The June 4 edition of the New York Times contained an article, "Viagra for women is backed by an FDA panel." It was written by Andrew Pollack and traces the history of an old drug, flibanserin that has now come center stage.
I have been aware of this drug for several years. Representatives of the German pharmaceutical firm Boehringer, the owner of the patent, came to visit here at Stanford. It was considered to be an antidepressant, but the company was made aware that some of those who took the drug reported an increased sexual desire. This was intriguing to the higher ups because they were aware of a validated clinical syndrome, hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The prevalence of this condition is estimated to be around 10 percent of the female population. Sensing the potential value of such a side effect they began to address the additional prospect.
As part of this a few of their representatives visited me here at Stanford. Since I had written something about sexuality in older men they figured that I knew something about it in older women as well. (1) They were wrong, but this didn't faze their effort. I listened to their presentation, and indicated an interest, but then I heard nothing additional.
The company had decided that further pursuit of this was not worthy, so they gave it up. The FDA rejected a 2010 application. However a married couple in Florida Cindy and Robert Whitehead were bold. They bought the rights to Flibanserin from Boehringer and quickly raised $50 million to continue their pursuit. Sprout is their company name.
Over the past few years they have conducted sufficient new trials and generated impressive new data to approach the FDA again. At the preliminary hearing last week Sprout was granted an early approval, pending a formal vote on August 18. This will be closely watched.
Flibanserin is casually regarded as the female equivalent of Viagra (sildenafil) and its cousins Cialis and Levitra, but its action is entirely different. Whereas the male directed agents are effective because of an increase in blood flow to the regional sexual organs Flibanserin works upon the brain, eliciting a different mixture of excitatory compounds. The fine details of its pharmacology will surely emerge in the months to come. Already some caution about side effects have been raised, but not so prominently as to preclude the drug value.
My personal hope is that it works. I am a fervent advocate of 100 healthy years, and having a robust sexual life for men and women is a central part of that goal. Certainly we need a whole new cohort of horny old broads to embrace the millions of dirty old men who crave congenial partners.
1) Bortz W., Wallace D., Wiley D. 1999 Sexual Function in 1202 Aging Males; Differentiating Aspects; J. Geront, Med Science 54A, M237-M241.