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Three different CEOs in a month and a half. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for VIVUS (NASDAQ: VVUS ) accelerating sales of its obesity drug Qsymia.
The first guy, Leland Wilson, got kicked out. Never mind that he founded the company, Samuel Colin, senior managing partner at First Manhattan, VIVUS' largest shareholder, succeeded in convincing shareholders that management was the problem. Rather than letting it go to a vote, Wilson agreed to resign.
In concert with the resignation, Anthony Zook, former executive vice president for global commercial operations at AstraZeneca, took over. But less than two months later, the company announced that Zook was stepping down to deal with a previously diagnosed medical condition.
And VIVUS already has a new CEO, Seth Fischer, who was formerly a senior executive at Johnson & Johnson.
Haste makes waste?
It amazes me the speed at which VIVUS has been able to find CEOs. Are there really that many executives qualified to be CEO just sitting by the phone waiting for a job offer?
Admittedly, Colin had some time to find Zook, who agreed to take the job if the proxy vote went First Manhattan's way. But it wasn't like VIVUS' entire board was involved in the decision. From the outside, it looks like Zook was forced upon the board when it was clear the old management was going to lose the proxy fight. Presumably, the new board had to sign off on the new hire, but with six of the 10 members of the board (excluding Zook) coming from First Manhattan's slate, I doubt there was much dissension.
VIVUS didn't say when Zook decided to step down, but it surprises me that the biotech has already found a replacement. Usually someone from the company steps in as an interim CEO for a few months while a search is done.
Given the lackluster sales of VIVUS obesity drug Qsymia, it's understandable that the biotech would want to move quickly. I just hope VIVUS truly found the best candidate for the job.
Big task ahead
Fischer has an uphill battle in front of him. Despite its large size and blockbuster potential, the obesity market is a difficult place to sell drugs. Patients don't want to pay for treatments out of pocket, and doctors are apprehensive about handing out obesity pills like candy.
VIVUS really needs to find a partner to help the company compete with Arena Pharmaceuticals' (NASDAQ: ARNA ) Belviq, which is marketed by Japanese giant Eisai. Even Orexigen (NASDAQ: OREX ) , which is about a year from marketing its obesity drug Contrave, already has a partner in Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
Having a partner in and of itself won't be enough, though; it's not like Belviq is flying off the shelves. It's going to take time for doctors to warm up to prescribing Qsymia, Belviq, and Contrave.
Hopefully, Fischer sticks around long enough to see that day.
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