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Merck, Qiagen bring cervical cancer screening closer to the grassroots

JUST as Nigeria is stepping up its awareness drive on the control and management of cervical cancer,   Merck & Co., Inc. and Qiagen N.V. – two globally respected names in the arena of cervical cancer intervention – are initiating a $600 million corporate collaboration in form of a new programme aimed at increasing access to vaccination against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and HPV DNA testing in select GAVI-eligible countries to explore the feasibility of  implementing national cervical cancer reduction programmes.

The initiative is the first ever collaboration between a vaccine manufacturer and a molecular diagnostics company. It is designed to comprehensively address the burden of cervical cancer, through  integration of two breakthrough and complementary advances in healthcare – Merck’s cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil   and Qiagen’s HPV tests, the digene HC2 HPV DNA Test (called the digene HPV Test) and a new HPV DNA test  currently in development for use specifically in the developing world.

Although participating countries are yet to be announced pending finalisation of details and implementation strategies, it is strongly believe that working together to develop country-wide programs that include cervical cancer vaccination and screening would bring unique benefits to global public health.

Girls within a defined age range in the selected countries would be offered vaccination, and the programme would work towards implementation of screening – and treatment as needed – for all women of a defined age group.

Cervical cancer affects approximately 500,000 women worldwide about 85 per cent of who reside in the developing world.  In Nigeria, an estimated 8,000 women die annually of the disease. Merck will provide, free-of-charge, up to five million doses of its Gardasil vaccine while Qiagen plans to boost its existing one million test donation programme by providing HPV DNA tests to screen an additional 500,000 women.  The two organisations intend to seek additional public and private partners to design and implement national public sector cervical cancer programmes, provide treatment as needed, and support improvements in laboratory and vaccine delivery infrastructure, training of healthcare workers, education and advocacy.

They will also work with cervical cancer experts to support  development and implementation of sustainable best practice models for cervical cancer reduction in low-income, high disease burden countries.

“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 healthcare infrastructure is limited,” notes  Margaret G. McGlynn, President, Merck Vaccines and Infectious Diseases.  She described the  collaboration between the two companies as innovative and fundamental to reaching their shared goal of reducing the global burden of cervical cancer.

Peer Schatz, CEO of Qiagen believes that “With broadened access to both vaccines and testing through this initiative, we hope to ensure that girls and women – regardless of where they live – will benefit from these advances in healthcare.”

Typically, HPV testing identifies women with high-risk HPV infections that can cause cervical cancer, enabling diagnosis and treatment to be put in place before cervical cancer develops.

The digene HPV Test is approved in the U.S. and Europe where it is used as a screening test.  It is approved to be used together with a Pap test in women 30 years and older.


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