BASF gets Vascepa contract ahead of Pronova buyout

BASF has netted a potentially big contract for the fish oil manufacturing network it intends to create even before landing a buyout deal that would give it much of the fish oil production capacity it wants.

Amarin ($AMRN), whose ultra pure omega-3 fatty acid heart pill Vascepa was approved last year by the FDA, said it is seeking to have BASF ($BASF) approved by the FDA as one of the API manufacturers. Amarin has yet to launch Vascepa but said it is building a manufacturing network to meet expected demand. Amarin CEO Joseph Zakrzewski said BASF is the third supplier for which the company has submitted a Supplemental New Drug Application (sNDA) as it seeks to get its manufacturing ducks in order.

BASF says it likes the prospects of "the fast-growing and highly profitable market for omega-3 fatty acids." In May, it acquired a fish oil plant in Scotland from Equataq and then plunged €22m ($29.2 million) into the plant to expand its capacity to 250 metric tons from 20 metric tons. But the real fish oil prize for BASF is Pronova BioPharma in Norway, which it has offered to buy for €664 million ($879 million). Pronova, of Lysaker, Norway, already makes the active ingredient for GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) blockbuster omega-3 drug, Lovaza. But when Pronova's shareholders failed to meet BASF's tender deadline in December, perhaps hoping to get a better offer, the German chemical giant had to extend it to Jan. 18.

The delay is not so much an issue where Vascepa is concerned. Amarin has been struggling to get the product off the ground. Analysts had expected the Irish company to find a partner to market it, or even to get picked up by a Big Pharma player, but that has yet to happen. It has been hampered by the fact that the FDA keeps delaying a decision on whether to label the drug a New Chemical Entity (NCE), which would give the company two more years of exclusivity for its product. Last month, Amarin announced that it had obtained $100 million in private financing to move forward with the launch come what may and said it would hire 300 sales reps, also in preparation for its launch.

- here's Amarin's release