Vivus shares rise after weight loss drug launch

WASHINGTON (AP) — Shares of weight loss drugmaker Vivus Inc. rose Monday after the company announced its highly anticipated pill Qsymia is now available in the U.S.

THE SPARK: The company said in a regulatory filing that the anti-obesity pill is now available in the U.S. and launched a website for doctors and patients.

THE BIG PICTURE: The announcement puts Vivus in front of rival drugmaker Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc. in the race to begin marketing the first new prescription weight loss medication in over a decade. Arena plans to begin marketing its drug in early 2013.

Arena Pharmaceuticals and Vivus received federal approval for their anti-obesity pills in June and July, respectively. Previously the Food and Drug Administration had not approved a new prescription weight loss drug since 1999.

A third California drugmaker, Orexigen, is still running clinical trials of its product, and is working toward an FDA approval date in 2014.

Vivus' Qsymia is generally considered the most effective of the three weight loss drugs, with patients losing 6.7 percent of their body weight in one study and 8.9 percent in another study.

Arena's studies show that Belviq, known generically as lorcaserin, is associated with modest weight loss. On average patients lost just 3 to 3.7 percent of their starting body weight over a year.

SHARE ACTION: Shares of Mountain View, Calif.-based Vivus rose 85 cents, or 3.9 percent, to close at $22.93 in trading Monday. Over the past year, shares have traded between $19.09 and $38.33.