Analyst: Vivus generic threats a positive for obesity market

No drugmaker wants a generic challenger for a product it relies on--and certainly not two generics challengers. But in the case of Vivus ($VVUS), which has sued Actavis ($ACT) and now Teva ($TEVA) over patent infringement for weight-loss drug Qsymia, the generic interest could be an "incremental positive," one analyst believes.

The way RBC Capital Markets' Simos Simeonidis sees it, the recent attention from copycat drugmakers--and especially heavyweights like Actavis and Teva--is a good thing for the obesity market as a whole.

"There had been speculation for the first year and a half of the Qsymia launch on the lack of any ANDAs. The disappointing sales led many to believe that there may never be an interest for a generic, since obesity was not really viewed as 'a real market,'" he wrote in a Thursday note to investors.

Indeed, the field's two pioneers--Vivus and Belviq-maker Arena ($ARNA)--have watched their products get off to slow starts over the last couple years, despite sales-force expansions from Arena marketing partner Eisai and a Vivus proxy war investors hoped would spur it to join up with a commercial teammate of its own.

Vivus still hasn't landed that marketing help, but it has drawn the Actavis and Teva filings, with the Dublin drugmaker's arriving nearly a year ago and the Israeli company's coming last month. In response, Vivus has filed two suits against Actavis and one against Teva, triggering 30-month stays of approval.

And while the generics makers haven't exactly convinced Simeonidis the market is booming--current script levels "far from … validate the space," he wrote--in his view, the knockoff threats are a step in the right direction.

Analysts are also hopeful that new contenders will get things going. Orexigen's ($OREX) Contrave--approved last September--has already passed Qsymia for second place in both new prescriptions and total prescriptions. And last December, the FDA gave Novo Nordisk's ($NVO) Saxenda the green light, too.

Vivus and Arena, though, will have to hope that recent rep-army downsizing won't counteract whatever market-growth benefits they see. Earlier this month, Vivus announced plans to slash its Qsymia rep tally by one-third--bringing the total down to 100--and beef up digital marketing instead.

And last week, Eisai informed Arena it would be creating a new, 90-rep neurology sales force to hawk Belviq and two other Eisai products, as well as keeping a shared contract field force of 230 on hand. That's a long way off from the 600 reps it last May promised it would field--and a long way off from the 900 Orexigen partner Takeda has enlisted to help sell Contrave.

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