Merck Gardasil follow-up could block 90% of cervical cancers--if uptake improves, that is

Dr. Elmar Joura

Merck's ($MRK) investigational, 9-valent HPV vaccine has the potential to block about 90% of invasive cervical cancer cases worldwide, new research shows. But getting there will be no walk in the park. First, the company will have to solve some uptake problems that have been plaguing the candidate's predecessor, Gardasil, since it rolled out in 2006.

The 9 HPV subtypes blocked by Merck's V503--6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58--are responsible for about 85% or more of precancerous cervical lesions, according to research published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

And given the 97% efficacy rate V503 posted in a Phase III trial last year, the world can hit that 90% prevention mark if vaccination programs are effectively implemented, researcher Dr. Elmar Joura said in a statement.

There's just one catch: "To achieve the population-level potential of the HPV vaccine to reduce cancer, vaccine uptake must increase," he said.

Merck's Gardasil HPV vaccine--FierceBiotech file photo
Merck's Gardasil

That may be easier said than done. While analysts predict V503--now under review by regulators in both the U.S. and EU--will haul in some $1.9 billion by 2018, that's a far cry from the $4 billion to $10 billion a year analysts once saw in Gardasil's future. A variety of factors have hampered uptake--including sex-related stigma, reimbursement woes for boys, and a three-shot regimen--and weighed down sales in the process.

As a result, 2013 HPV vaccination rates hit well below target levels, the CDC announced in July. Only 57% of adolescent girls and 35% of adolescent boys received one or more doses of HPV vaccine in 2013.

- read the release
- get the research abstract

Special Reports: The top 5 vaccine makers by 2013 revenue - Merck | Top 10 best-selling vaccines of 2013

Suggested Articles

Merck has a big target in mind for its pneumococcal vaccine V114: Prevnar 13, the world's best-selling shot—and its phase 3 program shows it.

A Lancet Infectious Diseases study shows antibody response persists for two years or more after a single shot of Merck’s rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine.

Behind the under-pressure blockbuster Prevnar 13 are several pipeline vaccines Pfizer hopes will propel future growth.