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Arena to Double Belviq Sales Force

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Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc. (ARNA) announced that partner Eisai Inc. will double the size of the sales force for their weight management drug, Belviq, to approximately 400 representatives by Dec 2013 from the strength in Jun 2013, when the drug was launched in the U.S.

The decision to augment the sales force follows increase in Belviq coverage by health plans and pharmacy benefit managers since its launch.

We believe the beefed up sales force would boost sales by promoting the drug to more physicians. Arena hopes that increased awareness will help Belviq sales to gain momentum. We note that the drug is marketed in the U.S. by Eisai.

Arena’s growth is highly dependant on Belviq, the company’s sole marketed product. The obesity market offers significant commercial potential. Arena and Eisai are leaving no stone unturned to make the drug a success.

Approval for Belviq is also being sought in other countries including Canada and Mexico. The approval process for Belviq in the EU has run into rough waters with the company withdrawing its Marketing Authorization Application for the drug. The European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use believes that the results of nonclinical studies were not sufficient for the drug’s approval. Arena intends to submit the application at a later date.

Currently approved therapies for obesity include VIVUS Inc.’s (VVUS) Qsymia, launched in Sep 2012. Qsymia’s sales are yet to pick up. Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc. (OREX) is also developing a candidate, Contrave, targeting the lucrative obesity market.

Arena Pharma, a biopharmaceutical stock, currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). However, biopharma stocks like Actelion Ltd. (ALIOF) look well positioned with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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