Deal triples sales force for Amarin heart drug

The Ireland-based Amarin Corp. plc, which has research headquarters in Groton, announced late Monday an agreement with Kowa Pharmaceuticals America Inc. to have the privately held Japanese company co-promote Amarin's heart drug Vascepa in the United States. The deal would triple Amarin's sales force devoted to Vascepa, adding 250 people to a contingent of 130.

"We have been very impressed with Vascepa's favorable efficacy and safety profile," Ben Stakely, chief executive and president of Kowa Pharmaceuticals America, said.

The announcement boosts a sales force that earlier had been cut in half by Amarin in reaction to unfavorable news from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Kowa Pharmaceuticals America's sales force is expected to begin its Vascepa promotional efforts in May 2014," Amarin said in a statement. "Amarin will continue to control marketing of the product and recognize all revenue from sales of Vascepa."

Shares of Amarin stock immediately zoomed up in overnight trading, finishing Tuesday's session up 8 percent to $1.92 a share.

"The co-promotion agreement with Kowa Pharmaceuticals America appears to be an excellent move to try to move Vascepa's numbers significantly upward," said an analysis by an Amarin investor on the website SeekingAlpha. "It appears that the agreement involves minimal incremental expenses for Amarin and restores sales detail frequency to at least pre-layoff levels, at the cost of a percentage of gross margin."

In return for helping boost Vascepa sales, Kowa would receive a co-promotion fee that would range from the low single digits initially to more than 20 percent of Vascepa's gross margins four years from now.

"Kowa Pharmaceuticals America has a successful track record of launching and commercializing drugs for the treatment of cardiovascular disease in the United States, including its flagship statin product, Livalo," Amarin said.

Vascepa, a drug that lowers fat levels in the bloodstream, was launched with fanfare early last year, with some analysts predicting sales approaching $1 billion annually within a few years. But Amarin's attempts to market the drug to a broader reach of patients has been stymied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and sales have disappointed investors.

Last year's Vascepa revenues totaled $26.4 million, and Amarin's stock price has fallen about 80 percent since the drug's launch. Amarin filed a lawsuit against the FDA last month, claiming the agency's decision to grant it three-year exclusivity for Vascepa rather than the usual five years was "arbitrary and capricious."

l.howard@theday.com

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