Vivus, Arena hope Aetna weight-management program boosts diet-drug sales

Vivus ($VVUS) and Arena ($ARNA) are taking their competition for obesity drug sales to a new playing field. Both Vivus and Arena marketing partner Eisai have partnered with healthcare benefits provider Aetna, which will integrate rival pills Qsymia and Belviq into a weight-loss lifestyle pilot program.

Aetna will evaluate the benefits of prescription obesity medication as part of a comprehensive weight-loss plan, hoping to gain insight into its impact on health, workplace productivity and medical costs. The program will come with a free membership to Lose It!, a mobile app the companies say provides support for weight loss and positive lifestyle changes.

"We are proud to partner with Aetna as they take the lead among payers in developing a complete and integrated approach to chronic weight management," Vivus CEO Seth Fischer said in a statement.

Qsymia and Belviq have been in head-to-head competition since Arena's drug hit the market this summer. While Belviq got the earlier FDA nod, the Drug Enforcement Agency held it up for nearly a year on safety worries, which allowed Qsymia to reach the market first.

But Vivus didn't do much with its head start, and it has struggled to jump-start sales since opting to go it alone with Qsymia's launch. Investors weren't so hot on the idea, either, igniting a proxy war that ultimately resulted in the ousting of more than half the company's board and then-CEO Leland Wilson.

A slew of departure announcements have followed since--including that of commercial chief Michael Miller, who will make his exit Feb. 14--complicating the implementation of the four-pronged plan to boost Qsymia sales that the company announced in August. One of those objectives was to finally land that long-absent marketing partner, which is conspicuously still missing.

Eisai, meanwhile, has been throwing support behind Arena's drug, inking a second marketing deal in November and throwing in a $60 million upfront payment. Eisai now markets Belviq in the U.S. and most other global markets, and this fall it doubled the size of its Belviq sales force to 400 reps.

- read Vivus' release
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