Faced with generic rivals, Amarin cuts 400-plus sales reps as part of revamped Vascepa strategy

As Amarin faces generic competition in the U.S. for its heart drug Vascepa, it is changing up its game plan. The strategy? Reduce its boots on the ground and lean into digital marketing.

Amarin plans to cut its U.S. sales force from about 750 reps to 300 and use that extra money to produce educational and promotional materials, the company announced on Thursday. Amarin said the smaller sales force “will remain a critical part” of Amarin’s selling strategy going forward, focusing “on the most productive territories.”

The Dublin-based company maintained the decision is “consistent” with its new “Go-to-Market” strategy, which is aimed at boosting Amarin’s flatlining prospects in the U.S. as it simultaneously launches Vascepa in key European markets. Analysts figure the branded med will have better prospects across the pond. 

RELATED: Amarin launches Vascepa in all-important Europe as it slowly bleeds share to U.S. generic

One of the Vascepa generics, from British drugmaker Hikma, was launched late last year after Amarin lost a patent appeal in September. That threatened the impressive run of Vascepa, which raked in $598 million in sales in 2020, up 40% from the prior year. 

In a note to clients Thursday, SVB Leerink analyst Roanna Ruiz said that Amarin's salesforce cuts will force the company to widen its prescriber outreach through bolstered digital strategies, such as emails, digital content and online events. 

“These digital initiatives can be tracked by number of clicks and time spent on digital content, so Amarin can learn and adapt quickly,” Ruiz wrote. 

While the reduced headcount wasn’t surprising, it did come earlier than expected, according to Leerink analysts. Amarin’s total 2021 salesforce costs should now come down to roughly $164 million, a drop from the previously expected $237 million, the investment bank said. 

After meeting with Amarin management, Leerink’s analysts concluded that the drugmaker hopes to expand its outreach from roughly 75,000 general practitioners to as many as 250,000. Part of the company’s plan includes engaging with payers in an effort to limit the amount of patients who switch to generics. 

Still, the generic competition could cause Vascepa sales to erode between 6% to 22% by 2023, Leerink estimated. The analysts said that erosion could be lessened if Amarin’s new strategy works, but they said they needed to wait for early signs that the new plan is paying off, as well as clarity on the extent of generic competition, before changing their forecasts. 

RELATED: With crucial EU launch rolling, Amarin's Thero hands CEO baton to new European commercial chief

Vascepa, known as Vazkepa abroad, first nabbed an FDA nod in 2012 as an adjunct to diet to reduce triglyceride levels in patients with severe hypertriglyceridemia, a condition marked by very high levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream. In 2019, the FDA expanded the approval of the med to treat high-risk patients with persistent cardiovascular risks despite statin therapy. 

Now analysts are keeping a close eye on Vascepa's European reception. Amarin scored the EU’s blessing in March to market the drug to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in high-risk, statin-treated patients who have elevated blood fat. The EU market could be as large, or even larger, than the U.S., given the higher prevalence of statin use as well as heart disease death rate in the EU, Amarin management has said. And Cantor Fitzgerald pegged the European market for the drug as a $1.1 billion opportunity.