GlaxoSmithKline's Shingrix launch gets a jump-start with CVS move to stock thousands of pharmacies

Glaxo's Shingrix is now available at more than 9,800 CVS pharmacies around the U.S. (CVS)

GlaxoSmithKline has a lot riding on Shingrix, its new shingles vaccine. It's one of the key products CEO Emma Walmsley cited as growth drivers for the languishing company. And that launch just got a major boost from CVS.

The pharmacy chain said Monday that nearly 10,000 of its pharmacies in the U.S. now have the shingles immunization on store shelves and available for patients. 

Shingrix won FDA approval and CDC backing last fall and it's one of three important new launches for GSK. Numerous studies have shown that the new vaccine offers stronger protection than Merck's older Zostavax and that Shingrix's protection lasts at least four years. 

The vaccine is recommended for adults 50 and older in two doses spaced two to six months apart. CVS is offering GSK's new immunization at more than 9,800 pharmacies around the country, according to a new release. CVS says many insurers will cover the shots, including Medicare Part D.

The development follows a move by grocery chain Albertsons to stock the vaccine, announced last month, and that company's set of pharmacies is set to get a lot bigger with its recent deal to buy the rest of Rite-Aid. That deal gives Albertson's 4,900 locations in the U.S.

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These deals are exactly the sort that GSK has been pushing for. Luke Miels, Glaxo's president of global pharmaceuticals, outlined the Shingrix strategy on a recent conference call.

"Our focus is now getting all of the ducks in a row so that when a patient walks into the pharmacy and asks for the vaccine, it’s in stock, it’s reimbursed, and the healthcare provider knows how to give it," he said. "I’m pleased to say we’re advancing this process of negotiating access with commercial and Part D plans and in parallel we’re beginning to stock pharmacies and educate healthcare providers." 

RELATED: Fresh off FDA approval, GlaxoSmithKline's Shingrix gets CDC panel vote over Merck shot

A notoriously painful condition that's caused by latent varicella infection—otherwise known as the chicken pox—shingles affects about 1 in 3 people in the U.S., according to CDC figures. The risk increases with age as immune systems weaken. In October, CDC experts voted 8-7 to issue a preferential recommendation for Shingrix over Zostavax, with the panel chair saying at the time it was the closest vote she'd seen during her time on the committee.

The preferential vote gives GSK a "target universe of over 100 million patients in the U.S. alone," Miels said on the conference call.

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline tops its peers with $7.16B in 2017 vaccine sales 

Along with launches for HIV drug Juluca and COPD med Trelegy, Shringix is a near-term focus for the company and Walmsley. Under former CEO Andrew Witty, Glaxo boosted its position in vaccines with its 2014 asset swap with Novartis; last year, the company passed global rivals to become the largest vaccine maker by revenue.

Analysts have predicted Shingrix could reach blockbuster sales by 2022. GSK generated about $30 million in Shingrix sales to end the year after the CDC vote in late October. For its part, Merck's Zostvax sales slipped 45% in the fourth quarter to $121 million.