Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Wednesday adjourned hearing on an appeal filed by Aventis Pharma Ltd for allowing it to sell its rabies vaccine Verorab in the Indian market.
The court will hear the matter again on 3 November.
Aventis Pharma, an India-listed unit of French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis SA, is locked in a tussle over the vaccine with Novartis Healthcare Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of Switzerland’s Novartis AG.
An Aventis official said on Wednesday that since Verorab is off the market after an earlier court order and the supply of the Rabipur brand from Chiron Behring Vaccines Pvt. Ltd’s Gujarat plant has been affected due to quality issues, only 20% of the market demand is currently met by other domestic manufacturers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Legal battle: The Sanofi-Aventis SA headquarters in Paris. The firm is locked in a tussle over the vaccine with Novartis Healthcare. Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg
“There is enough capacity of anti-rabies vaccine to meet the needs of the local market,” Novartis Healthcare had said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Rabipur brand belongs to Chiron Behring, which is a venture of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Inc. and Aventis Pharma.
Aventis holds a 49% stake in Chiron Behring but the distribution rights of Rabipur for the Indian company was under dispute on the renewal of a 10-year-old agreement.
Aventis Pharma lost marketing rights for its flagship brand Rabipur, the leader in the Rs250 crore domestic rabies vaccine market. This followed a dispute between Aventis Pharma and the original owner of the brand in February.
Aventis Pharma then tried to replace Rabipur with Verorab. The Verorab brand, owned by group company Sanofi Pasteur India Pvt. Ltd, was sold till September by Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd in the Indian market under a licensing agreement.
Novartis Vaccines contested this attempt at the Bombay high court, claiming a conflict of interest because Verorab will compete with Rabipur in the same market.
After Novartis’ petition, the high court had earlier this month asked Aventis Pharma not to sell Verorab while it is the joint venture partner in the Rabipur business.
Aventis Pharma challenged this in its Tuesday appeal.
Chetan Gupta, a Mumbai-based chemist, said there had been a shortage of Rabipur in the past few months. “It would be really felt in the rural markets as the demand for anti-rabies vaccines are high in those markets than cities,” Gupta said.
At least three million people undergo anti-rabies treatment every year in India, where around 30,000 die annually of the infection, or 50% of the mortality from rabies worldwide.
A Novartis Healthcare spokesperson admitted on Wednesday that there may be some interruptions in supply of the rabies vaccine due to manufacturing issues but added that these have been addressed and production has resumed.
Though Verorab’s owner, Sanofi Pasteur India, can sell Verorab, it does not have a marketing network to handle the business. This has put Aventis in a tight spot in taking Verorab to the market.
Rabipur, the top-selling rabies vaccine in India with an almost 60% market share, was contributing at least 10% to Aventis Pharma’s total revenue in the country. Sales of Rabipur for the year ended 31 December were Rs117.94 crore.
“Replacing Rabipur is crucial to Aventis now as it contributed more than one-tenth of its total revenue so far,” a sector analyst with a domestic brokerage, which has Novartis as well as Aventis in its investment portfolio, said on condition of anonymity.