UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has kicked off large-scale, late-stage clinical trials of a vaccine candidate designed to prevent shingles.

The group’s stock nudged up 1.3% yesterday after it announced it has commenced the Phase III programme for the vaccine, which has been designed to test its safety, efficacy and immunogenicity in more than 30,000 around the globe.

Shingles (also called herpes zoster or zoster) can be an extremely painful condition caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which is also responsible for chickenpox. The disease can occur at all ages (though incidence increases with age), and there are an estimated one million cases per year in the US alone.

According to Norman Begg, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Biologicals, the vaccine’s move into Phase III is a significant milestone. “Shingles is an often debilitating condition for which there are limited treatment and prevention options. That is why progression into late stage development of our herpes zoster vaccine is an important milestone in ongoing efforts to potentially help address an important unmet need,” he said.

Should the jab make it to market it will compete with Merck’s offering Zostavax, a live, attenuated vaccine launched across the Atlantic for adults aged 60 and over and in Europe for those aged 50 and above back in May 2006.