Battle of weight-loss drugs begins as Arena launches Belviq next week

The long-awaited battle between two weight-loss drugs is ready to begin. With its Belviq launch delayed by the DEA, Arena ($ARNA) has had to sit back and watch competitor Vivus ($VVUS) pass it by with its own weight-loss drug. Now, nearly a year after the FDA cleared Belviq for approval, investors will get the chance to see if it can outperform its underwhelming competitor, Qsymia.

Belviq will finally be hitting pharmacies on June 11, Arena announced today, with Japan's Eisai taking responsibility for marketing and distribution under an agreement that covers most of North and South America. Arena has achieved $65 million in milestones from Eisai and is eligible to receive $1.19 billion in purchase price adjustment and other payments based on annual net sales of the drug, the company said.

"BELVIQ is the product of our vision and commitment to bring novel treatments to physicians and patients for unmet medical needs," Jack Lief, Arena president and CEO, said in a statement. "Our collaboration with Eisai is an integral component of the strong foundation we have in place to make BELVIQ available to eligible patients."

The holdup on Belviq's launch came due to a DEA review on its "hallucinogenic properties." The drug is now a Schedule IV controlled substance, the DEA's second-least restrictive classification. Come next week, Arena will gain access to an expansive--and growing--market, with about 30% of Americans currently considered obese.

Belviq will be competing head-to-head with Qsymia, whose lead on the market has proved less significant than Arena feared thanks to a poor marketing tack that has failed to get the drug off the ground. Last month, Vivus finally showed some signs that it was looking to turn things around, expressing openness toward the idea of a Big Pharma sales partner for Qsymia--but not before 9.1% shareholder First Manhattan readied itself for a proxy brawl.

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