Will Vivus’s Weight-Loss Drug Fall Flat?

The poor sales of Vivus’s (NASDAQ:VVUS) anti-obesity pill Qsymia in the last quarter were somewhat surprising. After all, the company introduced its weight-loss drug in late September, ahead of Arena Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ:ARNA) Belviq and Orexigen Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ:OREX) Contrave, into a market that had seen no new drugs in more than a decade. Bloomberg healthcare analyst Andrew Berens even predicted that the drug could generate as much as $1 billion per year by 2016.

Qsymia sales only generated $41,000 in the company’s third quarter, representing 656 filled prescriptions. But on Monday, Vivus reported that sales of its main product rose close to 68 percent in the month ended December 21, which was well above analysts’ expectations. As a result of this announcement, shares rose 9 percent, to $15.10, as of 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Monday.

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The pharmaceutical manufacturer stated that it shipped 12,978 prescriptions of Qsymia in the most-recently-reported period, an increase from 7,749 shipments in the four weeks ended November 23. New prescriptions of the drug accounted for 5,229 of the shipped prescriptions, a much higher figure than IMS Health had forecast. As Cowen and Co analyst Simos Simeonidis told Reuters, the healthcare information provider had expected 1,327 new prescriptions.

Initial sales had been so disappointing that in November one of Vivus’s top shareholders, QVT Financial, proposed that the company be sold. Initially, the company blamed the lack of insurance reimbursements for its low sales. But as insurers have increasingly offered coverage for the drug, Vivus’s position has stabilized.

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