Vivus launches Qsymia weight-loss app

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The latest effort to promote weight-loss drug Qsymia is to go mobile. Drug maker Vivus, which scored FDA approval for the topiramate-phentermine cocktail in September 2012 launched Android- and Apple- friendly versions of last week. The handheld versions are optimized renditions of the support tools that went live in October, and both are open access – requiring a login and password, but no prescription. Nor do the programs require patients be Qsymia-eligible, meaning having a BMI of at least 30 or a BMI if 27 and one or more co-morbid conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

The tools include a food diary and weight tracker, as well as a string of informational emails paced for a year's weight-loss effort. The email stream migrates from topics that focus on weight loss to weight maintenance. Like the printed materials that accompany the prescription drug, the app and the online support tools use the behavioral LEARN program Vivus licensed from Yale University psychology professor Kelly Brownell (the program's initials stand for Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships and Nutrition). Product materials note that effective weight-loss requires an all-around approach including exercise and portion control.

“There's no magic bullet for weight loss,” Vivus' Rob Janosky told MM&M during a Tuesday phone interview. Janosky, who is senior director, commercial development at Vivus, said as of yesterday, “several thousand” users had signed up for both the online and mobile versions. He said that the fee-free tools are currently being marketed to healthcare providers as part of a sales rep's call and the overall Qsymia narrative. He said the resources are also included in Qsymia-branded patient information, but that the app and online tools are not being discussed in either realm as a standalone weight-loss tool. The company has 150 reps courting 25,000 US doctors, a mix of healthcare providers whose patients have co-morbid conditions associated with obesity as well as those who are treating obesity.

The app launch comes amid sluggish sales. The company's marketing efforts have so far included a free 14-day supply and a Save Now! Program, announced March 5, that offers a one-time $75 cap on a month's supply.

The company's fourth-quarter earnings showed a widening loss, with a net loss of $56.7 million for the quarter ended December 31, compared with $11.5 million for the same period in 2011. The company attributed part of the spike to marketing expenses. Jefferies analyst Thomas Wei wrote in his February 26 research note that the fourth quarter trends were in line with expectations but that he was also “incrementally concerned that discontinuation rates appear high” for Qsymia. Wei said the free trial was a nonstarter of sorts, noting that 30% of the new users don't end up filling a prescription.

The drug is currently available by mail-order, but the company has lobbied the FDA to allow for retail distribution. Wei said a decision is expected in April and that the company needs “an acceleration in Rx trends.”
Janosky said the company is exploring additional support tools and has not yet considered turning the app into a revenue stream.
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