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Aetna program will include Vivus' drug Qsymia

NEW YORK (AP) -- The health insurer Aetna will study Vivus' weight loss drug Qsymia in a pilot program that could boost sales, the pharmaceutical said Tuesday.

Vivus said Aetna's pilot program will evaluate the benefits of a prescription weight loss drug and lifestyle support for weight loss, and it will run for the rest of 2014. Vivus said the program is now being offered to self-insured health plan sponsors, and it will include free membership in Aetna and CarePass' Lose It! app.

Qsymia is intended for people with at least one serious health problem related to their weight, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. The drug went on sale in 2012, but sales have not lived up to Wall Street's expectations because of limited insurance coverage and high out-of-pocket costs. Qsymia was also initially available only through mail order, but patients can now get it at pharmacies.

Net sales in the third quarter totaled $6.4 million.

Aetna, of Hartford, Conn., is one of the largest health insurers in the U.S. It had 22.2 million medical members at the end of the third quarter.

Vivus Inc. shares closed at $9.03 Monday and rose 34 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $9.37 in premarket trading. Aetna Inc. stock finished at $70.81 Monday.