Cantillon: Amarin in need of serious medicine

Company to slash staff numbers in an effort to curb operating costs.

It may not quite be throwing in the towel, but Irish biopharma Amarin is definitely taking a step back after its calamitous loss before an FDA advisory panel.

It may not quite be throwing in the towel, but Irish biopharma Amarin is definitely taking a step back after its calamitous loss before an FDA advisory panel.

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 01:01

It may not quite be throwing in the towel, but Irish biopharma Amarin is definitely taking a step back after its calamitous loss before an FDA advisory panel.

The company, which has struggled to achieve a breakthrough with its prescription grade purified omega-3 fish oil, is to slash staff numbers in an effort to curb operating costs.

In a statement released in the US late on Tuesday, the company said it was “eliminating approximately 50 per cent” of its worldwide staff. Its most recent data on job numbers said it employed 111 people.

Although the Food and Drug Administration is not obliged to follow the recommendation of an advisory panel, the scale of the vote – in which only two of the 11 members gave Amarin the go ahead – has clearly convinced Amarin that the decision will not be in its favour when it comes, sometime before December 20th.

It’s a sharp turnaround for a company that a week ago was harbouring ambitions to expand its patient market tenfold.

Amarin’s Vascepa is approved for patients with extremely high levels of triglycerides – blood fats implicated in cardiovascular disease. However, it was looking to treat a group with lower, though still high, triglyceride levels and who were also on statin therapy – an estimated market of 36 million Americans.

Shareholders reeling from the stock’s collapse in the wake of the FDA panel ruling have been told the company plans to provide additional details of future spending and operational expectations alongside its quarterly earnings report. That’s unlikely to make pleasant reading.

The best case scenario is that Vascepa will get the go ahead for wider distribution following publication of data from the REDUCE-IT study on the impact of the drug in heart disease for high risk patients on statins. However, those figures are not due until 2016 and the generic version of Lovaza, its only therapeutic rival, will likely be well established by then – possibly fatally undermining the long-term ambitions of the Irish company.

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