Weight-loss category expands by one

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Eisai and Arena are supporting their launch of weight loss drug Belviq with 200 sales reps and a consumer/physician website that launched Friday.

After sixteen years in development and two rounds of FDA review, the prescription drug became available through 20,000 US pharmacies today. Although Belviq was the first prescription weight-loss drug approved in recent memory, the Arena/Eisai medication is the second to hit the market – unlike Vivus' Qsymia, the DEA had to figure out where Belviq sat on the controlled medication schedule, which governs access to drugs like the painkiller vicodin.

“We're very excited to be on the market, it's taken us a while, but it's given us plenty of time to be prepared, which is a good thing,” Eisai's chief medical officer, Gary Palmer told MM&M.

First-to-market Qsymia, which Vivus is marketing alone, has seen disappointing uptake by payers and physicians. Arena has handed over marketing of Belviq to Eisai, and Palmer said Eisai has already lined up formulary placement with insurer Aetna and is in talks with other payers.

“I think everybody's been looking for options to help deal with this epidemic,” he said, adding that while some payers are already comfortable with prescription weight-loss meds as treatment options that others “are in a wait-and-see mode.”

Eisai has also prepared doctors for the launch by making presentations at conferences during 2012, and will continue to share data throughout 2013, including at this month's American Diabetes Association's annual meeting.

Palmer said he couldn't comment on how Eisai's marketing approach differs from that of Vivus, but says the sales force is focused on endocrinologists, cardiovascular specialists, gastroenterologists and primary care physicians “who are involved specifically with obesity and obesity treatments.”

The mobile-friendly website includes a 15-day free teaser prescription offer that echoes the one Vivus has offered, but Palmer says the company is holding off on a full consumer push until it gets doctors up to speed on “on the background of the disease as well as the product before we go direct to the consumer.”

Among the concerns surrounding obesity is that it is linked with co-morbid conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, among others. These conditions, in addition to their medical impacts, come with an added burden: multiple medication regimens to stick with. Obesity medications fall into the same category – prescriptions like Belviq and Qsymia are meant for the long haul, and also require patients follow the traditional regimen of diet and exercise in order to be effective.

Despite the chronic-medication component of the regimen and a tepid payer response to Vivus, Eisai's Belviq is just one of several drugs rolling into the prescription slimming space. Orexigen Therapeutics, for example, has experimental drugs Contrave and Empatic in the works.

Palmer says he can't predict what the uptake pattern will be – for example a burst of prescriptions just before or after back to school or the holiday season – and says the drug requires a “committed patient who's serious about both behavior modification and treatment. So we want the right expectations.”

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