Lupin eyes vaccine growth after in-licensing Merck shot

The scale of the Indian vaccine market presents a massive opportunity for Western companies, but its size also creates a problem when companies are trying to raise awareness of a jab. In a big, diverse country, having a local partner with an established sales infrastructure can help.

Merck ($MRK) is the latest company to decide its interests in India are best served by licensing a product to a local business. The drugmaker has signed a non-exclusive out-licensing deal for its 23-valent pneumococcal vaccine--marketed as Pneumovax in the U.S.--with fast-growing Indian firm Lupin. Neither Merck nor Lupin have disclosed financial details of the arrangement, but the Indian company is confident it has snagged a big opportunity.

"It will be a very large business for us," Shakti Chakraborty, Indian group president at Lupin, told NDTV. Chakraborty based his bullishness on the strength of the Indian adult vaccine market. In recent years awareness of the benefits of adult vaccines has grown in India, Chakraborty said, and this is driving "tremendous growth." Merck completed a Pneumovax safety study in India in 2007 and subsequently marketed the vaccine itself. Chakraborty believes Lupin is better placed to grow sales of the vaccine, though.

Lupin has a big, well-established sales force, and Chakraborty plans to utilize this asset to raise awareness of the Merck shot. "The strength of Lupin is basically our 5,000 odd people working in the field," Chakraborty said. Lupin has inked similar in-licensing deals with Eli Lilly ($LLY), Novartis ($NVS) and others, leveraging its sales team to grow revenues of a drug developed externally. Chakraborty expects to launch the Merck vaccine within the next two months, but a name for the rebranded jab has yet to be made public.

- here's the joint release (PDF)
- read the Financial Express' take
- watch the NDTV interview

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