GlaxoSmithKline: Don't count on a Shingrix rebound this year, but 2022 will bring 'record sales'

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
In GSK’s market research, among people who were fully vaccinated for COVID-19, shingles vaccine was listed as the second shot they most wanted to get behind a flu vaccine. (GlaxoSmithKline)

GlaxoSmithKline’s shingles vaccine Shingrix delivered a stellar quarter, but thanks in part to the delta variant, it doesn’t look like the shot will recover to last year’s levels.

Shingrix sales soared 41% at constant exchange rates to £502 million in the third quarter, which came 22% ahead of industry watchers’ expectations. It was an unusual performance given U.S. scripts remain way below last year’s levels.

To hear GSK’s pharma chief Luke Miels tell it, the growth didn’t come from people actually getting the vaccine from retail pharmacies. Instead, the showing was fueled by wholesale inventory building and a large proportion of injections came from doctors’ offices.

For the entire year, GSK expects Shingrix sales to follow a similar pattern as it had in the first nine months combined, which was a decline of around 11%, as many people prioritized their COVID-19 vaccinations.

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Shingrix’s drop in demand clearly correlated with a surge in the delta variant as people didn’t want to go to retail pharmacies, Miels said during a conference call Wednesday. But the trend is pointing to recovery. In GSK’s market research, among people who were fully vaccinated for COVID-19, a shingles vaccine was listed as the second shot they most wanted to get, behind a flu vaccine, Miels said.

When retail pharmacies started prioritizing COVID vaccinations, GSK made what then seemed like a risky move but is now paying off, Miels explained: It assigned the marketing team for respiratory disease inhalation Trelegy to target doctors and promote the shingles vaccine. There may be some under-reporting of scripts at doctors’ offices, he noted.

Considering those factors and launches outside the U.S., GSK is confident in Shingrix’s recovery, Miels said. For 2022, GSK sees a “record year” for Shingrix with double-digit sales growth, he said. For the longer term, the company believes Shingrix could double its revenue in five years from 2020.

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Elsewhere in GSK’s portfolio, Trelegy chalked up an impressive 77% sales increase in the third quarter to £326 million. The drug still holds 90% share in the three-in-one inhaler market in the U.S. despite the introduction of AstraZeneca’s rival Breztri a year ago.

The company’s novel two-drug HIV regimen Dovato chipped in £110 million during the three months, more than doubling its sales from last year. Despite the pandemic suppressing overall drug switching, Dovato has gained share. Dovato holds 15.3% share of the switch market in the U.S. and 27.8% share in Europe, Deborah Waterhouse, CEO of ViiV Healthcare, told investors during the call.

ViiV is also on track for a major expansion. Cabotegravir, a component used in the company’s long-acting HIV treatment Cabenuva, earned an FDA priority review last month as a PrEP option to prevent HIV. The once-monthly injection topped Gilead Sciences’ Truvada in two separate studies, threatening to disrupt the Big Biotech’s billion-dollar monopoly.

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The drug portfolio aside, a lot of investor attention at GSK these days focuses on a planned demerger of the consumer health business. Media reports emerged a few days ago that suggested several private equity firms have circled the business for a potential buyout.

“We are very committed to the demerger of at least 80% of our holding in consumer,” GSK CEO Emma Walmsley said. “We’re absolutely on the runway for that. We’ve had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from investors who are interested in owning this business.”

GSK has been under pressure from activist investor Elliott Management to seek another path to separate the consumer health business. The fund has also questioned Walmsley’s position at the pharma- and vaccines- focused GSK for her lack of scientific background.

To increase the scientific expertise for GSK’s board, the company on Wednesday said that Hal Dietz, M.D., a professor of genetic medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, will join the board starting first thing next year.