Vivus' Mr. Wilson Goes To Washington

Patients on Vivus' late-stage developmental diet drug, Qnexa, lost an average 37 pounds in 13 months.

Now, CEO Leland Wilson is carrying that load up to Capitol Hill.

While he's in town for the annual Obesity Society meeting, Wilson is trying to make sure Qnexa has a ready-made market if or when it wins FDA approval.

But if he's successful, his lobbying efforts would also help his closest competitors Arena Pharmaceuticals and Orexigen Therapeutics . The three small biopharma companies are in a race to bring new prescription diet pills to market.

The problem for OREX and ARNA is that they don't have as compelling a weight-loss number as VVUS to wield as a political weapon.

After finishing up his interview with me this morning, Wilson told me he was headed to meet with at least six senators over the next two days.

He, his competitors and obesity doctors and their patients want Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for prescription diet drugs included in the healthcare reform bill. Right now the government doesn't pay for them. And most private insurers won't pick up the tab either because they fear overuse of the drugs and all the other costs of treating an obese customer.

The CDC estimates people who are overweight have medical expenses that are 29 to 117 percent higher than those within normal weight ranges.

As obesity expert Dr. Louis Aronne pointed out in the interview I did with him on "Power Lunch," these diet drugs have the potential to save a lot of money. Shedding pounds gets rid of a bunch of other health problems, so many patients can go off other expensive pills.

With the healthcare reform bill looking like it's closer to getting done, we should soon find out if Mr. Wilson was able to throw his weight, er, 37 pounds around.

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