Merck & Co.’s immuno-oncology superstar Keytruda has been dominating headlines and sales rankings for the pharma giant, but it has another growth engine making waves around the world, too.
HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 has been pumping in recent years, and the trend continued in the second quarter. The shot posted 50% growth at constant exchange rates over last year’s second quarter to $886 million. And the company is gearing up to keep the shot's growth coming.
It's true that Gardasil got a second-quarter boost from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine purchases that happened during the first quarter of last year. But first-half sales—which Chief Commercial Officer Frank Clyburn called a more accurate comparison during Tuesday’s earnings call—came in 35% higher than in the same period last year. Not shabby at all.
What’s driving the performance? Merck is “seeing very strong demand” in 11- and 12-year-olds in the U.S. as well as in the 19-to-26 age group. Outside the U.S., there’s strong demand for the vaccine in China. In Europe, several countries are rolling out gender-neutral vaccination campaigns, boosting sales.
Looking forward, the drugmaker is “very confident in our growth prospects for Gardasil,” he said.
Those prospects have been so strong that the company is spending more than a billion dollars on expanding capacity. Merck last week said it’s building a new plant in North Carolina to produce the vaccine, right on the heels of a plant expansion announcement in Virginia. Together on the two projects, the company is spending $1.68 billion and adding 525 jobs.
Elsewhere in the company’s vaccines portfolio, pediatric shots posted a strong quarter, growing 61% at constant exchange rates to $675 million. Demand grew in the private sector thanks to measles outbreaks in the U.S., Clyburn said.
While Merck can count on international markets for long-term Gardasil growth, the company also recently got a boost in the U.S. Late last month, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices expanded its recommendation for Gardasil 9 to men and women aged 27 through 45 who aren’t adequately vaccinated. The panel had already recommended the shot for people up to age 26.