Fresh off a TV ad launch, Eisai plots another 200-rep add to Belviq sales force

Interested in marketing an obesity drug? Eisai is hiring--again. The Japanese drugmaker, which is partnered with Arena Pharmaceuticals ($ARNA) on the weight-loss pill Belviq, plans to add another 200 contract sales reps to its team. On top of a new television ad push begun last month, the sales-force expansion is a one-two punch aimed at keeping prescription trends on the upswing.

Click here to view the TV campaign.

The expansion news follows a 200-rep ramp-up last fall, which doubled the size of the Belviq sales force. A successful ramp-up, we might add: In reporting earnings this week, Arena said the bigger sales team helped deliver a surge in sales. Scripts grew by 31% for the quarters to 77,000, with Eisai reporting $8.4 million in product sales.

With another 200 reps in the field--600 total--Eisai will be able to reach about 90,000 doctors in the U.S., Arena said in a statement. With a print ad campaign already going strong--and the new television advertising rolling--the hope is that consumers will be primed to ask those doctors about Belviq. Magazine ads have appeared in such pubs as Sports Illustrated and O, The Oprah Magazine, and now, TV spots are airing on numerous channels, including Lifetime, Oxygen and AMC.

"Our goal with this new ad is to turn up the volume on the conversation--using realistic situations and questions that real people encounter--to raise awareness and encourage those who continue to struggle with their weight to speak to their doctor about Belviq as part of a weight loss regimen," said Michael O'Brien, Eisai's VP of specialty marketing.

And with newly expanded insurance reimbursements, more than 60% of privately insured patients have access to Belviq coverage. That's an important point; in the past, weight loss remedies have been a tough sell with payers.

So far, first-quarter growth trends appear to be continuing. According to Leerink Partners' weekly analysis of scripts numbers, which rely on IMS Health data, new prescriptions for Belviq dipped a bit at the beginning of April, but roared back mid-month, growing by 18.2% for the week of April 25 to 5,973--and another 8% the following week. That's more than twice the number of new scripts totted up the first week of this year.

This is all good news for Eisai, which has socked millions into its Belviq marketing. And the Japanese drugmaker is lining up for more; in November, Eisai paid $60 million up front for marketing rights to Belviq in a bevy of other countries. Now, Eisai is signed on to develop and market the drug everywhere but South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Isreal and New Zealand.

- see the release from Arena