With weight-control peers flailing, Shire keeps growing Vyvanse

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The past few years have seen a trio of companies struggle mightily with their attempts to grow the obesity market. Yet Shire’s Vyvanse--though not approved for obesity or weight loss--hasn’t had a problem breaking into its own segment of the weight-control arena.

The Dublin drugmaker’s med--the first approved for binge eating disorder--posted 10% year-over-year growth in Q1, execs said recently. And while Shire doesn’t specifically break down the percentage of revenue generated by each indication--Vyvanse also boasts a nod in ADHD--it pointed out that Vyvanse continues to outpace growth in the ADHD market.

“I’m sure” that outpacing is “driven by binge eating disorder,” CEO Flemming Ornskov told investors on the company’s Q1 conference call.

That success is "interesting," considering the rocky paths traveled by multiple obesity drugmakers, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in a recent note to clients. Right now, the interest in binge eating disorder is “as high as any obesity drug."

So what’s the problem with Vivus, Arena and Orexigen, all three of which have failed to generate traction for their flailing products? Depends who you ask. Between them, the companies have grappled with proxy wars, multiple CEO exits, botched--or completely unstarted--outcomes trials, DEA hold-ups, and unsuccessful quests to find marketing partners who will stick around, or even sign on at all. Still, many of those problems stemmed initially from paltry sales, and some industry watchers have pointed to overarching problems within the market that have kept them from finding success.

“The lack of physician and patient awareness about the availability of obesity pharmacotherapies and physicians' unwillingness to treat obesity with pharmacotherapy is hurting,” the drugs, RBC Capital Markets analyst Simos Simeonidis wrote last week in a note to clients.

There’s one new entrant that's hoping it can defy the odds--and that’s Novo Nordisk, which recently entered the market with Saxenda. And so far, it looks as if it could have a chance: Saxenda is “gradually growing … and may end up closer to $1 billion” than the $400 million in consensus models, Gal noted.

- read Shire's call transcript

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