In October 2023 GSK announced that it has secured an exclusive agreement with Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products (Zhifei) to “co-promote” the former’s shingles vaccine in China. This will initially take place over 3 years, with the possibility of extension.
“By bringing together the scale and expertise of the two companies, the strategic partnership will significantly extend the availability of Shingrix, supporting the rapid expansion of patient access to the vaccine and future potential indications.”
Shingrix and shingles
The Recombinant Zoster Vaccine (RZV) is a non-live, recombinant subunit vaccine for the prevention of shingles in adults aged 50 and over. It comprises an antigen, glycoprotein, and an adjuvant system, and may “help to overcome the natural age-related decline in responses to immunisation” that presents a challenge in protecting adults of this age from shingles. In some areas it is also approved for younger adults at increased risk of shingles.
Singles, or herpes zoster, is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox, but most people aged 50 and over have dormant VZV in their nervous system. With age, the immune system’s “strength” decreases, which causes a lowered response to infection and an increased risk of developing shingles. People who have a suppressed or compromised immune system are also at greater risk.
Symptoms of shingles “typically” include a rash with painful chest, abdomen, or face blisters. After the rash, patients can also suffer post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is a long-lasting nerve pain. This is the most common complication of shingles, but likelihood depends on the individual’s age.
Protecting an ageing population
GSK reports that Shingrix was approved after expedited review by China’s National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) in May 2019.
“Estimates suggest that by 2030, there will be 570 million people over the age of 50 in China, yet as of June 2023, only around 1.2% of the current population has been vaccinated against shingles.”
From the start of 2024 Zhifei will have exclusive rights to import and distribute the vaccine, focusing on promoting it through its “extensive service network”, which spans over 30,000 vaccination points in the country. Alongside this, GSK will co-promote Shingrix by raising awareness of the importance of shingles vaccination among healthcare professionals. Zhifei will purchase “agreed volumes” of the vaccine with a value to GSK of £2.5 billion over the 3-year period. These purchases will be staggered over time as demand is “expected to accelerate steadily through the period”.
GSK’s Chief Commerical Office Luke Miels stated that the partnership is “consistent” with the company’s “focus on products with a high and durable level of differentiation”.
“It materially expands the number of Chinese adults who can benefit from Shingrix and includes the option to extend the collaboration to include our novel RSV vaccine Arexvy.”
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