RSV vaccine market needs a ‘slow build’ approach, but we can create consistent vax compliance: GSK

GSK has a lot of experience with its shingles vaccine Shingrix in getting the older population to take their shots; now, with the approval of the world’s first RSV vaccine last year, the U.K. Big Pharma is looking for a slow burn approach for its latest respiratory shot.

During GSK's official J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference 2024 presentation, CEO Emma Walmsley and Chief Commercial Officer Luke Miels spoke on how the company is looking to carve out a RSV market with its new vax Arexvy.

“Creating a market is absolutely fundamental,” Walmsley said during the JPM presentation. “Three years ago, I don't know how broadly the awareness was of the general public about RSV for older adults, even though it's a scale disease that hospitalizes tens of thousands of Americans that were on, sadly 15,000 died.

“So, we’re at very early stages of penetration of the market. I think competition and awareness is a good thing, and we're really pleased with the market share so far, and we'll keep going.”

Influenza shots and vaccines for COVID-19 have become commonplace, but companies must always deal with a degree of hesitancy, wariness and a general lack of awareness when a new drug or vaccine comes out for a disease/infection that has never existed before.

GSK, drawing from its experience with Shingrix, is applying that knowledge to Arexvy. Until last year, RSV had remained under the radar in public health messaging, overshadowed by the dominance of COVID since 2020.

It’s still, however, a potentially severe and deadly disease. While most will experience it as a cold, the very young, the immune compromised and the elderly are more likely to have complications such as pneumonia from the disease.

According to the CDC, it is estimated that each year between 60,000-160,000 older adults in the U.S. are hospitalized with the infection, while 6,000-10,000 die due to RSV.

GSK has a license for Arexvy for older adults but already competes with Pfizer’s rival shot, Abrysvo, which can also be used in pregnant mothers to help protect their unborn children from the disease. There is as well a new contender on the horizon from COVID vax maker Moderna.

GSK has however already got a major advantage over its rivals, making 709 million pounds ($860 million) in sales up to the third quarter last year, with Arexvy achieving two-thirds of the share of retail vaccinations in the third quarter.

The pharma has guided 3 billion pounds ($3.8 billion) in peak sales for its vaccine but despite its strong starts, wants to play the long game. “I think it's more of a slower build [the RSV vaccine market] classically because it takes time for people to become comfortable,” explained Miels at the JPM event.

“I mean even if you look at Shingrix, we're about one-third penetration, and this is a product that launched in 2017. So it does take time, but it's very durable once it's established.”

He said GSK’s working assumption is that you’ll get the shot repeatedly, like with the flu vaccine, “and so once people get into the habit in their 60s and 70s of presenting for a regular RSV vaccine and this population is going to be very compliant over time.”