First Manhattan Proposes AstraZeneca’s Zook for Vivus CEO

First Manhattan Co., the investor in Vivus Inc. (VVUS) that’s aiming to replace the drugmaker’s board and management, said Anthony Zook has agreed to serve as chief executive officer if First Manhattan wins the proxy fight.

Zook was executive vice president for global commercial operations at London-based AstraZeneca Plc (AZN) until February, First Manhattan said today in a statement. Zook helped market drugs including Nexium, Crestor and Symbicort, which together drew more than $13 billion in sales for AstraZeneca last year.

Vivus today called First Manhattan’s plans to replace the board and management a “serious threat” to shareholder value, urging investors to vote against First Manhattan at its annual meeting on July 15. First Manhattan, which holds 9.9 percent of Vivus shares outstanding, has criticized the Mountain View, California-based company’s initial sales plan for the obesity drug Qsymia and said the board hasn’t operated independently.

Zook “has an extraordinary track record of launching blockbuster drugs in the U.S. primary care market, and we are confident he will do the same with Qsymia,” Sam Colin, senior managing partner at First Manhattan, said in the statement. Zook will “allow us to further attract the best talent to commercialize the best obesity drug ever developed.”

Leland F. Wilson has been CEO of Vivus since 1991.

Vivus rose 1.4 percent to $12.58 at 4 p.m. New York time. The shares have lost 58 percent since reaching a 52-week closing high July 3, 2012, two weeks before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Qsymia.

Qsymia Sales

Qsymia was just the second obesity therapy to clear the FDA since 1999. Initial sales of the drug have missed analysts’ estimates, coming in at $4.1 million in the first quarter.

Vivus has been working to expand access to Qsymia and help more patients try the drug, and has added directors to its board in response to First Manhattan’s challenges.

“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,” Vivus said in a letter to shareholders today. “By electing FMC’s slate, the Qsymia opportunity likely will have been missed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Meg Tirrell in New York at mtirrell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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