GSK, Sanofi lobby Irish for HPV shots

Drugmakers are dispatching experts to the Emerald Isle to lobby for their human papillomavirus vaccines. That's because the Irish government has opted out of a comprehensive program to vaccinate young women against HPV, which can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Instead, Ireland plans a screening program for cervical cancer in hopes of catching the disease early--and saving money in the process.

GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the Cervarix HPV shot, and Sanofi Pasteur, which markets Merck's Gardasil in Europe, say screening isn't enough. They're sending cervical cancer experts to speak to consultants and healthcare types about the benefits of vaccination. For instance, Sanofi dispatched Margaret Stanley of Cambridge University last week, and GSK is hoping to get Dr. Anne Szarewski, a clinical consultant at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, in front of Ireland's health minister later this week.

A spokesperson for Minister Mary Harney told the London Times that an HPV vaccine program would play a role in Ireland's overall response to cervical cancer, but that vaccinating all young women isn't practical right now. "The decision not to proceed... is not based on the scientific evidence," the spokesperson said, "but is related to the need to prioritize scarce resources given the current state of the public finances."

But GSK takes issue with the Minister's cost estimates for a vaccine program, too. Claire Taaffe, a GSK spokeswoman, told the Times that the company thinks the cost would be lower than the 10 million euros government is quoting. Competitive bidding would cut that cost considerably, she said.

- read the story in The Times