By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK, July 2 Vivus Inc's largest
shareholder on Tuesday took the unusual step of naming the man
it would install as the drugmaker's chief executive should it
prevail in its battle to gain control of the board of directors
First Manhattan Co (FMC), which owns 9.9 percent of Vivus
shares and has proposed a full slate of nine directors in a
proxy fight, said former AstraZeneca Plc senior
executive Anthony Zook was the right man to replace longtime
Vivus CEO Leland Wilson. The move could help swing support for
the activist investor ahead of Vivus's July 15 meeting of
First Manhattan, an investment advisory firm, has repeatedly
criticized Vivus saying it badly mishandled the launch of its
obesity drug Qsymia and for failing to land a large company
partner with deep pockets and a big enough sales force to help
the drug reach its blockbuster potential.
Zook, who was executive vice-president for global commercial
operations at AstraZeneca until February, helped launch some of
the British drugmaker's biggest products, including the
multibillion-dollar cholesterol medicine Crestor. He also
oversaw Astra's successful sales transition when
multibillion-dollar heartburn drug Prilosec lost patent
protection and the company then launched Nexium, its next
blockbuster for the same condition.
"It's been the view of our director nominees that our degree
of success will be proportional to the quality of the CEO that
we bring on board. To be able to attract this kind of all
star-talent is phenomenal for shareholders," Sam Colin, senior
managing director at FMC and a Vivus board nominee, said in a
Colin called Zook "a giant of U.S. primary care
blockbusters. His mastery of the U.S. primary care markets was
incredibly important to us," he said of the market for drugs
that are prescribed by general physicians rather than by
Qsymia, the first new diet drug to reach the U.S. market in
over a decade, has so far had minuscule sales since its
September launch. Vivus shares, which traded at $29 when the
drug received a green light from regulators last July, closed at
$12.58 on Tuesday.
Vivus declined to comment on the Zook announcement. But in a
letter to shareholders sent on Tuesday urging them to back the
company's board nominees, it stressed that there were "no
shortcuts to unlocking the value represented by Qsymia."
"We believe that the election of the FMC slate will result
in FMC's nominees spending an unnecessary six months to a year
studying what to do, before concluding that Vivus is already on
the right path to maximize stockholder value," the letter said.
Vivus has repeatedly pointed out that Colin has never run a
"Their argument is that Sam Colin has never run a pharma
company. Well, I have no intention to," Colin said.
Colin said Zook was chosen from 15 highly qualified CEO
candidates. "Any one of them would have been in a different
league than Leland (Wilson)," he said.
Colin said the July 15 vote will be as much a referendum on
whether Wilson or Zook should be running Vivus as it is a choice
of director candidates.
"The market takes good news and bad news, but uncertainty
they don't like," he said. "This should provide certainty."