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Vivus rises on latest Qsymia prescription report

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Vivus Inc. climbed Monday after the company said prescriptions for its weight loss pill Qsymia surged in late November and December.

THE SPARK: Vivus said it shipped about 13,000 orders for Qsymia over the four weeks ended Dec. 21. That's a 68-percent jump from the previous four-week period. Prescriptions grew 44 percent over the four weeks before that. The company said a total of 14,500 patients had been treated with Qsymia at the end of the period.

The company started selling Qsymia in September. The pill is only the second long-term weight loss drug approved in the U.S. since 1999.

THE BIG PICTURE: Analysts think sales of Qsymia will eventually grow into the billions, but early sales of haven't lived up to expectations. In November, Vivus said sales were being hurt by high co-pays and limited insurance coverage, and a lot of prescriptions were not being filled because of those costs. On Dec. 20 the Mountain View, Calif., company said pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts Holding Co. has added Qsymia as a standard benefit option to its national formulary.

THE ANALYSIS: Wells Fargo analyst Michael Tong said the totals were better than expected, and noted that prescriptions increased when Vivus began offering a two-week supply of Qsymia to patients free of charge. However he said the offer could hurt the company's revenue.

Cowen & Co. analyst Simos Simeonidis said the figure represents an improvement, but total prescriptions for Qsymia remain "very low." He said Vivus needs to team up with a larger drug company in order for Qsymia to become a top-seller.

SHARE ACTION: Vivus shares gained $1.10, or 8 percent, to $14.85 in afternoon trading. The stock is down 38.3 percent since Oct. 18, and it has dropped 52.6 percent since Qsymia was approved in July.