The obesity drug, Qsymia developed by VIVUS, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a year ago, has finally hit the retail pharmacies, thus placing it within easy reach for the patients.
Qsymia is the first weight-loss drug to be approved by the FDA in more than a decade. The approval of the drug was initially expected to increase the market value of VIVUS. However, the marketing strategies followed by the company along with the FDA restrictions, very badly affected the sales. Moreover, the company had only around 200 sales representatives to promote the product initially. The share value of VIVUS drastically dropped from $29 to $12.41. The company managed to make only $4.1 million in the first quarter of this year with the sales of Qsymia. These are more than eleven times the company’s investment of $45 million in marketing the drug.
This comes, in effect, following FDA’s decision three months ago to relax the restrictions that made the drug to be marketed only through mail-orders pharmacies. FDA had previously imposed this restriction considering the risk of two active components in the phentermine and topiramate. These compounds were believed to increase the risk of heart disease and potential birth defects, specifically cleft palates, in case pregnant women took the drug.
Following FDA’s decision, the company could certify retail pharmacies to sell the obesity drug to make it within easy reach for patients. VIVUS has announced the first batch of retailers who were certified on Monday. The drug is now reported to be available in around 8000 Walgreens, Costco, and Duane Reade retail pharmacies throughout US. The company has planned to certify many more pharmacies soon.
With nearly one-third of the population being overweight and constant warning from health care professionals about the health hazards of obesity, it is surprising that this formally approved drug has failed to have a wider reach and meet the market expectations. Americans are already spending millions of dollars every year in various weight-loss programs like gym, exercise programs, yoga, diet programs and nutritional supplements. However, when it comes to weight loss drugs, there is still hesitation to give it a try as there are health concerns widely associated with risk of heart disease.
Many health care professionals are still not aware of the approved obesity drug, while others are unwilling to prescribe it. Diet and exercise when followed regularly provides great benefits without many risks outweigh the benefit-risk associated with these drugs. FDA had previously rejected the approval of Wyeth’s Fen-Phen and Abbott Labs’ Meridia, which were popular weight loss drugs following concerns about risk of heart valve damage and stroke. Hence, health practitioners generally avoid prescribing weight loss drugs.
Price is another reason the drug failed to perform well in the market. The drug is not covered by all insurance policies as these drugs in general are deemed as lifestyle drugs by insurance companies. Only about one-third of Americans have private insurance with coverage for the obesity drug. VIVUS is trying hard to convince insurance companies to include this drug in their coverage schemes. The drug could cost around $150 per month without any coverage.
VIVUS is hoping to improve the sales by making the drug available at retail pharmacies to ensure that they are within easy reach for patients. However, there would be high competition from Arena Pharmaceuticals and Eisai both of which had launched Belviq, a weight-loss drug, last month.
VIVUS Inc at present is also making critical changes to the management.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas