May 23 First Manhattan Company (FMC) added some
heavyweight muscle on Thursday to its bid to shake up the board
of drugmaker Vivus Inc by naming former Carl Icahn top
lieutenant Alex Denner and two others to its slate of proposed
Vivus shares rose as much as 11 percent after First
Manhattan, which has nearly a 10 percent stake in Vivus,
expanded its slate of proposed directors from six to nine,
Denner, chief investment officer Sarissa Capital Management,
has served on boards of biotechnology and other healthcare
companies such as Biogen Idec and ImClone Systems,
later bought by Eli Lilly and Co. Denner also is a
founding partner of Sarissa, which owns about 2 percent of
outstanding Vivus shares. Jumping into the Vivus proxy fight is
one of his first public forays since starting his own fund.
"In every area that needs to be fixed we want to attract the
highest quality human capital," Sam Colin, senior managing
director at FMC and a board nominee, said in a telephone
The other two nominees added to the FMC slate are Rolf Bass,
who has an extensive European pharmaceutical regulatory
background, and Mel Keating, who has expertise in corporate
Asked about the choice of Denner, Colin said, "What we
wanted first and foremost was someone with Alex's track record."
"There is no one else like Alex Denner. He's not only
incredibly intelligent, incredibly experienced, very thoughtful,
he's easy to get along with and very helpful in contentious
situations where people's emotions can get the better of them,"
Denner had been head of healthcare investments for
billionaire investor Icahn, and a regular on many of Icahn's
proposed director slates.
FMC, in a statement, called its slate of nominees a "clearly
superior alternative to Vivus' current board of directors,"
adding that its nominees offer independence from management.
It has been agitating for change at Vivus since March over
the company's disappointing handling of the launch of its diet
drug Qsymia, which won U.S. approval in September. Even with
Thursday's share gains, Vivus' stock is worth half of what it
was last July.
Another top investor, QVT Financial LP, had previously
publicly said that Vivus should be sold. Analysts and other
investors have been calling on Vivus to find a pharmaceutical
company partner with deep pockets and a large sales force to
help get Qsymia off the ground.
Vivus reported Qsymia sales of only about $4 million in the
"They've got the right asset and the fix is having the right
people behind the asset," Colin said of Qsymia. "It should be a
Vivus' board of directors is scheduled to be chosen at its
annual shareholders meeting on July 15. Its shares closed up 7.2
percent at $14.50 and had climbed as high as $15.04 earlier.