The World Health Organization has approved a cervical cancer vaccine made by , meaning U.N. agencies and partners can now officially buy millions of doses of the vaccine for poor countries worldwide.

GlaxoSmithKline, which maintains its U.S. headquarters in the Triangle, said Thursday the approval would help speed access to Cervarix globally.

“Cervarix can save millions of women’s lives throughout the world, but only if it reaches those who need it most,” said Jean Stéphenne, president of GSK Biologicals, in a statement.

“That is why GSK rapidly applied for WHO prequalification of Cervarix. That is why we’re eager to work with our long-term partner GAVI as well as other private NGOs or governments of developing countries to identify financing mechanisms for the vaccine. And that is why we’re exploring a variety of distribution partnerships to ensure Cervarix will protect women and girls around the globe.”

More than 80 percent of the estimated 280,000 cervical cancer deaths a year occur in developing countries. In the West, early diagnosis and treatment has slashed the disease’s incidence.

Last year, the global health association GAVI, formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, prioritized the purchase of cervical cancer vaccines for the world’s 73 poorest countries. GAVI includes U.N. agencies, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and is a major buyer of vaccines for the developing world.

GSK has already donated more than 100,000 doses of the vaccine for demonstration projects in Uganda and India.

"These collaborations will help build and leverage developing countries’ experience with the implementation of HPV vaccination," GSK said..

Cervarix has not been approved for use in the U.S. or Japan, but is available in 97 other countries. In the U.S., the cervical cancer vaccine market has been cornered by Gardasil since it was approved in 2006. Gardasil is made by Merck & Co. The vaccines typically cost about $360 for a three-shot dose.

The FDA is expected to decide within the next few months whether to approve Cervarix. Gardasil racked up $426 million in global sales in the most recent quarter, versus $69 million for Cervarix, which has won more contracts from government health programs beyond the United States.

It was unclear whether GSK might make Cervarix available at a cheaper price to U.N. agencies buying it for poor countries.