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What to Watch With This Obesity Drugmaker's Earnings

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VIVUS (Nasdaq: VVUS  ) is scheduled to release earnings tomorrow. It'll be investors' first look at sales of the biotech's obesity drug, Qsymia, that launched in September.

You should ignore the numbers.

Sales for a couple of weeks in the third quarter will tell you nothing about the long-term future of Qsymia. Even if the company gives us the October sales figure, it won't give you much insight.

That isn't to say that investors should just ignore the earnings release all together. I'd recommend listening to the call if you own shares of VIVUS or one of its competitors: Arena Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ARNA  ) or Orexigen (Nasdaq: OREX  ) .

Rather than quantitative numbers, you should listen for management's qualitative views of the launch. Qsymia is a bit of an oddity because it is a mass-market drug that's only sold through mail-order pharmacies. In October, VIVUS added Express Scripts (Nasdaq: ESRX  ) to the mail-order pharmacy system, which should help with sales. All that said, realize that management is likely to candy-coat how the launch is going, so don't scarf it down without chewing on the info a bit.

One figure that could be enlightening is how many individual doctors have prescribed Qsymia. Since obesity is a long-term health problem, doctors aren't likely to rush to put every obese patient on the drug. Instead, they'll try it out on a couple of patients and get a better feeling for the drug before prescribing it for additional patients. The more doctors that are trying it out now, the more doctors that might be prescribing it in large numbers later.

Some color on how the company plans to appeal the European Medicines Agency's decision not to approve Qsymia would be helpful. While the market is smaller there (figuratively and literally), reimbursement could be easier since government-run insurance programs are typically more willing to make investments in health now that will pay off in the future since they cover patients for their entire lives.

It would also be nice to hear an update on VIVUS' plans for Stendra. The company's erectile dysfunction drug isn't as important to the biotech as Qsymia, mainly because of strong competition from established players: Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE  ) Viagra and Eli Lilly's (NYSE: LLY  ) Cialis, but a licensing deal could bring in some upfront cash and royalties while the company increases sales of Qsymia and moves toward profitability.

If you're interested in the obesity space, you should grab a copy of our brand new premium research report on Arena Pharmaceuticals where we walk investors through the must-know opportunities and threats facing the company. Since key news can develop quickly, we're also including a full year of updates for those who sign up. Click here now to learn more.

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