Vivus needs more than boardroom shuffling to keep up with Arena's Belviq

And then there was one.

One pre-First Manhattan Co.-settlement Vivus director standing for re-election at the company's annual meeting, that is. The Mountain View, CA-based drugmaker announced Tuesday in a regulatory filing that J. Martin Carroll, Mark Logan and Robert Wilson would not seek to retain their board positions.

"We are grateful to Marty, Mark and Bob for their tireless efforts on behalf of Vivus," chairman Michael Astrue said in a statement. "The contributions from these individuals throughout their tenures have been invaluable, and we wish them the best in all future endeavors."

But while Vivus may boast a sea of new faces, its needs haven't changed. The company still has no marketing partner for Qsymia, an obesity drug that has disappointed since the drugmaker decided to launch it solo.

Carroll, Logan and Wilson will head the way of many of their colleagues since Vivus agreed to settle a proxy clash with dissident shareholder FMC over Qsymia's bungled launch. As part of the settlement agreement, Charles Mario, Linda Shortliffe, Peter Tam and Leland Wilson resigned from the board last July. FMC also booted Wilson from the CEO's chair in favor of Tony Zook, a former AstraZeneca ($AZN) sales chief. And since then, directors and senior managers have been dropping like flies.

The first departure of the Zook era was, well, Zook's. In his short-lived chief exec stint, Zook laid out a four-pronged marketing plan that spurred analyst hopes for a turnaround. But just a few months after Zook stepped into his new role, health reasons forced him to bow out suddenly.

On his heels was Tam, who vacated his position as president just over a month after Zook headed for the door. And next to go was CFO Timothy Morris, whose November exit Vivus announced along with plans to lay off 20 staffers. At the time, the flailing Qsymia had brought in just $6.4 million for the third quarter, vastly underperforming analysts' pre-launch projections, and the company was forced to cut its losses.

Putting the exclamation point on the exodus was the departure of Chief Commercial Officer Michael Miller. CEO Seth Fischer took over commercial duties in January, and Miller stayed on through mid-February to assist with the transition.

Vivus has clearly learned from its mistakes, inking not one but three marketing agreements with the likes of Sanofi ($SNY), Auxilium and Menarini to hawk its erectile dysfunction med Stendra. But it's sinking in an obesity field where it largely squandered a first-to-market advantage over Arena, which signed on Eisai to market its own entrant, Belviq.

And since then, the Japanese pharma has shown Vivus exactly what it's missing out on. Since taking up Belviq marketing, it's added more than 200 reps to its original sales force, broadening its reach from just under 25,000 doctors to just under 65,000. As of last week, Belviq new prescriptions had reached an all-time high, with Belviq's scripts "growing much faster, inching closer to Qsymia," Cowen analysts wrote in a note.

And unfortunately for Vivus, without some sales aid, leadership changes won't help it catch up. -- Carly Helfand (email | Twitter)

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