Vivus, FMC both tout proxy advisers' support for board nominees

If Vivus shareholders were looking for some unqualified advice for their proxy votes, they're disappointed. Proxy advisers have now weighed in on the fight for control at Vivus, and the counsel is a mixed bag. So, Vivus and challenger First Manhattan are both claiming support for their causes.

As Reuters reports, Vivus ($VVUS) says Glass Lewis rejected First Manhattan's entire slate of 9 nominees. But First Manhattan, Vivus' top shareholder, says a rival proxy firm, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), backed three of its would-be directors, and still another, Egan-Jones, supports all of them.

First Manhattan's rallying cry is Qsymia, the weight-loss drug whose prospects seemed bright when it was approved last year. Despite its lack of scale for a primary drug launch, Vivus chose to go it alone in marketing the drug, and sales have lagged ever since. First Manhattan, along with a cadre of stock analysts, believes Vivus should have signed up a Big Pharma partner to engineer Qsymia's rollout.

ISS apparently figures that three new directors would be sufficient to turn the tide at Vivus. The company's problems are "narrow enough in scope that a minority change in the board should be sufficient," the firm said (as quoted by Reuters). A full change in control could have unintended consequences, the firm said. Egan-Jones, which backs the full sweep, obviously doesn't agree; whether it also supports First Manhattan's pick to replace Leland Wilson as Vivus CEO, former AstraZeneca ($AZN) commercial chief Anthony Zook, isn't clear. 

Glass Lewis appears to be most worried about Vivus' relationships with regulators. The European Medicines Agency recently nixed Qsymia, throwing a wrench in Vivus' plans for a rollout on the continent. In advising shareholders to reject all of First Manhattan's nominees, the firm said the new directors probably wouldn't help Vivus gain favor on that front.

- read the Reuters news