|RSPH President Lord Hunt of Kings Heath|
The debate around use of Merck's ($MRK) Gardasil in the United Kingdom is ratcheting up ahead of a meeting of the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI) in October. An HPV-focused subgroup of JCVI met to discuss the topic this week, prompting public health experts to intensify their push for Gardasil to be given to boys.
Nonprofit Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is behind the latest calls to add Gardasil to the list of vaccines received by boys in the U.K. In a report, RSPH argues the current policy of limiting the use of Gardasil to 12- and 13-year-old girls leaves boys--and particularly men who have sex with men (MSM)--at risk of infection. RSPH views an extension of Gardasil use to 12- and 13-year-old boys as the ideal outcome, with free access for MSM viewed as the bare minimum.
The JCVI decision could open up a new market for Merck's somewhat beleaguered blockbuster, which racked up sales of $1.8 billion last year but is still a long way from fulfilling its potential. How lucrative the market would be remains to be seen. RSPH is pushing for U.K. negotiators to follow the example set by Australia and demand a lower price per dose for boys. The Australian precedent shows Merck will listen to arguments that the cost of Gardasil for boys should reflect the lower relative benefits.
Some advocates of the expansion have tried to quantify the costs. "This would only cost about £20 to £22 million ($33 to $36 million) a year and, in the long run, save the money spent by the National Health Service on treatment as well as reducing human suffering," HPVAction.org Campaign Director Peter Baker told the BBC. Government agency Public Health England is less convinced, with its head of HPV surveillance telling the broadcaster vaccinating boys offers "relatively few additional benefits."