At a glance: GSK’s anti-HPV vaccine Cervarix

Cervarix? What’s that? It’s a drug being trialled by GlaxoSmithKline that could have human papillomaviruses (HPVs) on the run.

HPVs – the viruses that can cause cervical cancer?

Indeed. GSK said last week that Cervarix has been totally effective in preventing persistent infection from HPV16 and HPV18 (two high-risk strains) which, in turn, means it has the potential to prevent 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

How many women could the drug affect?

Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in women worldwide. The body generally deals with HPVs itself, but in a tiny percentage of cases they can cause abnormalities in cervical cells, which then can turn cancerous. Since the virus is passed on through sexual contact– and it is estimated that half of the female population has been exposed to it – this could be a life-saver for thousands.

What has been the response?

A variety of media covered the publication of fresh trial data on the drug, with a headline in last Friday’s Daily Mail probably the pick of the bunch in PR terms: ‘Vaccine could wipe out cervical cancer,’ it said.

So Cervarix is out of the PR blocks, then. Any competitors?

Merck Sharp & Dohme is developing an anti-HPV vaccine in the US – but says there is no PR activity for the product currently in the UK.

Sounds as if GSK will need PR support to manage expectations for Cervarix?

There may yet be opportunities for PR firms. GSK is handling everything in-house in the UK at present and says more research is due out this month.

But the selling points are clear, at least?

Combating cervical cancer through a vaccine has obvious appeal. Although girls would have to receive the injection before they became sexually active, it could mean the end of smear tests.

What’s the timescale?

GSK plans to submit an application to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in 2006 and hopes the new drug will be available for prescription from 2007.

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