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Merck opens Virginia plant to support UNICEF deal for HPV vaccines

Elkton, VA (EndpointNews) – A construction project built around expanding the vaccine manufacturing capabilities at a Merck site in Elkton, VA, has been completed. The upgrades will support the company’s human papillomavirus vaccine, Gardasil 9, once it gains review and approval from regulators.

About 150 new jobs have been added to the site, as the location is now 120,000 square feet larger.

“As we continue to increase production of our HPV vaccines, we are prioritizing access in countries with a high burden of disease, including countries eligible for support from Gavi and UNICEF,” Priya Agrawal, global lead for HPV Vaccines at Merck, said. “Through our long-term agreement with UNICEF, we plan to provide 91.5 million doses of our HPV vaccines for use in Gavi-supported countries from 2021-2025, and we have offered additional doses beyond that agreement as needed to help meet growing demand.”

The deal with UNICEF and Gavi was signed in June 2020. It will allow the organization to increase the reach from 50 million girls to 84 million girls over until 2025, which the organization predicts will prevent the deaths of 1.4 million girls and women from cervical cancer. Gavi’s original goal to vaccinate 40 million girls between 2016 and 2020 was reduced to 14 million because of a lack of supply of the HPV vaccine.

As the site is now ready to start churning out doses, Merck has doubled down on its marketing of the HPV vaccine for which it committed more than $1 billion in expanded manufacturing. The company has doubled its supply of the jabs from 2017 to 2020, and that number has increased steadily with the company expecting it to double again between 2020 and 2023. Last year, it debuted the first TV ads targeting an older age group, as the FDA expanded its approval to include the 27-45 age range in 2018. Meanwhile, Merck is also running an unbranded “My HPV Cancer Story” social media campaign to shine the spotlight on the link between cervical cancer and HPV.

“For most people, HPV clears on its own. But for others who don’t clear the virus, it can cause certain cancers later in life,” pediatrician Todd Wolynn explains in a digital ad from Merck.

Roughly 95% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, according to the World Health Organization. Most infections clear up on their own, but about 45,000 HPV-related cancers are reported in the US every year.

“Increasing supply of our HPV vaccines is a top priority, and over the last several years we have steadily increased our manufacturing capacity in response to growing global demand,” Jacks Lee, SVP of manufacturing at Merck said. “Despite the pandemic, our teams have completed the building infrastructure expansion at our Elkton site ahead of schedule and we are excited to reach this important milestone.”

Read more here.

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