Researchers learn more about COVID-19 every day. Only identified in January, the novel coronavirus still keeps many secrets while it wreaks havoc on the planet.
As scientists frantically search for a vaccine, others are looking at potential treatments. Last week, Amarin (NASDAQ: AMRN) became one of the latest to announce a new COVID-related drug trial.
The Dublin-based pharmaceutical company is best known for its drug Vascepa, which treats cardiovascular events and reduces the risk of heart attack through its combination of omega-3 fish oils. However, the potential blockbuster drug is the subject of an ongoing legal fight over its patent. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December.
Amarin stock is down about 68% year to date. Trading at $6.75 Wednesday, the stock is way off its 52-week high of $26.12.
Still, some Wall Street analysts aren’t giving up on Amarin. On Wednesday, Northland Securities maintained its Buy rating, and set a target price of $15. Last week, Cowen reiterated its Buy rating. Thirteen analysts following Amarin have set an average target price of $17.23.
The COVID Hunt
Medical researchers are pursuing many potential treatments, including existing antiviral drugs. Anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are still being examined but recent studies suggest they could do more harm than good. President Trump said he just completed a two-week course of hydroxychloroquine, even though the FDA has issued a warning about serious heart risks associated with it.
Enter statins. A new study found that widely used cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, such as Lipitor, may be associated with substantially fewer symptoms in older COVID-19 patients, according to Reuters. While many consider COVID-19 primarily a respiratory disease, doctors have learned that it affects many organs beyond the lungs. Hospitals have noted victims suffering from blood clots, which can lead to strokes and cause other problems.
Amarin’s Vascepa is designed to be used along with statins to treat patients with high triglycerides. In announcing its COVID-19 trial, Amarin noted that Vascepa’s ability to lower cardiovascular risk in certain patients could prove effective as patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease also have a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
Ultimately, many doctors think it will take a combination of drugs to treat the coronavirus since it attacks so many systems and can differ widely from patient to patient. Should Vascepa prove to be beneficial, it would obviously be a big boost for Amarin.
Amarin stock took a beating in March after a federal judge ruled in favor of two generic competitors that had challenged Amarin’s patents on Vascepa. Amarin holds six patents on Vascepa. The plaintiffs, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Inc. (NYSE: RDY) and Hikma Pharmaceuticals, argued that Amarin’s patent claims were “obvious.”
Both companies want to manufacture generic versions of Vascepa. On Friday, Hikma scored a big win with the FDA’s approval to sell a generic version. But it’s not clear when Hikma will be ready to actually sell the pills.
For now, Amarin continues to sell Vascepa, the only drug of its kind on the market. And it has appealed the March ruling.
All parties have requested that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit approve an expedited schedule, including a requested briefing in the second quarter of 2020. This proposed timing should facilitate a hearing in the third quarter of 2020 (or perhaps early in the fourth quarter) and position the court to rule thereafter, potentially this year or early 2021.
Amarin reported sales of $429.8 million last year. Vascepa is currently approved for sale in the United States, Canada, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.
There’s huge growth potential if other markets open up for the medication. Overseas Vascepa sales hit $6.7 million during the first quarter of 2020, up from $300,000 in the first quarter of 2019.
In its first-quarter earnings report, Amarin said revenue increased 112% to $155.0 million, up from $73.3 million in the prior year. Analysts will be watching to see how sales held up during the pandemic lockdown.
Before the crisis started, Amarin ramped up its U.S. sales force to approximately 800 representatives plus their managers. But the company stopped in-person visits with healthcare professionals, moving to online interactions only.
As a new drug, Vascepa needs a marketing push to educate doctors. It remains to be seen if that education is effective through virtual visits.