Merck's Gardasil For Boys: How Will Those Ads Play?

Gardasil photo composite

We've known that Merck has been testing its cervical cancer vaccine Gardasilon young men (16-23 years old). The company says major data on those clinical trials are expected next year and could help Merck win FDA approval of the shots for males as well as females. The first-of-its-kind product has already sparked a sociopolitical controversy with its recommended use for young women. Imagine the brouhaha if or when Merck starts selling it for young men.

That effort is getting a shot in the arm (bad, cliche pun intended) today from doctors at the prestigious M.D. Anderson Cancer Center who write a review in the medical journal "Cancer" about HPV-16 (one of the strains of the human papillomavirus that can lead to cancer) being tied to oropharyngeal, or a type of oral cancer.

The researchers conclude, "To hasten the reduction of HPV-16 in the population, widespread vaccination of adolescent and young adult males should also be considered. Although the cervical cancer...prevention policy of the HPV-16/18 (another leading cancer-causing strain) vaccination of young women and adolescent females are commended, we fear that vaccination programs limited to females will only delay the potential benefit in prevention of HPV-16/18-associated oropgaryngeal cancers, which typically occur in men. We encourage the rapid study of the efficacy and safety of these vaccines in males and, if successful, the recommendation of vaccination in young adult and adolescent males." One of the doctors who wrote the article has been a consultant for GSK.

Gardasil is well on its way to becoming a major blockbuster for Merck. GlaxoSmithKline is awaiting FDA approval (for females) of a similar vaccine called Cervarix.

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