Eisai slashes Belviq sales force as Arena marketing deal goes sour

Eisai

Last week, Takeda bailed on its marketing deal with floundering obesity drugmaker Orexigen ($OREX). And now, another Japanese drugmaker may be rethinking such a partnership.

Eisai, which teamed up with Arena Pharmaceuticals ($ARNA) to market the weight-loss drug Belviq, is pulling back most of its reps, Arena said in a regulatory filing this week. Eisai will now field a contract sales force of 75 reps to promote the drug; previously, it tallied an internal 90-person rep army that detailed Belviq alongside two other products, as well as a shared contract sales force that numbered 230.

"This was definitely a major scale down of their commitment," RBC Capital Markets analyst Simos Simeonidis told FiercePharma by email.

Things looked pretty different just a couple of years ago, when Eisai was socking money into Belviq DTC and adding reps by the hundreds. After Arena bypassed Vivus' ($VVUS) Qsymia to become the first obesity therapy to market, industry watchers--as well as Eisai--had high hopes for the product.

But these days, it's not hard to see why Eisai may have wanted to put its resources elsewhere. Belviq sales declined for the fourth quarter in a row in Q4, with Arena netting $3.9 million in royalties on just $8 million of Eisai sales. And the way Simeonidis sees it, those paltry totals may not be enough to keep Eisai around at all--especially considering that breakup fees, normally tied to the performance of the asset, are likely "minimal."

That kind of desertion could be disastrous for Arena--but on the bright side, it's not alone. Its rivals have grappled with similarly disappointing sales, with all three contenders struggling to navigate a much-hyped market that just hasn't taken off. And it could be worse, rep wise: After Takeda's move, Orexigen is now on its own when it comes to promoting Contrave, and its California neighbor Vivus--which never had a marketing partner, a contentious point with investors--is down to just 50 reps after multiple cuts to its sales force. 

- read Arena's 8-K

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