Bharat buys GSK’s Indian vaccine unit to become largest rabies shot producer

Bharat Biotech Chairman Krishna Ella (left) said the company plans to recover investment in the deal in about five years, according to Business Standard. (Bharat Biotech)

India’s Bharat Biotech is about to become the world's largest supplier of rabies vaccines, thanks to a deal to buy Chiron Behring Vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline.

India-based Chiron Behring makes a single product, the rabies vaccine Rabipur, and Bharat Biotech sells a Vero cell-based rabies vaccine, Indirab. The acquisition would bring Bharat's annual rabies capacity to 25 million doses, making it the world’s largest, Chairman Krishna Ella said, according to local newspaper Business Standard.

No financial details of the all-cash transaction were disclosed, but Ella reportedly said the company expects to recoup its investment in about five years.

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Based in Ankleshwar, Chiron Behring joined GSK in the vaccine-for-oncology asset swap with Novartis in 2015. The unit's 2018 revenues reached Rs. 180 crore ($25.2 million), according to Business Standard. That's a small franchise in GSK’s vaccines portfolio, which ginned up £5.90 billion ($7.56 billion) in 2018.

The rabies vaccine maker will continue to operate independently within Bharat, and all of its 250 employees will stay put. But Ella said he plans to shift a large part of the firm’s focus to the domestic Indian market to fill an unmet need there, the newspaper reported. Bharat also plans to enhance Chiron Behring’s production capabilities and “expand market access through product registrations in additional high-demand countries,” the company said in a statement Friday.

Chiron Behring’s product is registered in more than 20 countries and is prequalified by the WHO, meaning it can be procured by international agencies. Bharat’s products are sold in more than 70 countries.

RELATED: Bharat Biotech's Rotavac, a discounted option to GSK and Merck vaccines, picks up WHO prequalification

GSK currently boasts the world’s largest vaccines business and the broadest marketed portfolio, with 14 more candidates in development. But Bharat’s ambition is to surpass the British company, at least in terms of product numbers, in about three years, according to Ella.

The privately held Indian company currently has a lineup of 16 products. Last January, its Typbar TCVB became the world’s first typhoid conjugate vaccine to be prequalified by the WHO, and then, its rotavirus vaccine Rotavac also earned prequalification as a cheaper option than GSK’s Rotarix and Merck & Co.’s RotaTeq.

The Chiron Behring castoff came shortly after GSK sold its Indian consumer health franchise, including the nutrition drinks brand Horlicks, to Unliver for £3.1 billion. The company at that time pledged continued involvement in the Indian market.

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