GlaxoSmithKline weighs men B shot Bexsero's promise against gonorrhea

A study showed meningitis B vaccines like GlaxoSmithKline’s Bexsero can provide some protection against gonorrhea, and now the drugmaker is analyzing whether to move forward with testing in the disease area.

In a previous New Zealand study, the meningitis B vaccine MeNZB delivered 31% efficacy in fighting off gonorrhea. That’s “good,” GSK head of vaccine R&D Emmanuel Hanon told Bloomberg, but "not optimal.” GSK would instead want a vaccine with efficacy of around 90%, Hanon told the news service.

So, GSK is weighing whether its Bexsero could protect against the STD, a spokeswoman said. GlaxoSmithKline is working with health authorities and researchers to assess Bexsero's promise against gonorrhea, but the company can't comment further as the work remains exploratory.

GSK is "aware of the increasing public health need for prevention of gonorrhea, particularly in light of antimicrobial resistance, and is exploring ways to contribute our expertise to this important issue," she said. The company hasn't yet started any tests in the disease area.

Previously, a retrospective study found a different meningitis B vaccine called MeNZB provided some protection against the sexually transmitted disease, which has become increasingly difficult to treat with antibiotics. For the study, researchers looked at data from a mass MeNZB vaccination campaign and determined the shot was 31% effective against gonorrhea infections. GSK's newer Bexsero contains the same component as MeNZB, plus three additional antigens against more MenB strains.

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Formerly a Novartis vaccine, Bexsero has been a strong performer for GSK's vaccine unit; it has generated £470 million ($600 million) in sales during the first nine months of the year.

A vaccine against gonorrhea would be a welcome tool for combating a disease that has spread more broadly as its resistance to antibiotics grows. In the U.S., reported cases grew 18.6% last year, according to the CDC. When investigators reported results for the study in New Zealand, the team wrote that it was the "first time a vaccine has shown any protection against" the disease. The results could inform future vaccine development, they added.

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Meanwhile, GSK is in the midst of a hugely successful launch for shingles vaccine Shingrix, which is on track to all but reach blockbuster status in its first full year on the U.S. market. Demand for the vaccine has been so high that GSK is working to boost capacity to support the vaccine’s growth. In the meantime, the company has had to limit orders and hold off on TV advertising for the vaccine.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect that GSK hasn't conducted testing in gonorrhea and updated with a statement from GlaxoSmithKline.