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Early Amarin Vascepa Scripts Are Small, Hard To Interpret

BEDMINSTER, NJ (TheStreet) -- Weekly prescription data on Amarin's (AMRN) fish-oil pill Vascepa are out. The numbers are tiny but that's not surprising.

For the week ended Feb. 1 (the latest weekly data available), Vascepa scripts stand at 252, up from 67 in the prior week, according to IMS Health.

Symphony Health (formerly Wolters Kluwer) shows similar Vascepa weekly script numbers: 247 for the week ended Feb. 1, up from 75 in the previous week.

To put these numbers in some perspective, Lovaza total scripts were 97,562 for the week ended Feb. 1, according to Symphony Health. Lovaza is a competing fish-oil pill marketed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Amarin launched Vascepa at the end of January so the prescription data disseminated by third-party research services only represent the drug's early days on the market. As such, the information has limited value. Vascepa scripts are increasing, which is positive, but the small numbers of scripts make the trend hard to interpret.

Doctors are also handing out free Vascepa samples to patients, which wouldn't be counted as paid scripts captured by IMS Health and Symphony Health. It's very likely more than 252 (or 247) patients started on Vascepa therapy in the week ended Feb. 1, but how many more patients isn't something investors can determine right now.

Likewise, calculating Vascepa sales to date is challenging because Amarin is also offering coupons and other financial incentives to spur early demand for the drug. This means there's going to be a disconnect between patients counts and weekly/monthly sales.

Vascepa's wholesale acquisition cost is $184 for a 30-day prescription. You can do the math yourself to calculate weekly sales to date but again, don't over-interpret.

Amarin is presenting at the Leerink Swann Global Healthcare Conference on Weds. Feb. 13, so listen to hear if management provides an update or details on the Vascepa launch. If not, Amarin may say something about Vascepa when it reports fourth quarter and 2012 results at the end of the month or early in March.

Five sell-side analysts have published estimates for quarterly Vascepa sales during 2013, according to Bloomberg. The mean consensus and the range from these five analysts are as follows:

1st quarter: $10 million (range $5-15 million)
2nd quarter: $18 million (range $10-25 million)
3rd quarter: $46 million (range $8-69 million)
4th quarter: $54 million (range $37-101 million)

For all of 2013, the Vascepa consensus sales estimate is $114 million from nine sell-side analysts, according to Bloomberg.

Amarin shares are up 1% since the Vascepa launch was announced officially on Jan. 24 -- reflecting Wall Street's "show me the money" attitude toward the company's ability to sell the drug effectively on its own.

An early restriction on the reporting of Vascepa scripts in place before and at the time of the launch was lifted, an IMS Health spokesperson said last week.

-- Reported by Adam Feuerstein in Boston.

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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