Amarin sidelines field sales team for Vascepa amid growing COVID-19 pandemic

Amarin Vascepa box
Amarin's Vascepa in December secured its FDA label expansion to reduce the risk of CV death or stroke. (Amarin)

With a game-changing FDA label in hand, Amarin had big hopes for fish-oil derivative Vascepa moving into the summer. But with the novel coronavirus throwing the best-made plans to the wind, Vascepa will be forced to wait for its star turn with the drugmaker's sales team on the sidelines.

Amarin has withdrawn its field sales force until March 30 to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially jeopardizing sales of Vascepa only months into the launch of its heart-helping FDA label expansion.

Amarin said it made the move in keeping with guidance from the World Health Organization to prioritize "social distancing."

"In the field of pharmaceutical marketing, increased social contact, such as interactions between sales representatives with healthcare providers, has the potential to counter-act these important public health initiatives and to put our employees and people in doctors’ offices at unnecessary risk," Amarin said in a release Sunday. 

Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said in a note to investors Monday that other drugmakers were likely to follow Amarin's lead although they "may not publicly announce."

RELATED: Amarin aims for Vascepa boom with doubled sales force nearly in place

While Amarin noted that other drugmakers have taken similar steps, few are in as pivotal a moment.

In December, the FDA approved Vascepa as an add-on to statins to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with elevated triglycerides who have either established CV disease or diabetes with two additional CV risk factors. The FDA based its decision on a major outcomes trial from last year showing the drug on top of statins cut the risk of CV events by 25% in patients with abnormally high triglyceride levels. 

With that much-anticipated label expansion in hand, Amarin rolled out a newly doubled sales force of 800 to help pick up the expected bump in sales starting, primarily, in the second quarter. 

Now that Amarin's boosted sales force is largely offline––the company will still be sending digital educational materials, copay cards and samples by mail––investors can expect "scripts and sales will flatten or possibly decline since patient volumes and doctor and pharmacy visits will decline," Yee said. 

RELATED: Coronavirus tracker: Amarin sends sales reps home; Regeneron starts Kevzara trial

However, it's not all bad news: Yee noted investors were likely to give Amarin a pass despite what could be a down quarter. Even better, a positive result in Amarin's ongoing patent litigation case could largely offset a sales decline in Amarin's stock price moving ahead, he said.

With the novel coronavirus ripping up Amarin's playbook, the drugmaker on Sunday assuaged investors' concerns about the status of its supply chain. Amarin said it contracts no manufacturing in China and has "significant stockpiles" of Vascepa ready for U.S. distribution. 

"Amarin’s supply chain is diversified and therefore mitigates geographical risks," the company said.

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