Sanofi-Pasteur MSD's/Merck & Co’s Gardasil - the world's first vaccine against the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer and genital warts - went on sale yesterday in Australia.

The vaccine is administered three times over six months, and protects against four strains of HPV - responsible for some 70% of cervical cancer cases - as well as genital warts, but comes with a high price tag of A$460 per patient, according to Australian newspaper The Age.

Gardasil was first approved in Mexico on June 1, followed swiftly by nods in the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and has been filed in numerous other countries around the world.

And, last month, the European Medicines Agency’s scientific advisory panel gave the vaccine the thumbs up for use in girls aged nine-15 and women aged 16-26. Full approval is expected in September, just nine months after filing, opening the door to another enormous region for the potential multi-billion dollar offering. In Europe, cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death after cancer of the breast in young women, with 15,000 deaths annually.

Analysts have forecast sales of around $3 billion for Gardasil, which should put a smile on developer Merck's face. The company is expected to rake in more than upcoming rival, GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix, which will be later to the US market, with a filing anticipated towards the end of the year. It sought European approval in March.