* GAVI says making "progress" on possible price deal
* Cervical cancer vaccines are made by Merck and GSK
* Over 85 pct of cervical cancer deaths are in poor nations
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, April 5 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 on Thursday 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
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".
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".
If eligible countries can demonstrate their ability to reach
girls with HPV vaccines and the drugmakers can satisfy GAVI's
supply and price requirements "up to a million girls and young
women could be protected from cervical cancer by 2015 in a
handful of countries," GAVI said in a statement.
This would increase to more than 20 million in nearly 30
countries by the end of the decade, it added.
GAVI, which is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Bank,
UNICEF, donor governments and others, funds bulk-buy vaccination
programmes for poorer nations that can't afford shots at
Since it was set up in 2000, the group has financed the
immunisation of more than 326 million children and says it has
prevented more than 5.5 million premature deaths.
"The HPV vaccine...is critical to women and girls in poorer
countries because they usually do not have access to screening
to detect cervical cancer and treatment available in richer
nations," GAVI's chief executive Seth Berkley said in the
statement. "We are aiming to correct this inequity."
The alliance also said it was responding to WHO
recommendations by offering funding for vaccines against the
rubella virus, which can lead to birth defects and miscarriages.
It said forecasted demand suggests that more than 700
million children could be reached by 2015 and one billion by
2020 through campaigns and routine immunisation.
GAVI said it would fund rubella vaccines through a combined
measles-rubella (MR) shot, supporting international efforts to
eliminate rubella as well as measles.