More payers than expected cover Vivus' Qsymia

Good news for Vivus ($VVUS): Many payers don't mind footing the bill for its weight-loss drug Qsymia. During the product's first week on the market, insurers agreed to pay for about one-third of prescriptions. That could help the drug gain traction before its rival, Arena Pharmaceuticals' ($ARNA) Belviq, clears the Drug Enforcement Administration.

As Bloomberg reports, some analysts didn't expect health plans to pay for Qsymia. In the past, patients have had to shell out their own cash for weight-loss drugs. And Cowen & Co.'s Simos Simeonidis said in a recent investor note that doctors were talking up reimbursement for drug therapy in obesity at a recent conference. "[S]ome wishful thinking maybe," Simeonidis commented (as quoted by the news service).

In a note to clients yesterday, Simeonidis offered numbers on Qsymia's first week of prescriptions. IMS Health toted up 236 new scripts, while Wolters Kluwer, which surveys different sources, came up with 106, or about $13,300 in sales.

According to Simeonidis' informal physician polling, 70% to 75% of doctors at the Obesity Society meeting said they would prescribe Qsymia or Belviq. "The biggest demand I saw was from the obesity specialists," he told Bloomberg.

Sales are likely to ramp up slowly as doctors learn more about the drugs and gain experience using them. General practitioners will be "slower to adopt," Simeonidis figures. Plus, Vivus is fielding a sales force of just 150, focused on specialists, so the growth curve can't be steep. "[W]e believe that Qsymia will become a significant drug," Cowen's analysts wrote, estimated $1.6 billion in U.S. sales by 2019.

- read the Bloomberg coverage