GSK strikes $3B Shingrix partnership with China powerhouse Zhifei. Is a deal for RSV shot next?

GSK has forged a partnership with vaccine powerhouse Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products to distribute Shingrix in China. And the deal could be a precursor to similar arrangement between the companies for GSK’s new respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, the London-based drugmaker said.

As for Shingrix, Zhifei will pay £2.5 billion ($3.05 billion) for a specific volume of the vaccine and exclusive rights to distribute the shingles shot in China from 2024 through 2026. The deal kicks off on January 1 of next year and could be extended if both companies agree, GSK said.

The partnership was announced seven weeks after GSK revealed phase 4 trial data that showed Shingrix was 100% effective in protecting adults aged 50 and older from shingles. The ZOSTER-076 study was conducted in China and included nearly 6,000 participants.

Since it became available in China in 2020, Shingrix sales have been growing (PDF) rapidly. But there are limitations on the growth as GSK has been able to make it available at roughly 9,000 locations, GSK commercial officer Luke Miels, said during a press call. The deal with Zhifei will accelerate access significantly, as the China vaccine powerhouse can offer some 30,000 vaccination points.

“The structure around vaccine delivery in China is different from most countries in the world in that vaccines can only be given at these points of vaccination,” Miels said.

GSK reported (PDF) worldwide sales of Shingrix at £1.71 billion ($2.1 billion) in the first half of this year. The company expects a boost in sales in China to help compensate for an anticipated decline in demand for the shot in the United States and Europe. A year ago, GSK said it planned to double its sales of Shingrix in China by 2025.

Zhifei has a track record of success in driving sales, recording $4.75 billion in vaccine revenue in 2021, thanks largely to its partnership with Merck in marketing HPV vaccine Gardasil for more than a decade.

“We had watched and been very impressed with the deal that Merck and Zhifei conducted around Gardasil and essentially sought to replicate that with Shingrix,” Miels said.

Similar results with Shingrix sales in China could pave the way for Zhifei to market RSV vaccine Arexvy. The company has granted GSK the right of first refusal to be its exclusive partner for co-development and commercialization of the shot, provided it is approved in China.

Miels said that marking Arexvy in China would “have a very similar footprint in terms of eligible patient groups being 50 years and above.” He also said that Zhifei has roughly 10 times as many sales reps as GSK’s current headcount of 500 in China.

GSK is battling Pfizer Abrysvo and a potential candidate from Moderna in the new RSV market, which is expected to reach $9 billion by 2029, analysts say.