Eisai bets another $60M on Arena's Belviq with worldwide marketing deal

Eisai gave Arena Pharmaceuticals' ($ARNA) obesity drug Belviq another vote of confidence. The Japanese drugmaker, already marketing the drug in the U.S., signed up to promote it in most other global markets, too. And it gave Arena a $60 million up-front payment to seal the deal.

The expanded marketing agreement follows close on the heels of Eisai's decision to double the size of its Belviq sales force to 400 reps. The company is hiring now, with the goal of hitting that staffing mark by next month. 

Launched in May, Belviq (lorcaserin) is one of two new obesity drugs on the U.S. market. Despite the fact that it was approved first, Belviq was beaten to market by Vivus' ($VVUS) Qsymia, thanks to a long-time-coming scheduling by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Both drugs have been slow to take off, however, partly because of insurance reimbursement snags. In the past, payers have been reluctant to cover weight-loss treatments, so it has taken time and a lot of legwork to persuade them otherwise. 

The tide is turning on Belviq, however, Arena executives say. Health plans and pharmacy benefits managers have increasingly signed on to pay for the treatment, the company says, citing a laundry list of backers that includes the PBM Express Scripts ($ESRX) and several Blue Cross Blue Shield organizations. That growing acceptance from payers prompted Eisai's move to expand its U.S. sales force.

Eisai's previous agreement with Arena covered the U.S. and 20 other countries in the Americas. The new commitment adds Belviq marketing in all countries except South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Israel and New Zealand. Under the agreement, Eisai will work with Arena to develop and win approval for Belviq in "multiple eligible countries" worldwide, the company said in a statement.

"Additional work is needed to continue building the weight management market, and we are pleased with Eisai's commitment to realizing the medical and commercial potential of Belviq," Arena CEO Jack Lief said in today's statement (as quoted by Bloomberg). "We look forward to the market growth of this important treatment option as we move into 2014."

Besides developing lorcaserin for weight management, the companies also plan to test it in combination with other drugs and as an aid to smoking cessation, Eisai said.

- read the Eisai release
- get more from Bloomberg

Special Report: Obesity drugs: Where are we now?