Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) has snapped ties with digital marketing agency Schbang over the publicity stunt by Poonam Pandey, where she faked her death apparently to bring attention to cervical cancer.

MSD has been selling its cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, in India since 2008. Calling the latest activity “grossly irresponsible and distasteful,” MSD distanced itself from the agency and the Pandey publicity stunt.

“MSD would like to categorically state that the recent public relations activity on HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) prevention carried out by Poonam Pandey and digital marketing agency Schbang was neither initiated with MSD’s endorsement nor made with the knowledge of MSD. This activity was grossly irresponsible and distasteful and goes against our company’s values of ethics and integrity,” the multinational said in a statement to businessline.

“Upon becoming aware of the involvement of Schbang, we took immediate action to terminate our service contract with the agency, with all rights reserved,” it added.

“MSD is of the view that disease awareness is important for the prevention and protection of people against certain HPV-related cancers and diseases; therefore, it is critical that such messages are always scientifically and medically accurate while being delivered in an appropriate manner,” it added.

Besides MSD, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals had also brought in its cervical vaccine in 2009. But GSK has since discontinued this vaccine in India, about 12 years after its launch. The Serum Institute of India is the latest entrant in the segment.

MSD’s Gardasil 4 is priced at ₹3,687, a dose, and Gardasil 9 is priced at ₹10,850, according to industry estimates. MSD’s Gardasil 4 is a quadrivalent vaccine. With HPV affecting both genders, MSD has also brought in the Gardasil 9 vaccine, a gender-neutral HPV vaccine to address certain HPV-related diseases among girls, women, and boys.

Separately, the Centre too appears to be batting for HPV vaccination, with the Interim Budget mentioning cervical cancer vaccination in 9–14-year-olds.