Healthcare: GSK plans agency hires for Cervarix campaigns

LONDON/RIXENSART: GlaxoSmithKline is preparing to call in a brace of agencies to handle pre-launch comms for Cervarix, a cervical cancer treatment that experts have claimed could spell the end of the need for smear tests.

The pharma giant confirmed this week that it is in 'very early stage' discussions with agencies over a UK PR contract, touted as a potential blockbuster. A shortlist is not thought to have been compiled.

Pitches have also been held at the offices of GSK Biologicals in Rixensart, Belgium, for a global PR contract for the drug. A decision is understood to be imminent on which agency will be hired.

GSK chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier has cited the drug, currently undergoing final clinical trials, as one of the firm's pipeline products that could become a top-seller.

The company's shares surged last month when analysts learned that the vaccine could be more potent than had been anticipated.

Cancer Research medical director Professor John Toy has welcomed the research as 'very encouraging'.

Cervarix would boost the immune system against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes most cervical cancers.

GSK is likely to submit an application to the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency next year, with the vaccine likely to be available in late 2006 or early in 2007.

Around 500,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, almost 3,000 in the UK, with the disease accounting for around one in ten of cancer deaths worldwide. The disease is estimated to claim more than 1,100 lives a year in the UK.

The UK pitch is being co-ordinated by GSK's corporate affairs division.

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