Merck's Gardasil faces 'negative impact' of HPV schedule change: exec

Merck’s blockbuster HPV franchise Gardasil turned in Street-beating sales in the fourth quarter, helping propel the drug giant’s vaccine unit to overall growth. But the blockbuster vaccine could see some trouble in the U.S. this year, Merck is advising.

Following the CDC’s decision to implement a two-dose HPV vaccination schedule, Merck EVP of Global Human Health Adam Schechter said on the company’s conference call that Merck is expecting a “rapid transition” to the new regimen. That, he said, will “have a negative impact on sales in the U.S.” for Gardasil.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, the vaccine turned in $542 million in sales, a 9% increase, due to higher “pricing and demand,” Merck said in its release. Last year, the company benefitted from GlaxoSmithKline’s exit from the U.S. market with rival Cervarix.

For all of 2016, the Gardasil franchise turned in sales up 14% to $2.17 billion.

Also providing a boost for Merck’s vaccines in the fourth quarter was pneumococcal shot Pneumovax 23, which increased sales 27% to $238 million.

Shingles vaccine Zostavax came in with sales below expectations for the period, Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a note; the shot fell 10% to $221 million on the quarter. That vaccine could soon face competition from GlaxoSmithKline’s Shingrix as GSK has filed for approval with its candidate.

In total for the fourth quarter, Merck’s vaccines sales grew 2% to $1.7 billion.

Pfizer, the only other major vax player to release earnings so far, reported that its vaccines sales fell 22% on the quarter largely due to a Prevnar 13 slowdown.

Merck’s overall sales for the year grew 1% to $39.8 billion.