Vivus Names Fischer CEO as Zook Resigns for Health Reasons

Vivus Inc., the obesity-drug maker that overturned its board and management in July after a proxy fight with its largest shareholder, said new Chief Executive Officer Tony Zook has resigned because of health reasons.

Seth H. Z. Fischer, formerly with Johnson & Johnson, will replace Zook immediately, the Mountain View, California-based company said today in a statement. Vivus cited “recurring issues associated with a previously diagnosed medical condition” for Zook’s departure.

Zook started as CEO on July 22 after shareholders First Manhattan Co. and Sarissa Capital Management LP ousted former chief Leland Wilson when they won control of the board. Fischer’s mandate will be the same as Zook’s: expanding use of the obesity drug Qsymia, finding a marketing partner, getting to market in Europe and cutting costs.

“We don’t see a real impact on Vivus with Mr. Zook’s departure,” Simos Simeonidis, an analyst with Cowen & Co., wrote today in a research note. “Our optimism about the new (board) leadership at Vivus stems from our expectation that there should now exist a change in the overall strategic direction of the company and that there should now exist more accountability in the company, which, in our view, starts at the board level.”

Vivus rose 3 percent to $12.90 at the close in New York. The shares have lost 40 percent in the past 12 months. Qsymia was approved in July 2012 and sales have missed expectations, with $5.5 million in the second quarter compared with analysts’ average estimate of $7.6 million.

Fischer retired from New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J last year after serving as company group chairman and worldwide franchise chairman of Cordis Corp., Vivus said. Before that he was J&J’s company group chairman of North America Pharmaceuticals. He helped oversee the selling of medicines including Topamax, a treatment for migraines and epilepsy whose ingredient topiramate is also part of Qsymia.

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