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The cool-headed hot-seat survivor

Her company's new cancer vaccine debuted to a firestorm of controversy, and she's in charge of managing the brand.

Beverly Lybrand marketed the anti-HPV drug Gardasil through a storm of controversy, based on her conviction that it reduces the risk of cervical cancer. (Mark C. Psoras / For the Daily News)
Beverly Lybrand marketed the anti-HPV drug Gardasil through a storm of controversy, based on her conviction that it reduces the risk of cervical cancer. (Mark C. Psoras / For the Daily News)Read more

Beverly Lybrand

Vice president and general manager for adolescent and adult vaccines at Merck & Co. in West Point, Montgomery County.

The story so far:

Merck's Gardasil vaccine, which debuted last year, prevents the sexually transmitted disease HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer.

The problem is that the vaccine is administered to girls. The recommended age for starting the three-shot vaccine is 11 or 12 years old. Some opponents say giving STD shots to pre-teens encourages promiscuity. Others were outraged when state legislatures whom Merck had lobbied tried to make the vaccine mandatory for school attendance. (Only Virginia has enacted such a law, and Merck has stopped the lobbying campaign.)

On the other hand, public health officials say Gardasil is safe and beneficial. The Centers for Disease Control recommends it, and Merck has already sold 10 million doses in the U.S. The demand for it helped double the company's vaccine sales to $1.2 billion in its most recent fiscal quarter.

Lybrand's own story so far: Her atypical business career began with a nursing degree from Trenton State College and work in the cardiac critical-care unit at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. That was a coming-full-circle experience for a woman whose father had died from a heart attack when she was a child.

Then she earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, did some healthcare consulting in New York City and joined Merck, where she has overseen marketing for everything from cholesterol medicines to glaucoma eye drops. Before Gardasil, she led the U.S. launch of the asthma drug Singulair.

She lives in Lower Gwynedd with her husband, Sam, and 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, whose celebrity as a pioneering Gardasil recipient - she's just received her third and last shot and has gotten a fair amount of national press - is beginning to lose its charm.

"She does occasionally ask, 'Mom, you're not mentioning me, are you?'" Lybrand confides.

The calm amid the controversy: Predictably, mothers at school functions buttonholed Lybrand with questions when Gardasil was first introduced, and they still do.

Typically for a nurse, her stock answer doesn't mince words: "What I tell them is, if you're between the ages of 9 and 26 and you have a cervix, you should get this."

Marketing through the storm: As a marketer, she has patiently stayed on message, educating parents and pediatricians about the connection between HPV and cervical cancer. Before the launch, Merck's data showed that only 20 percent of consumers were aware of a link.

"You've got to apply the logic of your customer. That's really the position that we took here," Lybrand says. "The first thing we did was listen. The second was to show and share the data. You saw lightbulbs going on over heads when you got a chance to do that."

And then she saw klieg lights: On the strength of the Gardasil launch, BrandWeek magazine named Lybrand one of 10 "Marketers of the Year" for 2007, alongside the man who rolled out the Nintendo Wii and the one behind Geico's cavemen and gecko.

After hours: Lybrand says the thrall of introducing new medicines can consume her. "This work kind of calls you in," she says. You can find yourself here at late hours in the dark if you're not careful."

Outside work, she's all family most of the time. She's one of five siblings from a Delran, N.J., brood that's tight-knit and still mostly local. The rest of the time, she's all sneakers. "I've begun working out with a trainer, and I jog with my husband. I'm really focused on my health so I can be around for my family."
- Becky Batcha,
Daily News staff writer