Merck, GSK make commitments to GAVI Alliance to provide discounted HPV vaccines
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


LONDON—GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Merck have both announced that they will drastically discount their human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines in order to make them available to young girls in underdeveloped countries through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a public-private nonprofit dedicated to "saving children's lives and protecting people's health by increasing access to immunization in poor countries."
"A vast gap currently exists between girls in rich and poor countries. With GAVI's programs, we can begin to bridge that gap so that all girls can be protected against cervical cancer no matter where they are born," Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, said in a press release. "By 2020 we hope to reach more than 30 million girls in more than 40 countries. This is a transformational moment for the health of women and girls across the world. We thank the manufacturers for working with us to help make this happen."  
GSK announced a commitment to the GAVI Alliance to supply its cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix as part of a long-term program. The company will make doses available for four new GAVI demonstration projects at $4.60 per dose, a drastically discounted price. GSK has a long-standing partnership with GAVI, with two similar agreements already in place: one stipulates that GSK will supply GAVI with up to 480 million doses of its pneumococcal vaccine over the next 10 years, and another under which GSK will provide up to 132 million doses of its rotavirus vaccine over the next five years.
"Cervical cancer is a significant issue, especially in poorer countries where the availability of screening is limited," Christophe Weber, president and general manager of GSK Vaccines, commented in a statement. "We are pleased to be expanding our commitment to GAVI by delivering our Cervarix vaccine to help protect girls in the developing world. This continues our significant commitment to make our vaccines accessible to as many people as possible, no matter where in the world they live. We hope that this will help reduce the burden of cervical cancer and positively impact future generations."  
For its part, Merck has announced that it was awarded "a significant portion of the UNICEF human papillomavirus vaccine tender, and will provide sustained supply of GARDASIL … to GAVI-eligible countries." Merck is expecting to make roughly 2.4 million doses of its vaccine available between 2013 and 2017 at $4.50.
"It is essential that every young girl around the world have access to HPV vaccines. Today's decision by UNICEF is an important step forward," Julie L. Gerberding, M.D., president of Merck Vaccines, said in a press release. "This partnership highlights Merck's commitment to working closely with GAVI to ensure broad and sustained access to GARDASIL in the world's poorest countries, where the burden of cervical cancer is greatest."  
The World Health Organization (WHO) first recommended that HPV vaccination be included in national immunization programs for the prevention of cervical cancer and other HPV- related diseases following a 2009 report.  
The GAVI Alliance, launched in 2000, brings together "the specialist skills of all the main players in immunization," the site explains, including WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Today's announcement is a result of GAVI's public-private partnership model.
GAVI will begin its demonstration programs in the next few months with regards to providing cervical cancer vaccines to girls ages 9 and up, with the intent that the programs will help the targeted countries to determine their ability to initiate national immunization programs. GAVI announced in a press release that it will begin support for HPV vaccines in Kenya "as early as this month," followed by Ghana, Lao PDR, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Cervical cancer is a serious problem in developing countries, which account for more than 85 percent of the global disease burden. Globally, it represents the second most common cancer in women, with the GLOBOCAN 2008: IARC Cancer Fact Sheets reporting approximately 529,000 new cases and 275,000 deaths in 2008.
"Developing countries bear an increasing burden of cervical cancer, and it is only right that our girls should have the same protection as girls in other countries," Dr. Richard Sezibera, secretary general of the East African Community, GAVI Board member and former Health Minister of Rwanda, said in a press release. "In Africa, where facilities to diagnose and treat cervical cancer are few and far between, HPV vaccines will mean the difference between life and death for so many women in the prime of their lives."
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