Why Merck’s $1.6 Billion HPV Vaccine Isn’t a Bigger Seller

Despite repeated studies maintaining that HPV vaccines are safe, a growing number of parents believe the shots are unnecessary and continue to worry about reports of side effects, according to another new study. The results indicate that even though the vaccines are recommended by public health officials to thwart cervical cancer, drugmakers have much more work to do to convince a large swath of the population.

To wit, five years ago, 40 percent of parents surveyed said they would not vaccinate their girls against the human papillomarivus, which can lead to cervical cancer. In 2009, that rose to 41 percent and then climbed to 44 percent in 2010. And parents concerned about side effects rose from 5 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2010, according to the study, which was published in Pediatrics.

“That’s the opposite direction that rate should be going,” Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center and one of the study authors, says in a statement. For the record, he is on a safety review committee for a vaccine study and on a data and safety monitoring board for two other vaccine studies, all of which funded by Merck (MRK). The drugmaker markets the Gardasil HPV vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) sells Cervarix.

MRK Revenue TTM Chart

MRK Revenue TTM data by YCharts

Gardasil, by the way, was initially approved for females between the ages of 9 to 26, and approval was expanded in 2009 to boys and men for preventing genital warts caused by certain types of HPV. GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix is approved for preventing HPV in females ages 9 through 25.

Despite the controversy, Merck has finally managed to turn Gardasil into a big seller. Last year, the vaccine generated $1.6 billion in revenue, a 35 percent jump from the previous year. Glaxo, however, has not fared as well with Cervarix. Sales for its HPV vaccine declined 46 percent to about $408 million (see page 19).

To read the remainder of this article, go to Pharmalot.

Ed Silverman, a contributing editor of YCharts, is the founder and editor of Pharmalot. He previously reported on the pharmaceutical industry and other business topics for the Star-Ledger of New Jersey, New York Newsday and Investor’s Business Daily. He can be reached at editor@ycharts.com.

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