VIVUS, Inc. (VVUS), Arena Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ARNA): Is There a “First-Mover” Advantage in Biotech?

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The early bird gets the worm. Business gurus might not use that old phrase, but many of them tout the principle behind it. They tell anyone who will listen that getting to market first provides significant advantages. Customers will gain familiarity with the first product on the market and be much less likely to switch to another product later. That’s what the gurus say, but is it true?

Vivus, Inc.One biotech that certainly hopes they’re right is VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS). The company’s weight loss drug Qsymia gained FDA approval last July. VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS) quickly moved to launch the drug, with Qsymia reaching the market in September.

However, Arena Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ARNA) is nipping at its heels. Arena’s Belviq actually gained FDA approval a few weeks earlier than Qsymia. The company hasn’t been able to launch the drug commercially, though, as it awaits scheduling by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Will VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS) be able to benefit from a first-mover advantage? Or is this concept really not applicable to biotech?

Birds of a different feather
If history is a guide from a different area of biotech, VIVUS, Inc. (NASDAQ:VVUS) might be in for a challenge. Way back in 1998, Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN)‘s Enbrel became the first TNF inhibitor to receive FDA approval for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Regulatory approval for other indications followed over the next few years.

By any measure, Enbrel was a huge success. But another TNF inhibitor followed closely in its footsteps. Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade gained FDA approval for treating rheumatoid arthritis in 1999. The two drugs battled it out by themselves until 2002, when the FDA approved AbbVie’s Humira.

So, how well did Amgen’s first-mover advantage hold up?

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