Merck & Co will launch its cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil in Canada next month via its Merck Frosst subsidiary, following its approval yesterday.

Gardasil has been given the green light by Health Canada for females between nine and 26 years of age for the prevention of cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, precancerous lesions and genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (types 6, 11, 16, 18). Studies are under way to prove the vaccine's effectiveness in women beyond that age and in men, who can develop cancer of the anus and penis as a result of HPV infection.

Merck’s vaccine has reached the Canadian market ahead of rival product Cervarix from GlaxoSmithKline, which has not yet been filed in either Canada or the USA.

Gardasil has been tipped to become a $3 billion product, thanks to a major potential impact on public health. Nearly 300,000 women around the world die each year as a result of cervical cancer, and Merck says Gardasil could save the lives of nearly 200,000 of them.

Merck Frosst Canada said the vaccine is due to reach the market by the end of the August with a price tag of C$135 per dose, with three shots needed to provide long-term immunity. Whether the vaccine is reimbursable in Canada will depend on the deliberations of the country’s Advisory Committee on Immunization, which is due to deliver a verdict by the end of the year.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave its backing to the routine use of Gardasil last month.