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VIVUS, Inc. and Aetna Inc's New Weight Loss Plan

Shares of VIVUS (NASDAQ: VVUS  ) were up nearly 5% yesterday, after the announced a deal with Aetna (NYSE: AET  ) for a weight loss program for the big insurer's members. It combines both a drug and lifestyle focus for losing weight. This could potentially boost sales of VIVUS' weight loss drug Qsymia, which came to market with a lot of hype but so far has posted meager numbers.

In this video, Motley Fool health care analyst David Williamson discusses the deal, and how beneficial it could be both to VIVUS and Aetna, but he also notes that the obesity drug war that many thought would explode between Qsymia and Arena Pharmaceuticals' (NASDAQ: ARNA  ) Belviq has ended up in more of a fizzle, with sales lagging expectations across the board. David then points to one competitor that may end up being far more interesting in this space with a drug that may fall right in the sweet spot between safety and efficacy, and why FDA approval for this competitor drug may be just around the corner.

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  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 6:39 PM, feelinIrie wrote:

    You seemed to overlook the same thing the SA article did, that the AETNA coverage is also for ARNA.

    Belviq a fizzle? Seems you haven't kept track of the week over week increased sales the last to months.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 6:41 PM, adumfraudstain wrote:

    Someone tell the Motley Crue that VVUS Qsymia + ARNA's Belviq both received the very same collaboration agreement with Aetna.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 7:05 PM, TheGazoo wrote:

    Just another hit piece attempting to bash ARNA and Belviq.

    Trying so desperately to assist the W.S. cronies and they're wrong bet on VVUS.

    Author should report the truthful facts..... not just selected facts.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 8:02 PM, AlanPithy wrote:

    What fizzle? ARNA's drug was approved in 2011, but because it is a new chemical entity with a unique MOA it had to get scheduled by the DEA. DEA took almost a year to rubber stamp the FDA's recommended scheduling, thereby delaying the Belviq launch to mid June of 2012. Hardly the ideal time for an obesity drug launch (know many people who start dieting halfway through the summer?). The Thanksgiving-New Years puts everything off kilter, even the top selling drugs lose steam during the holidays.

    Between June and October Belviq ramped to about 20,000 scrips a month, not bad for a new drug in a new category (AMA only this year declared Obesity a disease), especially considering that there is an industry-wide 6 month moratorium on new drug advertising. VVUS drug had apx 8 month lead time and is hovering around 9,000 scrips a month.

    I think 2014 will be a great year for ARNA and Belviq, with the expansion to 400 sales reps and apx 50% insurance coverage. OREX (the drug you allude to) and VVUS will find a hard time getting traction considering their SE profiles and the fact that they are just generic combinations sold for a fat premium. But Belviq's unique Method of Action in which it simply helps improve satiety and eliminate cravings is the ideal complement for a diet and exercise regimen.

    Belviq and only Belviq shows incredible glycemic improvements among diabetics, dropping blood A1C by 0.9% across all diabebetics and 1.1% among responders who lose 5% or more (and Fasting Glucose improvements of nearly 28%). With 24 million diabetics and another 80 million borderline diabetics in the USA, Belviq is the ideal agent to treat obesity and treat and prevent diabetes. A $200 a month obesity pill could save a diabetic (and/or his/her insurance company) $1000's a year in reduced expenses on diabetes medicines and treatments.

    And as noted, only VVUS chose to spend the $3000 it costs to announce the Aetna deal. Every Aetna member can use the very same program with ARNA's Belviq. That VVUS chose to spend is indicative of their poor management (changed 3 times since approval) style and profligacy. VVUS is burning $55M a quarter compared to ARNA's $18M. ARNA is a well oiled, well run machine.

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2014, at 8:19 PM, AlanPithy wrote:

    (edit - VVUS Qsymia hovers around 9000 scrips a week)

  • Report this Comment On January 16, 2014, at 4:22 AM, marp11 wrote:

    haha arna wins

  • Report this Comment On January 16, 2014, at 4:25 AM, marp11 wrote:

    SAN FRANCISCO — Belviq, Arena Pharmaceuticals’ weight loss drug, will enter clinical trials this year to determine whether it’s also useful to help people quit smoking.

    If proven effective for smoking cessation, the drug will become even more important to San Diego-based Arena and its global marketing partner, Japan’s Eisai Pharmaceuticals. Smoking and excess weight are both health risks, but those who quit smoking often gain weight. A drug that could help with both problems would have immense potential, Eisai says.

    Arena plans to start Phase 2 trials of Belviq for smoking cessation in the first half of this year, said Craig M. Audet, Arena’s senior vice president of operations. Studies of Belviq have shown that in animals, it reduces the craving for nicotine. Moreover, Belviq shows potential for treating drug addiction.

    Success would show that basic biomedical research can be very lucrative, said Lonnel Coats, president and chief executive of Eisai’s U.S. subsidiary. He was interviewed at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, which runs through today.

    While a new drug to quit smoking will be useful in the United States, it is needed even more in Asia, Coats said.

    “In China, a massive percentage of the adult male population smokes,” Coats said. “It’s a massive problem around the globe, just like obesity isn’t isolated to the United States. Mexico unfortunately now has become the No. 1 country for obesity.

    “Waiting until obesity-related diseases such as diabetes manifest is the costliest way of providing health care, Coats said. And in the United States, the Affordable Care Act encourages treatments that lower the total cost of health care in the long term.

    Only two new weight-loss drugs have received U.S. approval in more than a decade; Belviq and Qsymia, from Vivus, a Mountain View company. A third drug, Contrave, from San Diego’s Orexigen, is up for regulatory approval. But only Belviq is an entirely new drug; Qsymia and Contrave are combinations of two previously approved drugs.

    Belviq simulates some of the activities of serotonin, a neurotransmitter with many functions in the body, such as control of mood and appetite. The drug acts on a cell surface molecule called a receptor that serotonin targets. Serotonin works on many classes of receptors, so activating a single class reduces potential side effects.

    For quitting smoking, Belviq targets the “dopamine reward system,” Audet said. Dopamine, another neurotransmitter, is involved in the pleasure response. Addiction-causing drugs, including nicotine, increase the effect of dopamine. Belviq, generically called lorcaserin, blocks that effect.

    “Lorcaserin makes you feel full,” Audet said. “The other thing it does is it takes away cravings. We think in smoking it works the same way. It’s the reward of nicotine. We actually believe there might be something there for drug addiction as well. It’s that whole reward system in the brain. You get pleasure from doing certain things — from eating, you get it from smoking, you get it from taking drugs. This takes that away.”

    Meanwhile, Belviq sales started the year on a positive note.

    Prescriptions for Belviq increased 31 percent for the first week of 2014, to nearly 4,900, according to Symphony Health Solutions, a life science research company. Spencer Osborne, an Arena investor, said the results show sales are gaining momentum.

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David Williamson

The Motley Fool's Healthcare Analyst, I specialize in Pharma, Biotech, and how the ACA (Obamacare) is changing the business of healthcare in America. Follow me on Twitter for breaking stock news, policy thoughts, and misc musings...

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