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Big Pharma Wants Fish Oil After All, But At Half Amarin's Selling Price

Updated with new stock prices.

PRINCETON, NJ (TheStreet) -- Big Pharma is interested in prescription-grade fish oil after all. AstraZeneca (AZN) is buying Omthera Pharmaceuticals (OMTH) in an incentive-laden deal worth up to $443 million.

To buy Omthera, AstraZeneca passed over Amarin (AMRN) and its prescription-grade fish oil Vascepa. Perhaps Amarin will also find a Big Pharma buyer one day, except the market value for its only product has now been set at roughly half the company's current $1 billion market valuation.

Looks like Amarin can be bought for $4 per share. Any takers? Amarin shares are heading in that direction, down 6.5% to $6.34 in Tuesday trading.

AstraZeneca sees value in Omthera where investors have not. Omthera went public in March at $8 per share but the stock closed Friday at $6.77. Omthera's prescription-grade fish oil Epanova, if approved, would be the third to reach the market behind GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Lovaza and Amarin's Vascepa.

The acquisition of Omthera does fit in with AstraZeneca's efforts to re-stock a depleted drug pipeline and focus efforts on cardiovascular drugs. For this, AstraZeneca felt it was worth paying $12.70 per share to buy Omthera -- a premium of 88% over its Friday closing price. Investors will surely wonder if AstraZeneca overpaid for Omthera.

In addition, Omthera shareholders will get contingent value rights of up to $4.70 per share, or $120 million, if Epanova is ultimately approved for the larger mixed dyslipidemia market, or if the drug hit certain undisclosed sales milestones.

Omthera is expected to seek initial U.S. approval in mid-2013 for Epanova as a treatment for patients with very high triglyceride levels. This is the same indication for which Amarin's Vascepa and Glaxo's Lovaza are currently approved. Once Omthera is under AstraZeneca's control, it will pursue an expanded approval to use Epanova in a fixed-dose combination with its cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor to treat mixed dyslipidemia patients.

Amarin is currently seeking the same expanded label for Vascepa, with an expected FDA approval decision on Dec. 20.

As for Amarin, no doubt its supporters will view the AstraZeneca-Omthera deal as a hopeful sign that their beloved prescription-grade fish oil will also soon find a Big Pharma buyer. At one time, AstraZeneca was rumored to be interested in buying Amarin. Either that rumor was false or AstraZeneca kicked Amarin's tires and decided to move on because it found in Omthera a product either better or cheaper.

Amarin couldn't find a buyer last year, or even a marketing partner, so it was forced to launch Vascepa on its own. The company would still like to find a buyer, but AstraZeneca has done it no favors. The market price for a prescription-grade fish oil has now been set at half Amarin's current market value.

-- 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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