The President's Cancer Panel is pushing for increased use of Merck's and GSK's HPV vaccines

The reasons for low uptake of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines have been well researched and widely discussed by academia and government agencies, yet this knowledge has done nothing to increase adoption. Now, the President's Cancer Panel has weighed in to give momentum to a public health campaign it views as a "profound opportunity" to prevent cancer.

An advertising blitz helped Merck ($MRK) get its HPV vaccine Gardasil off to a strong start in 2007, but criticisms of the jab--including Representative Michele Bachmann's claim it caused "mental retardation"--set back progress. In July the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the slow rise in uptake seen in previous years had stalled. The President's Cancer Panel views this as unacceptable and has published a 57-page report outlining what should be done and why.

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

The strategies proposed by the panel are intended to address many of the oft-cited barriers to widespread use of HPV vaccines. For example, CDC estimates that if Gardasil or GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Cervarix was administered whenever an adolescent girl visited their healthcare provider for another vaccine, more than 90% of the demographic would have received at least one dose of a HPV vaccine. The panel wants to reduce these missed opportunities by having CDC develop communication strategies for physicians. Use of electronic systems to track vaccinations is also encouraged.

Adoption of the panel's plans could cut the number of people who don't get vaccinated because they are misinformed, or simply because they don't know a product is available. Previous reports have listed both as primary reasons for low uptake. Money is another, and the panel has a plan for this too. The report proposes changing federal laws and regulations to ensure Medicaid reimbursement for HPV vaccines. In the past some healthcare practices have opted against stocking HPV vaccines because of concerns about reimbursement.

The prospect of federal laws being changed to increase uptake of HPV vaccines is potentially a big boost for Merck, which has cornered the HPV vaccine market in the U.S. Other recommendations could place pressure on sales and vaccine development though. The panel calls for the U.S. to consider switching to a two-dose regimen, as is now used in some parts of Canada. Dropping one dose from the schedule would ease adherence woes, but also chip away at Merck's sales. The panel is encouraging research into HPV vaccine formulations that aren't delivered by injection, too.

- here's the report (PDF)
- read FiercePharma's coverage