GlaxoSmithKline plans to 'relaunch' Shingrix after the pandemic decimated sales

GlaxoSmithKline, set to unshackle itself from its consumer health business next year, plans to make vaccines a major focus for the so-called "New GSK." Blockbuster shingles vaccine Shingrix will play a key role.

Over the next decade, GSK aims to position itself as the world's "leading vaccines company," Roger Connor, president of Glaxo's global vaccines business, said on a call with investors Wednesday. It's "crown jewel" Shingrix will do much of the heavy lifting in the near-term, buoyed by the company's meningitis franchise as well, he said.

Overall, the company's efforts should yield a "high single-digit" average growth rate in vaccines over the next five years, GSK execs said.

The company's shingles shot Shingrix generated nearly £2 billion (around $2.8 billion) in 2020. By 2026, GSK plans to double that figure. To get there, the company will double down in the U.S. and launch in around 35 countries worldwide in the coming years. 

RELATED: As GSK enters key transition year, COVID-19 immunization could hurt Shingrix uptake: exec

Right now, GSK's focus is to essentially "relaunch" the product in the aftermath of the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, which "necessarily disrupted" normal vaccination schedules, Luke Miels, chief commercial officer at GSK, said on the call. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had previously recommended people not get another vaccine within two weeks of their COVID-19 shot, though it ultimately scrapped that guidance.

Amid coronavirus vaccine rollouts, Shingrix sales dipped nearly 50% in 2021's first quarter versus the same period last year. Miels previously attributed the drop to a “significant disruption” from COVID-19 vaccine launches. Demand for Shingrix is expected to make a strong recovery in the back half of the year, he said in April.

Now, GSK is in the process of generating data about how COVID-19 affects shingles, as well as the potential co-administration of Shingrix with an authorized coronavirus vaccine. Those data should read out in the fourth quarter, he said. 

Meanwhile, Shingrix scripts have rebounded up to nearly 69 thousand, roughly double what GSK saw in mid-March and April, Miels said.

RELATED: GSK, Novo and Roche meds hit pandemic potholes while Dupixent, Humira stood strong: analysts 

China represents another keystone in GSK's Shingrix growth strategy. The vaccine launched there last year and is now sold in the private market in more than 50 cities, Miels said. Shingles is believed to affect around 1.5 million people over the age of 50 in China each year, and the government has flagged it as a priority disease, he added.

Prior to COVID-19, "unprecedented" demand for Shingrix had outstripped supply, Connor said. Now, thanks to an accelerated capacity expansion, GSK is "unconstrained" and poised to meet demand.

Aside from its plans to launch in various countries worldwide, GSK is also pursuing an expanded indication to treat immunocompromised people ages 18 and up, as well as a new liquid formulation that will put the shot "even further out of reach" of potential shingles rivals, Connor said. 

RELATED: FDA slaps Guillain-Barré warning on GlaxoSmithKline's star vaccine Shingrix

GSK isn't too worried about Shingrix competitors to begin with, Connor noted. Shingrix boasts more than 90% efficacy and offers protection over four years. That "sets the bar so high" that the company feels "good about any potential attempts by competitors to enter this market in the coming years."

Other GSK vaccines

While Shingrix represents GSK's top growth driver in vaccines over the next five years, it's far from the only shot in GSK's quiver. GSK also plans to double revenues for its meningitis franchise over the next decade, and it has high hopes for a potential first-in-class respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine for older adults. 

The shot has snared FDA fast track designation, and if launched in 2024 as planned, could open the door to a £5 billion (nearly $7 billion) market, GSK said in a presentation that accompanied Wednesday's call. 

Connor and Miels made their comments at a hotly-anticipated investor event outlining GSK's plans ahead of consumer health spinoff set for mid-2022. By 2031, GSK expects product sales to reach £33 billion ($46 billion), CEO Emma Walmsley said on the call Wednesday. The meeting follows a series of commercial slumps and R&D setbacks, which have put Walmsley's guidance under a spotlight. 

GSK has struggled in the vaccine arena specifically, most notably with its Sanofi-partnered COVID-19 shot, which has yet to yield efficacy data. That said, the company's pandemic partnership with Canada's Medicago, which uses a plant-based production platform, has fared better, according to a recent mid-phase data reveal.

GSK is also working on second-generation mRNA vaccines with CureVac that have a "different, enhanced mRNA backbone to CureVac’s first-generation COVID-19 vaccine," a GSK spokesperson said over email.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that GSK is not involved in the development of CureVac’s first generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate.