Vaccines alliance nears deal on cervical cancer shots

LONDON, (Reuters) – The GAVI international vaccines group is moving towards a price deal with drugmakers which could mean the supply of millions of doses of cut-price cervical cancer vaccines to developing nations.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) said yesterday if the deal – which would cover vaccines made by U.S. drugmaker Merck and its British rival GlaxoSmithKline – was secured at the right price it could have a huge impact on the health of millions of women in poorer countries.

More than 85 percent of the 275,000 cervical cancer deaths each year occur in developing nations. Experts say the annual worldwide cervical cancer death rate could rise to 430,000 by 2030 if no action is taken to protect women from it.

Merck’s Gardasil and GSK’s Cervarix vaccines are the world’s only two approved shots designed to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes most cases of cervical cancer.

A spokesman for GAVI told Reuters “at least one” of these pharmaceutical firms had made “encouraging progress towards an acceptable price” for GAVI eligible countries.

“This is a relatively new vaccine, with low initial volumes for GAVI countries and therefore high fixed costs per unit,” he said. “We believe that the commitments move GAVI in the right direction to obtain an acceptable price.”

Merck said last year it was prepared to offer Gardasil to GAVI countries at a deeply discounted price of $5 per dose, meaning a three-dose course would cost $15. GAVI said at the time that was “a good starting offer”.

ACCEPTABLE PRICE?

A GSK spokesman said the British firm was in talks with GAVI and wanted to help make Cervarix available to women around the world, regardless of their income and where they live.

“GSK is committed to offering the lowest prices for its vaccines to the poorest countries,” he said, adding that prices were also determined by volumes, the length of contracts, and the guaranteed number of doses to be purchased by global organisations, governments and others.

The GAVI spokesman would not name the specific company he said was making “progress” and would not give any details on price, but said GAVI would continue to work with manufacturers in a tender process aimed at ensuring the vaccine could be made available at “an acceptable price”.

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