The weekly sales of Vivus's (VVUS) Qsymia have topped the 10,000 level for the first time since the anti-obesity drug launched in September of 2012. While impressive when compared to what sales have been, the sales numbers are still modest and are not pointing to the types of revenue many investors and analysts had anticipated from a prescription anti-obesity drug. There is still a long way to go.
According to IMS Health, the week ending August 16th had sales of 10,019. I typically adjust the IMS numbers up by 30% to get closer to what the actual figure might be. With an adjustment the sales for the week would be over 13,000 units. If Vivus is netting $65 per script, the implied weekly revenue would be in the neighborhood of $850,000.
One of the biggest issues that is impacting the anti-obesity space is the lack of insurance coverage and cost. Because only about 35% of covered lives have an anti-obesity drug benefit, the company has implemented discounts. These discounts take away from the bottom line. Broader and better insurance coverage would help the revenue picture for any drug in this space immediately.
Vivus has stated that it is seeking a marketing partner for Qsymia. Competitor Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA) is partnered with Eisai. The Arena drug, Belviq, sold just over 3,400 prescriptions last week (its 10th week of sales vs. 49 weeks on the market for Qsymia). Belviq is seeing a better launch than Vivus saw, but Arena, because it is partnered, gets 31.5% of net sales, whereas partner-less Vivus keeps all of the money.
The bottom line is that Vivus needs to see growth accelerate more even without insurance stepping up to the plate. The revenue the company is getting still does not cover operating costs, and there are additional studies that need to be financed.
For investors in Vivus there are a lot of things to consider. Management is new, and they outlined a few goals. Giving the company time to bear fruit may require patience some investors do not have. We also need to consider that Arena and Belviq are performing and growing well. The gap between the two in terms of script sales is closing. While neither company is setting any sales record, the potential of the anti-obesity space remains tempting with some 100 million obese people in the United States, and another 100 million overweight people. Vivus has the sales edge and pricing edge. Arena has the marketing edge with a partner in Eisai.
In order for the weekly numbers to impress the street, they must be a big step. Something along the lines of going from 10,000 to 12,000 is what it would take. Growth between 5% and 10% is expected.
Additional disclosure: I have no position in Vivus