Amarin pushes back sales team ramp-up as Vascepa label decision nears

Amarin Vascepa box
Amarin is slightly pushing back its sales force scale up as an FDA advisory committee looms for a Vascepa label expansion. (Amarin)

Everything is coming up aces for Amarin with prescriptions of its fish-oil derivative Vascepa through the roof and a game-changing FDA approval on the horizon. But the company's ambitious plan to mass-market its new Vascepa approval—if and when it comes—is running a bit behind schedule.

Amarin has delayed the completion of its salesforce doubling until early 2020, a move SVB Leerink analyst Ami Fadia called "slightly later" than expected in a Tuesday investor note.

The ramp-up in salesforce numbers will now roughly coincide with Amarin's expected launch date, if Vascepa wins its new approval targeting CV risk reduction, the company said in a third-quarter earnings presentation Tuesday.

Amarin VP Gwendolyn Fisher said FDA's plans for a Nov. 14 advisory committee meeting to discuss Vascepa's hoped-for indication pushed back the expansion. Still, the drugmaker expects the team to be in place for the marketing push, Fisher said. Most of the sales management team has been hired, including a senior VP of national sales. 

"We are confident that we will be able to recruit and train people to meet our goal of an effective launch of Vascepa," she said.

RELATED: Amarin CEO: When it comes to Vascepa expansion, 'we can do this on our own' 

Expanding its sales team to 800 members was a central reason for Amarin's $400 million cash raise in July, which tipped off investors that the drugmaker wasn't looking for a major partner to market its drug. 

Amarin said it expects to reach 70,000 to 80,000 healthcare professionals when its salesforce is fully fleshed out and in the meantime, it's seeing higher-than-expected access to doctors. However, the drugmaker said it would keep itself open to a possible marketing partnership with a large-cap pharma—or an outright buyout—if the opportunity arises.

With its FDA advisory committee meeting only a week away, Vascepa has shown big sales growth on the quarter with prescriptions nearly doubling from the same time last year.

In the third quarter, Vascepa hit $112.4 million in sales, a 103% increase over the previous year. Vascepa's total prescriptions also landed somewhere between 787,000 and 865,000, Amarin said in a release, 89% higher than the previous year. 

RELATED: Amarin's Vascepa buzzkill: FDA stalls label review with surprise panel meeting