GSK to lean on Zhifei for Shingrix and maybe Arexvy in China

GSK vaccine manufacturing

GSK is enlisting the aid of China’s Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products (Zhifei) to drive sales of its most important vaccine, Shingrix, in China over the next few years, and may also call upon it to help it distribute new shot Arexvy.

Herpes zoster vaccine Shingrix for shingles has been the main driver of GSK’s revenue growth for some time, accounting for £1.7 billion ($2.1 billion) of the company’s £14 billion in sales in the first half of the year, while newly approved respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine Arexvy is tipped to become a big earner in the coming years.

Starting on 1st January next year, Zhifei – an established vaccines player in China – will have exclusive rights to import and distribute Shingrix in China through a network that covers more than 30,000 vaccination points across the country. GSK will co-promote the shot to healthcare professionals within community health centres and hospital settings.

The arrangement will run for three years in the first instance and, according to GSK, also “supports potential future co-development and commercialisation of Arexvy […] for adults 60 years and older in China.”

Both shingles and RSV are diseases that affect older age groups, and China has one of the fastest growing ageing populations in the world, with the over-60s projected to reach 28% by 2040.

To give an idea of the case of the agreement, Zhifei has agreed to purchase supplies of Shingrix with a value of £2.5 billion over the initial three-year period and will help GSK reach its target of driving Shingrix sales to £4 billion worldwide by 2026.

GSK’s chief commercial officer, Luke Miels, said the co-promotion agreement “materially expands the number of Chinese adults who can benefit from Shingrix.”

Zhifei also gets the right of first refusal to be the exclusive partner for Arexvy, which is not yet approved in China, but has been cleared in the US, Europe, and Japan to prevent RSV lower respiratory tract disease in adults aged 60 and over. 

The RSV vaccine market has been estimated to be worth somewhere between $5 billion and $10 billion a year worldwide, with analysts giving an edge to GSK’s shot thanks to a higher top-line efficacy in trials than a rival jab from Pfizer.

Other RSV candidates from the likes of Moderna and Bavarian Nordic are in late-stage development, setting up what looks likely to become a highly competitive segment in the vaccines market, while Pfizer/BioNTech are also working on a Shingrix rival.

China is already the second-largest pharma market in the world behind the US and, according to some estimates, could become the largest market within the next decade, making it an important growth area for pharma groups, although, recent trends have been towards a slowdown in growth and new drug approvals after years of increases.

9 October, 2023