"At some point, you just have to get on with it," Amarin's (NASDAQ: AMRN ) Chairman and CEO Joseph Zakrzewski on the decision to hire a sales force to launch its lipid-lowering drug Vascepa that was approved more than four months ago.
The biotech hasn't given up hope for a buyout, though. Amarin is continuing its "strategic partnership discussions."
Shares are down 19% today on the news, which is exactly reason I warned investors to stay on the sideline. With everyone expecting a buyout, there was a lot of downside risk if it didn't materialize in time.
Amarin is shooting for hiring 250-300 sales reps to cover the 30,000 physicians that treat patients with high levels of lipids, approximately the same number of reps that are detailing GlaxoSmithKline's (NYSE: GSK ) Lovaza, which treats the same condition. Amarin plans to price Vascepa on par with Lovaza to steal patients and expand the market with its superior data.
The biotech will pay for the launch with a $100 million hybrid debt-like financing. I like debt better than a dilutive capital raise, but I doubt Amarin had much choice. It's not easy to do a secondary offering when the buyers know the capital raise will trigger a major sell-off.
It seems unlikely that there aren't any companies interested in purchasing Amarin; Vascepa would fit right in at Merck (NYSE: MRK ) , AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN ) , or Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT ) given their focus on cardiovascular drugs.
The lack of a buyer probably has to do with price. With the New Chemical Entity status still up in the air, potential buyers are likely having a hard time valuing the asset. Or put another way, they're probably giving Amarin 0% chance of getting NCE status while Amarin's management wants a premium on the current valuation that includes at least some chance at getting NCE status.
Amarin is a better value at this knocked-down price, but in the short term, it's still a bet that management can find a buyer or a lucrative licensing deal. If it doesn't, you're counting on capturing value as Amarin "gets on with it," which could take awhile.
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