. "It's really disappointing that pharmaceutical companies haven't offered GAVI a much better deal."
But Merck told Bloomberg that it's costly to produce vaccines and maintain manufacturing facilities. Higher volumes could lower the price, the company said. Merck will be supplying 2.4 million doses to the GAVI program through 2017, and as Bloomberg notes, that will generate about $11 milllion in revenue--pocket change compared with Gardasil's worldwide sales of $1.63 billion.