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Amarin raises funding for heart drug, partnership worries pull down shares

By Vrinda Manocha and Balaji Sridharan

(Reuters) - Biopharmaceutical company Amarin Corp Plc said it raised $100 million in non-equity financing that will help it form a sales force to launch its heart drug Vascepa, but disappointed investors hoping for a sale or partnership.

Amarin shares fell 22 percent in extended trade, after closing at $11.95 on the Nasdaq on Thursday.

"(Strategic) discussions are still quite active but at some point we've got to move forward," CEO Joseph Zakrzewski said on a conference call with analysts.

Israel's Calcalist financial daily said in November that the world's largest generic drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and British drugmaker AstraZeneca were both looking to buy the company.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July approved Vascepa capsules alongside diet to reduce triglyceride levels -- a blood fat that contributes to heart disease -- in adult patients with severe hypertriglyceridemia.

Amarin said Thursday it will hire 250 to 300 sales professionals to launch Vascepa in the first quarter of 2013.

The decision to hire a sales force implied that Amarin is ready to go it alone, analyst Jon LeCroy of MKM Partners said, adding that this is being viewed negatively by investors.

"With the backing of a major pharmaceutical company, there will be sales reps available as well as more dollars to market the product. So the assumption would be that it could be a much bigger product if a bigger company sells it," LeCroy said.

WAITING ON EXCLUSIVITY

Amarin had earlier indicated that the FDA decision on Vascepa's marketing exclusivity would have an impact on whether the company gets acquired, forms a partnership on the drug, or sells the heart pill on its own.

Amarin is awaiting a decision from the regulator regarding a new chemical entity (NCE) status for Vascepa, which will grant the company marketing exclusivity for five years. The pill is also patent protected until 2030.

LeCroy said with an NCE most major pharmaceutical companies would be interested in Amarin, given that the status guarantees some minimum exclusivity compared with patents that can be challenged.

The company is planning to price Vascepa on par with GlazoSmithKline's competing Lovaza, CEO Zakrzewski said on the call.

He added that reimbursement for the drug will be available to most managed care clients by the time of its launch.

The financing deal for the hybrid debt-like instrument was made with an investment fund managed by Pharmakon Advisors.

(Reporting By Vrinda Manocha and Balaji Sridharan in Bangalore; Editing by Don Sebastian and Anthony Kurian)

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