Merck and QIAGEN team up to improve access to cervical cancer vaccination in developing countries
WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J.—Reportedly marking the first time a vaccine manufacturer and a molecular diagnostics company have collaborated to "address the burden of cervical cancer with a comprehensive approach," Merck & Co. Inc. and the Netherlands- based QIAGEN N.V. recently announced their intent to team up for a new program to increase access to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and HPV DNA testing in some of the most resource-poor areas of the world.
The two companies have pledged to commitments totaling approximately $600 million based on current U.S. prices, and the collaboration will integrate "two breakthrough and complementary advances in healthcare," which would be Merck's cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil and QIAGEN's HPV tests, the digene HC2 HPV DNA Test and a new HPV DNA test that is currently in development for use specifically in the developing world.
"I commend Merck and QIAGEN for their contribution to advancing women's health," said Graça Machel, founder and president of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC) in Mozambique in the news release about the collaboration. "This program is a fine example of how vaccination and screening can be used together in a comprehensive fashion. I hope that this will pave the way for new partnerships, involving the public and private sectors, donor organizations and global health leaders to address cervical cancer in developing countries."
Indeed, Merck and QIAGEN have noted that they plan to seek other partners from the public and private sectors to design and implement national cervical cancer programs, provide treatment as needed, as well as support improvements in laboratory and vaccine delivery infrastructure, training of healthcare workers, education and advocacy. The two companies says they also plan to work with cervical cancer experts to support the development and implementation of sustainable best practice models for cervical cancer reduction in low-income, high disease burden countries.
But regardless of who ends up teaming with the Merck/QIAGEN team, Merck says that it intends to provide, for free, up to five million doses of GARDASIL and QIAGEN intends to add to its existing program of one million test donations by providing HPV DNA tests to screen an additional 500,000 women.
"Nearly every minute of every day a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, and many of these women live in developing countries where the burden of the disease is disproportionately high and healthcare infrastructure is limited," says Margaret G. McGlynn, Merck 's president of vaccines and infectious diseases. "We see this collaboration between the two companies as innovative and fundamental to reaching our shared goal of reducing the global burden of cervical cancer."
"With broadened access to both vaccines and testing through this initiative, we hope to ensure that girls and women—regardless of where they live—will benefit from these advances in healthcare," adds Peer Schatz, CEO of QIAGEN. "Our complementary tools can demonstrate the unique impact that collaborations between pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies can have on global public health. "
The companies are still in the process of choosing which countries to focus on, and as such have not finalized any specific implementation strategies. However, they say that any programs are expected to be national in scope, and all girls within a defined age range in the selected countries would be offered vaccination. Also, programs would work toward implementation of screening and treatment for all women of a defined age group.
Cervical cancer affects approximately 500,000 women worldwide and about 85 percent of these women live in the developing world, Merck and QIAGEN note. "By affecting women in their most productive years," they assert, "cervical cancer strikes at the heart of families and deprives developing world economies of the many important contributions women make."
The effort with Merck is part of QIAGEN's QIAGENcares program, which aims to improve access to screening methods for infectious diseases in emerging and developing countries, the current focus of which is on projects "helping to improve the lives of women around the world by expanding access to screening technologies and working to eliminate cervical cancer," with QIAGEN noting, "We seek innovative public-private partnerships with global organizations, leading clinicians and experts, other corporate partners, and women's advocacy groups that will work together enabling women to be forever free of this disease."