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New Vivus CEO resigns over health issues

(Reuters) - Drugmaker Vivus Inc said Chief Executive Anthony Zook resigned for health reasons, barely a month after a shareholder revolt over disappointing sales of its diet drug installed him in the top job.

The resignation comes as a surprise as Zook's experience as a former AstraZeneca Plc executive was a key argument put forward by top Vivus shareholder First Manhattan Co in its bid for control of the drugmaker's board.

Zook's success in helping launch several big-selling drugs, including multibillion-dollar cholesterol medicine Crestor, was supposed to help Vivus with its sales strategy after its diet pill, Qsymia, failed to live up to expectations.

The company said Zook had resigned due to "recurring issues associated with a previously diagnosed medical condition" but did not provide any further detail.

Vivus's board on Tuesday named Seth H.Z. Fischer, a former senior executive at Johnson & Johnson, the new CEO. Fischer will also join the Vivus board.

Fischer will now have to take on the task of reviving sales of Qsymia and laying the foundation of broader physician and patient acceptance of the drug — long touted as a potential blockbuster.

Fischer was company group chairman for Johnson & Johnson before retiring in 2012. His experience includes the marketing of epilepsy and migraine drug Topamax.

Qsymia, which competes with Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc's Belviq, was the second obesity drug to be approved in the United States after a gap of about 13 years.

But sales of Qsymia failed to pick up. Some analysts blamed marketing strategies. Others said doctors were yet to be convinced that the safety issues that led to the withdrawal of earlier diet drugs had been entirely overcome.

Like Qsymia, sales of Belviq have also fallen well short of expectations.

Zook had said last month that keeping a tight control on costs and focusing on rolling out Qsymia to retail pharmacies to overcome barriers to patients' access would be the company's top priorities in the next few months.

Vivus shares were up nearly 2 percent at $12.75 in early afternoon trading Tuesday on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Esha Dey in Bangalore; Editing by Sreejiraj Eluvangal and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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