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VIVUS (VVUS) Upgraded to Hold on Strong Fundamentals

On Apr 11, Zacks Investment Research upgraded VIVUS Inc. VVUS to a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) from a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell).

Why the Upgrade?

VIVUS reported a decent performance in 2015, having delivered positive earnings surprises in three of the last four quarters with an average beat of 14.88%.

The company’s key product, Qsymia, generated sales of $54.6 million, up 21% year-over-year. Qsymia prescriptions increased 6% to approximately 566,000 in 2015 despite stiff competition in the branded obesity market.

We are encouraged by VIVUS’ efforts on commercializing Qsymia in a cost-effective manner. In 2015, the company reduced its salesforce from 150 to 50 territories, targeting the most productive prescribers of anti-obesity medication. It has also initiated a specialty sales force co-promotion pilot program with Kadmon Corporation that will introduce the drug to new prescribers, specifically liver disease specialists. This initiative will continue through 2016. In addition, the company has introduced a digital campaign for Qsymia. This resulted in 150 million visits to the Qsymia website, thereby driving brand awareness and requests.

Moreover, introduction of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2015 into both houses of Congress was encouraging. The legislation could help reduce restrictions on the coverage of anti-obesity medications for Medicare beneficiaries.

However, we remain concerned about the branded obesity market in the U.S., which continues to witness sluggish growth due to factors like physician caution and reluctance to prescribe, experience related to prescribing other agents, reimbursement issues and lack of consumer awareness and demand.

Meanwhile, the company intends to reacquire the U.S. and Canadian commercial rights to Stendra from Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a subsidiary of Endo International, plc ENDP. The agreement between the two companies will be terminated by Jun 30, 2016, indicating a six-month period from the notice of termination.

VIVUS’ collaboration with a couple of other companies for the commercialization of Stendra looks positive. The company has collaborated with privately held Italian pharmaceutical company, Menarini, for Stendra in 40 European countries, Australia and New Zealand. It also has an agreement with Sanofi SNY for the drug in Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and the CIS states, including Russia.

Stock to Consider

Investors interested in the biotech space can consider AMAG Pharmaceuticals, Inc. AMAG, with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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