Mumbai: Drug maker Aventis Pharma Ltd, the Indian-listed subsidiary of French pharma company Sanofi-Aventis SA, is in talks to acquire local rabies vaccine brands after losing the marketing rights for its flagship product Rabipur in a market estimated to be worth an annual Rs300 crore.
The company is also in talks with a clutch of research-based drug companies in India to license potential technologies for products that can compensate it for the lost market slot, said two people involved in the negotiations who did not want to be named.
At the same time, Sanofi-Aventis is also exploring the option of terminating a marketing agreement with Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd for Verorab, another local rabies vaccine brand that belongs to group company Sanofi Pasteur SA, and launching it directly in the Indian market, said the two people.
Eyeing a deal: Sanofi-Aventis headquarters in France. The firm’s India unit began its acquisition efforts after losing the marketing rights for its flagship product in a market estimated to be worth Rs300 crore a year. Judith White / Bloomberg
The two people declined to give details of the other brands that the company has identified as potential acquisition targets.
Without giving details, a Sanofi-Aventis spokesperson said the company is looking for brands in the anti-rabies segment to compensate for the loss of Rabipur.
It is also looking for brands and technologies in other segments, especially to expand to the smaller cities and towns of India.
Aventis’ effort to replace Rabipur may be linked partly to the possibility of Novartis India Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of Swiss drug maker Novartis AG, launching the brand in India.
Verorab is one of the leading rabies vaccine brands in India, where it competes with Indirab of Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd and SII Rabivax of Pune-based Serum Institute of India Ltd.
A senior executive of Serum Institute, who didn’t want to be identified, said SII Rabivax was one of the company’s successful brands and it had no plans to sell or license it, especially to a multinational entity, unless there were substantive reasons to do so.
Krishna M. Ella, chairman and managing director of Bharat Biotech, said the company gets many such proposals, adding that he didn’t think it would sell any brand. Ranbaxy declined comment.
Rabipur, which was the top-selling rabies vaccine in India with almost 70% market share, was contributing at least 10% to Aventis’ total revenue in the country.
The company lost the right to market the brand in February following a dispute with the original owner—a joint venture between Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Inc. and Chiron Behring Vaccines Pvt. Ltd.
Rabipur was licensed to Aventis by the joint venture company under an exclusive marketing agreement.
Although Sanofi-Aventis holds a 49% stake in Chiron Behring, the distribution rights to Rabipur became a matter of dispute on the renewal of the 10-year-old agreement. The dispute was referred to an arbitrator who favoured non-renewal of the distribution agreement.
As reported by Mint in February, sales of Rabipur for the year ended 31 December were Rs117.94 crore.
In the first quarter of 2009, although the company posted 5.5% growth in overall sales, a 75% decline in Rabipur sales to Rs9.2 crore from Rs 36.1 crore a year earlier crimped Aventis Pharma’s revenue growth.
At least three million people undergo anti-rabies treatment every year in India, where around 30,000 die annually of the disease, or 50% of the mortality from rabies worldwide.