Biggest-ever study for cervical cancer vaccine

Glaxo reports largest study yet as it tries to support its Cervarix, but analyst sees tough battle taking on Merck's Gardasil.

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- GlaxoSmithKline announced the results of the biggest-ever study of a cancer vaccine Wednesday, in the hopes of bolstering the competitive strength of its Cervarix against Merck's Gardasil.

But Cervarix could have a tough time cracking Gardasil's fast-growing hold on the market, according to an analyst who covers the industry.

Glaxo (up $0.50 to $52.67, Charts) published the latest Cervarix results in the medical journal Lancet. The results reinforce its previous studies, demonstrating the vaccine's 100 percent protection against sexually transmitted viral strains that cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases.

Glaxo vice president Brian Lortie said the new study tracked 18,644 participants, making it the largest single study ever conducted with a cervical cancer vaccine.

"It just fortifies for us that we've got a very strong competitive vaccine that does well," said Lortie.

Merck (up $1.21 to $50.33, Charts, Fortune 500) spokeswoman Jennifer Allen said the largest single Gardasil study tracked 12,167 patients, though the vaccine has been studied in about 25,000 patients overall.

Gardasil was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for girls and women ages 9 to 26 and launched into the U.S. market in June of 2006. Cervarix is still awaiting a decision from the FDA and European regulators, but is already available in Australia.

The newest results mean that Cervarix offers similar protection to Gardasil. But Robert Hazlett, analyst for BMO Capital Markets, said that Cervarix will have a tough time cracking Gardasil's current hold as the only available cervical cancer vaccine unless Glaxo can prove that its vaccine offers better protection.

"Unless there's a convincing difference on either efficacy or safety, I think Cervarix faces an uphill battle," said Hazlett. "I think they have a tall order competing against Gardasil."

Lortie of Glaxo said the introduction of Cervarix will offer more choices to women in protecting themselves against dangerous viral strains.

"We think that there's many women who will benefit to having two vaccines on the market," said Lortie.

Chris Schott, analyst for Bank of America, projects that annual Gardasil sales will exceed $1.7 billion by 2011.

The analysts quoted in this story do not own stock in the companies mentioned here. Top of page