Merck and GSK need to overcome cultural barriers to cervical cancer vaccine roll-out

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Friday June 23, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Thursday June 22, 2006.

Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) need to identify the cultural, as well as economic, barriers to the roll-out of their cervical cancer vaccines if countries are to benefit from the drugs without delay, states an Editorial in this week's issue of The Lancet.

Gardasil--Merck's vaccine against cervical cancer--approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month, should save lives in both developed and developing countries. But social and cultural resistance to the product may hamper effective roll-out, states the Editorial. The introduction of Gardasil in the USA is already proving problematic because adolescents need to receive the vaccine before they become sexually active for it to be effective. This means they would need to be taught about sex at the same time. Some believe sex education at this age would undermine abstinence education, and encourage inappropriate sexual activity at a young age.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced on June 5 that it will give US$27.7 million to PATH--the programme for appropriate technologies in health--to fund research on how best to introduce the new HPV vaccine into developing countries. The Lancet believes that Merck and GSK can assist in this work and help smooth the introduction of the new vaccine in both developing and rich nations alike.

The Lancet concludes: "Merck and GlaxoSmithKline--whose own vaccine Cervarix is expected to be submitted for FDA approval this year--therefore have an unique opportunity. By working with PATH to identify cultural, as well as economic, barriers to vaccine roll-out, these companies have the chance to show that enlightened self-interest is a policy position not reserved for governments alone. "

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Contact: The Lancet press office T) +44 (0) 207424 4949/4249 pressoffice@lancet.com


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