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Zook named Vivus CEO as shareholder topples board

First Manhattan unhappy with performance of obesity drug Qsymia

Qsymia - Vivus weight loss drug

A bitter battle for control of Vivus has ended with a rebel shareholder wresting overall control from the company's current board of directors and naming former AstraZeneca executive Tony Zook as CEO.

Investment group First Manhattan Co had tried to replace the entire board of Vivus after accusing management of bungling the launch of obesity drug Qsymia (phentermine/topiramate), which was approved in the US a year ago. 

The shareholder eventually settled for including six of its own nominees on the board while whittling Vivus' own nominees down to four. Sarissa Capital Management, which holds a 2 per cent stake in the firm, was also involved in negotiating the settlement.

First Manhattan accused Vivus' management, led by departing CEO and Vivus' founder Leland Wilson, for failing to make the most of the opportunity afforded by the launch of Qsymia as the first new treatment for obesity in the US in 10 years, saying the team lacked the commercial experience needed to ensure its success.

Discontent had been building among shareholders for some time, but the lack of penetration by Qsymia into the retail pharmacy sector - as well figures from IMS Health suggesting that prescriptions for the drug were actually lower in June than in May - prompted a proxy fight for control of the company.

The downturn in Qsymia prescriptions came in the wake of the launch of Belviq (lorcaserin), a rival obesity treatment from Arena Pharmaceuticals that seems to have got off to a faster start in the US marketplace.

Vivus' management had opted for a soft launch for Qsymia in light of past problems with obesity drugs - including heart valve side effects linked to the combination of drugs known as 'fen-phen' which emerged in the 1990s. However, sales have been low since its launch last September, coming in at just $4m in the first quarter of this year, and Vivus failed in a bid to launch the product in Europe.

First Manhattan made conciliatory noises in the wake of the coup, saying it wanted to "acknowledge the enormous accomplishments of Leland Wilson and [company president] Peter Tam in identifying and developing the most efficacious obesity drug ever".

19th July 2013

From: Sales

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