Government call for more HPV vaccination could boost GSK and Merck

The President's Cancer Panel is urging federal and state health authorities to do a better job protecting children from preventable cancers by improving access to the HPV vaccine--and if the group's suggestions are taken seriously, it could mean a big bump in sales of the two HPV vaccines on the market, GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Cervarix and Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil. Only about a third of teenage girls have been vaccinated and less than 7% of boys received the vaccine in 2012, according to the President's Cancer Panel report. (Gardasil was approved for use in males in 2009.)

"We are confident that if HPV vaccination for girls and boys is made a public health priority, hundreds of thousands will be protected from these HPV-associated diseases and cancers over their lifetimes," said Barbara K. Rimer, chair of the President's Cancer Panel, in a press release. Specifically, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that increasing HPV vaccination rates to 80% would prevent 53,000 future diagnoses of cervical cancer, the report says.

The President's Cancer Panel has laid out several recommendations for making the HPV vaccines more popular, including marketing them more effectively to physicians, allowing more pharmacists to administer the vaccine, and launching communications campaigns aimed at increasing acceptance among parents.

That last one could be challenging. In addition to broad concerns about vaccines being unsafe, there's a widespread perception among parents that vaccinating children against HPV encourages promiscuity, even though a growing body of evidence suggests that's not the case. For example, in a recent edition of the journal Pediatrics, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health reported that most young women who receive the HPV vaccine understand they must practice safe sex, and most do not become more promiscuous after vaccination.

The panel recommends using social media, print and electronic communications strategies to change parents' attitudes about HPV vaccination. "The conversation needs to be framed around cancer prevention, not about sex," Rimer told USA Today.

The recommendations could mean a reversal of fortune for Gardasil and Cervarix, both of which have seen a slowdown in sales growth in the wake of concerns over safety and sex. Sales of Gardasil grew 12% year-over-year to $1.8 billion in 2013, falling far short of the 35% sales growth the product achieved in 2012. Sales of Cervarix fell 37% last year to 172 million British pounds ($282 million).

- here's the press release from the President's Cancer Panel
- check out the President's Cancer Panel's full report
- read more at USA Today