The prescription anti-obesity market is heating up and investors are hungry for more information. As Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA) and Vivus (VVUS) gained FDA approval for their respective drugs, Orexigen (OREX) began to make waves of its own as an up-and-comer in the marketplace. While some investors have been assigning "BlockBuster" status to the anti-obesity market, the numbers have yet to materialize to make that the case.
Thus far Vivus, with Qsymia, is the only player on that can actually get prescriptions written for consumers. Arena had to await DEA scheduling, which has now been proposed (as schedule IV) and should be in a position to launch sometime in late Q1 for early Q2 of this year. Meanwhile Orexigen, which is still in the process of gaining FDA approval, is seeking an expedited process which could lead to its drug getting to market sooner than was anticipated.
Between January 7th and January 10th, JP Morgan will be hosting its 31st Annual Healthcare conference in San Francisco, California. Scheduled to participate are Arena and Orexigen. As yet it is not clear whether Vivus will participate. These are key dates for anyone invested in the sector, be it Arena, Orexigen, or Vivus. While there will likely be nothing earth shattering announced, the respective companies will be talking about anticipated performance and likely outline the paths that they will take.
Vivus launched in late September and initial results of Qsymia did not measure up to street expectations. While there are a number of factors that play into that, we must also consider whether consumers and the market are ready to accept an anti-obesity drug and take the concept to the next level in terms of sales and performance. Certainly the initial results offered up by Vivus gave any investor in the sector cause for pause.
There is no doubt that the efficacy of these drugs is viable. The FDA does not typically approve drugs unless they are deemed to be effective. The marketing, distribution, restrictions and partnerships of these companies can and are the subject of furious debate, but in the end the biggest question is whether or not any of them will get to "BlockBuster" status. The theoretical market is sizable enough that all three can succeed, but it is the numbers that will tell the tale of the tape.
What investors need is patience. What these companies need is patients. Simply stated, the theoretical market has not yet proven itself. Certainly one could argue that the public does not like Qsymia and is awaiting Arena's Belviq, but it is a highly subjective stance to take, more often than not based solely on passionate opinion of a company that someone is invested in.
It is easy to get caught up in the hype. I try to stay measured and balanced and even that can fail at times. After all, I felt that a DEA scheduling announcement would send Arena toward $11 per share. I was heavily criticized at the time for being "way to conservative." As it turns out, the DEA news barely moved the needle and in fact Arena is down since the announcement.
The bottom line is that as investors we need to be enthusiastic to a degree, but also realistic in that we actually have precious little information about what type of sales any of these companies can deliver. That is why any time any one of these companies offers up a presentation it is essential that we listen, read, and take in any data outlined. Understanding the sector is just as, if not more, important than understanding the company you are invested in.
At the JPMorgan Annual Healthcare Conference Orexigen is schedled to speak Tuesday, January 8th at 2:00 PM and Arena will also be offering up a presentation of its own as well. Be sure to tune in so that you, as an investor, can keep your finger on the pulse of the sector.
Additional disclosure: I have no position in Vivus or Orexigen