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Merck Gives $500 Million of Vaccine to Poorer Nations
  By Shannon Pettypiece
Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Merck & Co. will donate more than $500 million of its Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine to the Clinton Global Initiative as part of an effort to improve women's health in the developing world.
Started in 2005 by the former president's Little Rock, Arkansas-based William J. Clinton Foundation, the Global Initiative has received $46 billion in funding commitments for causes including education, climate change and health care.
Merck's donation will provide 1.7 million women the three- shot vaccination that protects against strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. Qiagen NV, based in the Netherlands, will donate tests to screen patients to determine if they have certain strains of the virus.
"Nearly every minute of every day a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, and many of these women live in developing countries where the burden of the disease is disproportionately high and health-care infrastructure is limited," said Margaret G. McGlynn, head of Merck's vaccine division, in a statement. Merck is based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey.
Merck announced the donation today at the Clinton Initiative's annual meeting in New York. The vaccination will be donated to 23 of the world's poorest countries where Gardasil is approved for use, Merck said. Merck said it is looking for other partners to help with distribution and administration of the vaccine.
Vaccinations Lag
About a third of U.S. girls have received the first dosage of Gardasil since it came on the market in 2006. Use of the $300 vaccination has lagged in developing countries where women are at an increased risk for cervical cancer because few get annual pap tests, which can detect the early signs of cervical cancer. Of the 510,000 annual cases of cervical cancer, about 80% are in developing countries including 68,000 in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
The Gardasil vaccination will make up the bulk of a total $600 million donation, with Qiagen accounting for about $20 million to $70 million, said Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose. The Qiagen test will help detect women who are at increased risk for developing cervical cancer because they are infected with HPV, which can be treated by removing the abnormal cells from the cervix before cancer spreads.
Clinton Connection
Merck has made announcements about improving access to its vaccinations at the past five Clinton Global Initiative meetings, Rose said. Merck and Qiagen decided to announce the Gardasil program at this year's meeting because it is focused on women's issues, Qiagen Chief Executive Officer Peer Schatz said in a telephone interview.
Merck generated $6.42 billion from vaccine sales last year, including Gardasil and other products. Qiagen sells genetic tests and reported revenue of $893 million last year.
Merck shares were unchanged at $31.33 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Qiagen fell 98 cents, or 4.4 percent, to $21.39, in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading.
Gardasil protects against four strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. Harald zur Hausen, a former director of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the link between HPV and cancer. His research helped lead to the development of Gardasil.
About half a million women worldwide get cervical cancer every year, and 250,000 die from it, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Sexually active people can use condoms to reduce the risk of getting HPV from an infected partner, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The body's immune system naturally clears HPV infections in 90 percent of cases within two years, the CDC said. About half of sexually active men and women acquire HPV infections.
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