A non-profit organisation, with the help of cash from Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, launched a five-year drive on Tuesday to get new cervical cancer vaccines to women in poor countries.
The international health group PATH, which plans to run pilot schemes in four countries, said there was an acute need for the vaccines in the developing world, where local health systems do not support routine Pap smears.
A quarter of a million women die of cervical cancer each year, most of them in the world’s poorest countries.
Two rival vaccines targeting the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes the disease, are expected to debut in the coming months from Merck & Co. Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc.
As a first step, PATH plans a programme of research in India, Peru, Uganda and Vietnam, with a $27.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, studying the best way to use the vaccines.
PATH will help pilot introduction in the four countries, and both drugmakers have agreed to provide their vaccines to demonstration projects.
Merck’s product, Gardasil, is expected to be first to market, but Glaxo’s Cervarix is not far behind. Both target HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, but they vary in the number of strains they attack and the way they are manufactured.
Industry analysts expect both vaccines to become multibillion-dollar sellers on the back of sales in rich countries.
But developing countries are also a potentially important market for the manufacturers if they can secure large orders and financial backing from governments or charities in exchange for preferential prices.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.