By Saumya Joseph

(Reuters) – Aimmune Therapeutics Inc on Monday warned of a slow launch of its peanut allergy therapy, as its marketing plans take a hit from U.S. authorities’ recommendation of social distancing to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The company said its representatives may not be able to provide support to certain clinics administering its therapy, Palforzia, as physicians and patients take precautions to avoid exposure to the virus.

Palforzia is the first food allergy treatment to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is touted as a potential blockbuster.

Aimmune’s comments come a day after Amarin Corp Plc announced suspension of in-person interactions for its sales representatives until March 30.

Amarin late last year won approval for expanded use of its fish-oil derived therapy Vascepa, opening up a multibillion-dollar market opportunity. However, success of new therapies and expanded indications greatly depend on the company’s success with physician marketing efforts.

The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, late last year, has infected nearly 3,500 Americans and claimed 68 lives, prompting health agencies to urge people to avoid large gatherings.

Hospital entry of pharmaceutical representatives may be restricted and physician education events and meetings would likely be avoided, all of which could stifle the opportunity to market new products, William Blair analyst Tim Lugo said.

“While it will greatly depend on the therapy and the disease being treated, there may also be less of a sense of urgency to adopt new treatments or alter current treatment protocols (more so if there is a current standard of care),” Lugo said.

Aimmune’s Palforzia was approved in January with a host of restrictions including requiring initial doses of the treatment to be administered under the supervision of allergists.

The company said it had to postpone several in-person workshops to train allergists on administering Palforzia.

The drug developer said its representatives have attempted to keep the launch on track by providing support to allergists through web conferences and was working to provide virtual workshops to physicians.

Aimmune said its manufacturing operations, which are entirely based in the United States, remain fully operational and that it had sufficient stock of Palforzia to meet patients’ demand for the foreseeable future.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Maju Samuel)