GSK polishes 'crown jewel' Shingrix with new long-term protection data in older adults

As GSK looks to cement its vaccine dynasty over the coming years, the company continues to polish its “crown jewel” Shingrix. Now, a fresh batch of long-term data suggests the shot’s protective luster lasts at least a decade.

Overall, vaccination with Shingrix conferred “at least” 10 years of protection against shingles in adults ages 50 and older, GSK said Wednesday, citing interim results from the vaccine’s late-stage extension study ZOSTER-049.

More specifically, Shingrix’s overall efficacy landed above 80% during a follow-up period of roughly six to 10 years post-immunization, the British drugmaker said.

The provisional win bodes well for GSK’s plan to grow Shingrix sales to 4 billion pounds sterling by 2026. To get there, the company has said it will intensify Shingrix efforts in the U.S. and launch the shot in around 35 countries worldwide in the coming years.

Last summer, commercial chief Luke Miels said GSK was essentially angling to relaunch Shingrix in the aftermath of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, which wreaked havoc on normal vaccination schedules. Amid coronavirus vaccine rollouts, Shingrix sales dipped nearly 50% in 2021's first quarter versus the same period in 2020.

The ongoing follow-up study Zoster-049 is tracking patients from two prior phase 3s—ZOE-50 and ZOE-70—for an additional six years. The original pair of pivotal trials found Shingrix was more than 90% effective in older adults over a follow-up period of roughly four years, GSK said in a release.

Outside the clinic, meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the shot as providing a strong immune response in older adults “for at least the first seven years after vaccination.”

Older adults are at higher risk of developing shingles and “potentially severe complications” because the body’s immune system naturally weakens as it ages, GSK explained in a release. The disease arises from the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Unlike its milder sibling chicken pox, shingles can cause “unbearable pain” and, in some cases, that pain can persist for “months or even years” after a person’s shingles rash has faded, the company added.

GSK’s vaccine weds a non-live antigen with GSK’s adjuvant, which the company thinks could enable Shingrix to “help overcome the natural age-related decline in immunity” that makes it difficult to protect older adults from the disease.

Last year, ahead of GSK’s consumer health separation, the president of the company’s global vaccines business, Roger Connor, outlined bold ambitions to become the world’s “leading vaccines company.” GSK is banking on boosted sales from its meningitis franchise, plus a potential first-in-class respiratory syncytial virus vaccine for older adults. But for the time being, Shingrix remains the British pharma’s “crown jewel,” Connor said during a call with investors last June.

GSK wasn’t too concerned about Shingrix competitors at the time, Connor noted, citing the shot’s 90% efficacy and more than four years of protection. That profile “sets the bar so high” that GSK feels “good about any potential attempts by competitors to enter this market in the coming years,” he said.

On the back of Wednesday’s interim trial readout, it appears Shingrix has raised the bar again.