Vivus (VVUS) announced today that the number of prescriptions shipped in March of 2013 was up 29% from the previous month. In March of 2013 total prescriptions shipped was 23,812. The company seems to have growing traction. In January, scripts were at 16,733. February had scripts at 18,417. The rise from January to February was 10%. While the growth in script numbers is impressive, the levels of scripts are not yet enough to label Qsymia a success story.
Getting a good read on the performance of Qsymia in the marketplace has been a real challenge for investors. Vivus has had two price changes since launch, and each of these price adjustments take away from the bottom line. Essentially Vivus is in an all out effort to get script numbers as high as possible while it is the only product on the market. Competitor Arena is awaiting final DEA scheduling on its anti-obesity drug Belviq. Once scheduled, Vivus will have some competition.
Earlier this month, Vivus was approved for a modification in its REMS restrictions that will allow consumers to fill Qsymia prescriptions from certified retail pharmacies in addition to the mail order process that has been in place since launch. Vivus management has indicated that the mail order only situation was hampering sales. Personally, I see the mail order situation as somewhat limiting, but not cumbersome enough to hamper sales to a large degree. With the mail order only restriction now out of the equation, for the next few months, prescription numbers will be of paramount importance.
The anti-obesity sector as a whole has some serious question marks based on the prescription results of Qsymia to date. While many had assumed that anti-obesity drugs would be immediate blockbusters, the reality is that it has been a very slow start. This impacts Vivus, Arena (ARNA) as well as Orexigen (OREX). One big event that we can look forward to is the Arena launch of Belviq. Initial sales results for Arena will be integral in determining if the prescription anti-obesity sector has serious potential, or is instead going to be a slower build.
In my opinion, we need to see Arena script levels come in at least 3 times that of Qsymia to demonstrate that the sector as a whole has potential. While many are awaiting the launch of Belviq as a catalyst, it is the early script numbers that will tell the real story. Stay tuned.
Additional disclosure: I have no position in Vivus or Orexigen