GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix and Sanofi Pasteur MSD’s Gardasil, both vaccines against human papillomavirus, were jointly awarded the 2008 UK Prix Galien medal for innovation at a ceremony held in the House of Commons.

Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence and head of the judging panel, praised the drugmakers for sticking with vaccine development at a time when other companies had pulled out of such work.

He said the two firms had been “very courageous” not merely for “investing their skills and resources in these development programmes, but also for deciding to put up with the adverse media coverage that they have experienced and, I'm afraid, they will continue to attract in the years ahead”. Ten years ago, as many companies were pulling out of vaccine development altogether, “many of us despaired for the future,” Sir Michael added. “We thought the interminable media pressures would deter companies from continuing the development of vaccines.

Novartis won the Prix Galien orphan drug award for Exjade (deferasirox), the first once-daily oral therapy for treating patients with iron overload. Its ability to improve the quality of life for patients with the condition proved significant during the judging process, and led Sir Michael to hail it as “a wonder drug”.

There were also joint winners for best pharmaceutical agent (small molecule) at the Prix Galien USA awards. The honour was shared by two HIV drugs – Merck & Co’s Isentress (raltegravir), the first in a new class called integrase inhibitors, and Pfizer’s Selzentry (maraviroc), another first-in-class HIV treatment, which prevents entry of the virus into white blood cells through the CCR5 co-receptor.

Soliris, Revlimid honoured

The best biotechnology agent award was shared by Alexion’s Soliris (eculizumab) for paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, a rare blood disorder defined by chronic red blood cell destruction, and Wyeth’s Infuse, a bone graft device that incorporates a synthesised therapeutic protein to promote bone healing. Finally Celgene Corp took the special therapeutic development award for its multiple myeloma treatment Revlimid (lenalidomide).