Former Carl Icahn proxy brawler Alex Denner joins fight against Vivus board

A Vivus shareholder who wants to stack the drugmaker's board with a more aggressive slate of directors has brought in one of the champions of this kind of shareholder brawl. Alex Denner, who gained his experience in proxy fights as the head of Carl Icahn's healthcare investments, has been invited to the battle by investor First Manhattan Co.

The fund holds a 10% stake in Vivus ($VVUS), which it believes is not being aggressive enough in the marketing of its weight loss drug Qsymia. It already is getting some results; after reporting languid first-quarter earnings, Vivus this month told shareholders it was in talks with bigger companies that could help it market the drug. This is something it earlier was loath to do. That is an approach, however, that has been championed by Cowen & Co. analyst Simos Simeonidis, who has said, "Vivus needs big pharma's muscle and wallet (aka DTC) to make Qsymia a blockbuster."

But that step apparently was not enough to satisfy First Manhattan. It asked Denner, whose own fund owns another 2%, to join its fight, Bloomberg reports. Qsymia sales only reached $4.1 million in its first quarter, far more lackluster than many analysts expected. The California-based Vivus has been methodically trying to educate doctors to get buy-in for the obesity drug, but shareholders are getting impatient. Vivus CEO Leland Wilson has made it clear he is opposed to First Manhattan's effort to stack its board. The company has added three new directors itself to make it more difficult for the shareholders to do so. And the company told Bloomberg it is satisfied with its own directors.

Denner is a veteran of proxy fights that Icahn waged against companys like Biogen Idec ($BIIB), where Denner remains a director. Those fights have not always gone the way Icahn and Denner wanted, but they were always rough for the companies involved. Vivus has a new incentive to get something more going with its drug. Competitor Arena Pharmaceuticals' ($ARNA) weight-loss drug Belviq has gotten the go-ahead by the DEA, meaning Arena should be set to launch it next month.

- read the Bloomberg story

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