May 23 (Bloomberg) -- Alex Denner, the former head of health-care investments for billionaire Carl Icahn, joined the activist slate challenging drugmaker Vivus Inc. in the first move of his new fund, Sarissa Capital Management LP.
First Manhattan Co., which said it holds about 10 percent of Vivus shares outstanding, added Denner to its proposed slate to bring the total number of potential directors to nine, matching an expansion by Vivus of its board in the past month. Denner’s fund owns about 2 million shares, or 2 percent, of Vivus’s stock, First Manhattan said today in a statement.
First Manhattan has criticized Mountain View, California-based Vivus’s handling of its obesity drug Qsymia, which gained U.S. approval in July. Qsymia sales have lagged behind analysts’ estimates, coming in at $4.1 million in the first quarter, Vivus said earlier this month.
Denner, who started his fund after spending five years leading Icahn’s forays into biotechnology companies, is a director at Biogen Idec Inc. and Enzon Pharmaceuticals Inc. He also has served on the boards of ImClone Systems Inc., Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Adventrx Pharmaceuticals Inc.
In addition to Denner, First Manhattan added Rolf Bass, former head of the human medicines evaluation unit at the European Medicines Agency, and Mel Keating, former chief executive officer of Alliance Semiconductor Corp., to its proposed slate. Vivus’s shareholder meeting is set for July 15.
“We’re very focused on getting the best people behind a great asset,” Sam Colin, senior managing director at First Manhattan and a board nominee, said today in a telephone interview. “This is the most effective drug ever in obesity. We just need the best people to do intelligent things.”
Since April 30, Vivus has expanded its board by three, adding Robert N. Wilson, J. Martin Carroll and Jorge Plutzky. CEO Leland Wilson has told shareholders the company plans to “vigorously oppose First Manhattan’s hostile solicitation.”
Vivus gained 7.3 percent to $14.50 at the close in New York, its biggest single-day increase since May 8, when the company said it was in talks with large pharmaceutical companies about potential partnerships. The company has declined 41 percent in the past 12 months.
“The Vivus board of directors is comprised of proven business leaders,” the company said today in an e-mail. The board is “committed to maximizing value for all shareholders and to considering a broad range of opportunities to achieve this objective.”
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