Vivus saw its stock slide more than 20% during trading yesterday after posting very disappointing sales for its obesity drug Qsymia, which fell well short of analyst expectations.

The company booked third-quarter turnover of just $41,000 for the drug, which had been pitched to make $310,000 for the period by analysts.

Qsymia (phentermine/topiramate) was launched in the US in September, but as Vivus reportedly told investors around 30% of patients have been abandoning their prescriptions after finding they would have to shoulder out-of-pocket costs. 

Furthermore, Andrew Berens, senior healthcare analyst with Bloomberg Industries, told Bloomberg that the company’s strategy of targeting specialty doctors instead of primary care physicians, who might be more likely to prescribe the medicine, is now being questioned following the poor result.

“The street expects the drug to be a blockbuster, but it looks like a very slow launch,” he said, noting that investors “are not sure their strategy makes any sense”.

The drug's future is also looking uncertain across the Atlantic, where advisors to the European Medicines Agency did not recommend its approval on concerns about effects on the heart and blood vessels, long-term psychiatric effects (depression and anxiety) and cognitive effects (including problems with memory and attention).

Net loss rockets

Vivus also saw its third-quarter net loss rocket to $40.4 million, or $0.40 per share, from the $8.6 million, or $0.10 per share, recorded for the year-ago period. 

The surge in loss is "primarily attributable to increased selling, general and administrative expenses related to pre-commercialisation and commercialisation activities for Qsymia," the firm said, as well as higher R&D expenses linked with post-approval studies for Qsymia and Stendra.