M-Words: Merck, Money, Market Share

Merck and Glaxo Fight for Increased HPV-Vaccine Sales

HPV vaccines were a hot topic during the 25th International Papillomavirus Conference, held May 8-14 in Malmö, Sweden. In the weeks leading up to the big event, Glaxo’s PR machine has been touting new Cervarix vs. Gardasil head-to-head study, saying Cervarix prompted a stronger immune response. The ever-marketing Merck has been promoting its own ‘new’ study data, which claims Gardasil offers protection from certain HPV strains for up to 9.5 years. Originally, the Merck marketing blitzkrieg claimed Gardasil’s protective shield lasted for five years. Based on another study, which they did not site in the press release, Merck is now claiming their HPV-vaccine, Gardasil cut down on abnormal Pap tests and cervical procedures. It should be noted that GlaxoSmithKline were platinum sponsors of the International Papillomavirus Conference, and Merck was an exhibitor.

Well the big boys huffed and they puffed, but neither Merck nor Glaxo posited the big issue —can trial data make a big difference in revenues for either company?

Merck’s U.S. sales of Gardasil are falling off, sharply, plummeting 33 percent in the first quarter, and Glaxo’s Cervarix has not yet won FDA approval for sales in the US.

Thanks to a Fast Track approval from FDA and an endorsement from the CDC, not to mention aggressive lobbying and a wildly successful, but predatory marketing campaign, Merck has the sole HPV shot available in the U.S. to date. It’s fully entrenched in the market. However, during the past year, Merck has seen a trending decline in the sales of its HPV vaccine, Gardasil. Parental backlash to State mandated Gardasil vaccination policies, has slowed down the lobbying juggernaut that marked Merck’s 2006 Gardasil vaccine introduction. An increasing number of adverse effects, including death, have been reported, raising safety concerns. In the final count, the decline in Gardasil sales can be attributed to Merck’s award-winning “One Less” marketing program. It was wildly successful in attracting huge numbers of early adapters. Caring mom’s flocked to their family doctors for the Gardasil shot, wanting to protect their girls from cervical cancer. As the majority of early adapter girls and young women complete their three-shot series, the pool of unvaccinated females shrinks. To grow that market Merck has been positioning Gardasil for wider distribution the new target market is older women and boys.

Even with the long-delayed FDA approval, Glaxo will have to fight very hard indeed to crave out significant market share for it’s HPV-vaccine, Cervarix. Glaxo is dealing with efficacy issues in the U.K. The Scotsman reports that an influential German public-health organization is reviewing both Cervarix and Gardasil HPV-vaccination policy after 13 researchers claimed that governments might have bought into “overly optimistic” assumptions about how effective HPV-vaccination really is against cervical cancer. The Robert Koch Institute says it will issue a report in two weeks. Additionally, HPV-vaccine critics in Scotland are calling for government to review its $97 million commitment to its HPV-vaccination program.

Research sources:

25th International Papillomavirus Conference Proceeds

The Scotsman

FiercePharma Newsletter

Merck Press Release


Author: H. Sandra Chevalier-Batik

I started the Inconvenient Woman Blog in 2007, and am the product of a long line of inconvenient women. The matriarchal line is French-Canadian, Roman Catholic, with a very feisty Irish great-grandmother thrown in for sheer bloody mindedness. I am a research analyst and author who has made her living studying technical data, and developing articles, training materials, books and web content. Tracking through statistical data, and oblique cross-references to find the relevant connections that identifies a problem, or explains a path of action, is my passion. I love clearly delineating the magic questions of knowledge: Who, What, Why, When, Where and for How Much, Paid to Whom. My life lessons: listen carefully, question with boldness, and personally verify the answers. I look at America through the appreciative eyes of an immigrant, and an amateur historian; the popular and political culture is a ceaseless fascination. I have no impressive initials after my name. I’m merely an observer and a chronicler, an inconvenient woman who asks questions, and sometimes encourages others to look at things differently.