* Deal worth up to 95 mln euros
* Vivus says activist investor criticisms are off base
* Vivus shares rise as much as 6 pct
July 9 (Reuters) - Vivus Inc, which is under intense pressure from its top shareholder over its marketing, said it signed a deal worth up to 95 million euros ($121.47 million) with Italy's Menarini Group to introduce its erectile dysfunction drug in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Vivus shares rose as much as 6 percent in morning trading on the Nasdaq before easing back to be up 2.5 percent in early afternoon trading.
Privately held Menarini will sell the drug, avanafil, as Spedra in Australia, New Zealand and 40 European countries.
Avanafil has not been launched in the United States despite being cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more than a year ago because Vivus has been unable to find a partner to sell it - among the complaints of 9.9 percent shareholder First Manhattan Co.
Vivus will get an upfront payment of 16 million euros, and is eligible for up to 79 million euros in milestone payments above royalties on Spedra's sales.
The erectile dysfunction drug will be Vivus's second product on the market after weight-loss drug Qsymia, whose sales have struggled to reach anywhere near analysts' expectations.
First Manhattan nominated a slate of new directors and even proposed a new chief executive for Vivus in March, criticising the company for a poor launch of Qsymia.
Vivus said on Tuesday that First Manhattan has been offering only "uncertainty and delay" in its efforts to shake up the company's board.
"FMC's 'plan' - to the extent they have one - appears to revolve solely around doing things that the Vivus board and management team are already doing, 'fixing' things that aren't broken," Vivus said in a statement.
The company said its management was already doing what needed to be done to unlock the full sales potential of Qsymia.
First Manhattan and Vivus will face off on July 15 when shareholders vote on the alternative board nominations.
Vivus shares were up 2.5 percent at $12.86 in early afternoon trading.