Gardasil 9 supply running short in the U.K., Merck reports

Merck, known as MSD in the U.K., has reported a shortage of Gardasil 9 in the market. (Sanofi Pasteur MSD)

Merck & Co.'s human papillomavirus shot Gardasil 9 has been on an upward trajectory, but high global demand has created a shortage in the U.K. for private clinics.

A spokesperson for the company, known as MSD in the U.K., confirmed that the drugmaker "temporarily has limited supply" for private clinics in the market. She noted there's "good supply" of the HPV vaccine for the national immunization program for girls. Meanwhile, activists have railed on authorities for refusing to extend the program to boys. 

The shortage is caused by an increase in demand "in the U.K. and elsewhere, which has led to depletion in the market sooner than anticipated," Merck's representative said. The company expects the shortage to continue through July. 

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"We are working to minimize disruption to patients as much as possible," she added. 

Gardasil 9 and its predecessor Gardasil are Merck's top vaccines by sales, with their revenues expanding 6% in 2017 to $2.3 billion. The growth comes as another important contributor, shingles vaccine Zostavax, is facing new competition from GlaxoSmithKline's Shingrix. Analysts expect Merck's shingles vaccine to continue to cede share as Shingrix launches in markets around the world. 

RELATED: Gardasil grows, Zostavax struggles as Merck posts $6.5B in 2017 vaccine sales 

The full-year Gardasil growth came despite a cyberattack that forced Merck to borrow $240 million worth of Gardasil doses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stockpile, damaging third-quarter earnings. At the time, the company said the hack resulted in a "temporary production shutdown."

Merck also experienced "overall higher demand than originally planned," according to the third-quarter earnings release.

Still, on Merck's fourth-quarter conference call, global human health president Adam Schechter said the drugmaker sees "very strong growth prospects for Gardasil and Gardasil 9 in the foreseeable future." Critical to that growth will be ensuring supply as uptake continues.

RELATED: Hack forces Merck to borrow Gardasil doses from CDC stockpile, slamming Q3 sales

The Gardasil 9 supply issue is far from the first vaccine shortage in the United Kingdom. Hometown pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline suffered a shortage of meningitis vaccine Bexsero for private clinics last year, also caused by an increase in global demand. The drugmaker's supply rebounded a few months later, and now GSK is investing $175 million in a plant to add to its Bexsero capacity.  

Bexsero is another vaccine on a growth trajectory, chipping in £556 million in sales last year, an increase of 34% at constant exchange rates. It too ran into a shortage in 2016.

Also last year, production issues at both Merck and GlaxoSmithKline led to a global shortage of hepatitis B vaccines. Health authorities in the U.K. rationed doses in response.

Merck said it doesn't expect to distribute its adult hepatitis B vaccine, RecombivaxHB, in the U.S. before the end of 2018. According to the CDC, Glaxo says it'll have enough supply for the year, but the company took criticism in the U.K. due to the shortage there, as some speculated the drugmaker might be prioritizing the U.S. market.