Amarin (Nasdaq: AMRN) recently announced that it would defer its decision to hire a Vascepa sales force to the first half of December. Most people (myself included) thought the decision would be made concurrently with a potential FDA decision on Vascepa's NCE status. After all, the next Orange Book update is just around the corner, and it might contain a decision regarding Vascepa. Last night, however, management surprised everyone by announcing that it will use a $100 million loan to hire 250-300 sales representatives and get Vascepa on the market early in 2013.
There are some positive aspects to this news; Amarin's financing won't dilute shareholders, and the company is staying true to its Vascepa launch timeline. Also, the company's management has prior experience with successfully launching a drug in the exact same therapeutic space.
Nevertheless, the market reacted badly, and shares fell 19% on the news. As we all know by now, investors were hoping that Amarin would commercialize its drug with a big pharma partner or – better yet – be bought out. Although the company's CEO hinted in last night's conference call that negotiations with potential partners is ongoing, the move to hire a sales team may mean that a deal won't materialize as soon as investors thought. Solo drug launches by small pharma companies tend to make investors nervous, but we'll have to sit tight for now and see how the initial sales look in a few months.
The next catalyst for this stock should be next week's Orange Book update. Whether Vascepa's NCE status will finally be put to bed is anyone's guess.
Max Macaluso owns no shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Abbott Laboratories.