Arena dumps laggard weight-loss med Belviq onto marketing partner Eisai

Eisai is taking over full marketing responsibilities for obesity med Belviq.

Arena has endured a rocky few years with obesity med Belviq. But going forward, the underperforming drug will be someone else’s problem—its marketing partner Eisai's.

Arena has handed off the troublesome product to its partner for good, a move the California company says will land it $23 million in cash payments—and, perhaps more importantly, bring it more than $80 million in potential cost savings as it breaks free from its development obligations. The move is in line with its June decision to shift its priorities away from the weak seller and focus instead on its pipeline.

Eisai, on the flip side, “anticipates that the new agreement will give it greater freedom in its development and submission strategy, support its goal of making contributions to address unmet medical needs in the clinical management of obesity and increase the benefits for patients and their families worldwide,” it said in a statement.

Expanding the med’s market certainly won’t be an easy task, as Eisai well knows. The Japanese pharma had high hopes for the product when it launched back in 2013, and the company doubled the size of its field force to 400 that October. Ranks swelled again in May 2014 with recruitment of a contract force 200 strong.

But it was all downhill from there. With the weight-loss med struggling to gain traction, the pare-down began the following April with news that Eisai would cut back to a 90-rep in-house team to hawk Belviq and two other products, but keep a contract field force of 230 reps in tow. By March 2016, six months after Belviq's poor performance helped force out Arena CEO and cofounder Jack Lief, Eisai was down to a contract force of 75 reps—period.

Eisai and Arena, of course, are not the only companies who have floundered in the obesity market, which so far has proved a tough nut to crack. The storylines are just as ugly—if not uglier—for the pair’s rivals. Marketing partner Takeda finally ditched Orexigen, maker of third-to-market Contrave, last March; Takeda had threatened to walk the year prior after Orexigen blabbed some early cardiovascular outcomes trial data, scuttling the study and ringing up a new trial tab of as much as $250 million.

Meanwhile, debt-laden Qysmia manufactuer Vivus, whose decision to market its med solo sparked a 2013 proxy brawl, now has just 50 reps on the job after multiple 2015 scalebacks. It’s sporting its own pricey CV outcomes trial requirement, too.