By Shannon Pettypiece – August 21, 2008 10:18 EDT
Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) — Merck & Co.‘s Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine isn’t worth the cost for women over 18 years old, according to a study that may undercut the drugmaker’s marketing efforts for that age group.
Gardasil, available for girls and young women ages 9 to 26, makes economic sense for preteens because they are less likely to have the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, said researchers in a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine. Still, the cost benefit depends on how long Gardasil’s protection lasts, they said.
The analysis by Harvard researchers predicted that life expectancy gained by giving Gardasil to females older than 18 doesn’t outweigh the vaccine’s expense. The findings may raise qualms for Merck, which recently stepped up marketing to women ages 19 to 26 after Gardasil sales declined 9 percent to $326 million last quarter.
“We aren’t saying older women can’t benefit. We are just saying that from a societal perspective there might be a better use of this investment in money,” said Jane Kim, an author on the study and an assistant professor of health decision science at Harvard University. “You are getting diminishing returns.”
Gardasil is one of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck’s top products and may generate $4 billion and 14 percent of Merck’s earnings by 2012, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Chris Schott. Merck said it is focusing on older age groups as many teens and preteens have been vaccinated. Merck said it will offer doctors free doses for these women if their insurance refuses to cover Gardasil.
Shares, Falling Sales
Merck, the third largest U.S. drugmaker, fell 58 cents, or more than 1.7 percent, to $34.36 at 10:15 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. It has declined 30 percent in the past 12 months through yesterday on falling sales of Gardasil and its cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin.