February 27, 2010

Drug Companies Race For Female “˜Viagra’

Drugmakers have waited to find an equivalent to Viagra for women ever sense Pfizer introduced the blue pill to the pharmaceutical market.

Reuters reports that Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim is ahead of the race to find a similar pill for a female libido, which could excite passions of a different kind among some women's health experts.

Boehringer funded a survey that showed the emotional impact and distress caused by low sexual desire.

However, critics say it is evidence of the firm's attempt to market low female libido as a disorder. 

"The idea that a lack of interest in sex should be immediately approached with a pill means the multiple contributory factors to sexual problems may well be missed -- resulting in any medication being largely ineffective," Lisa Martinez, founder of the Women's Sexual Health Foundation, an international advocacy group based in the United States, told Reuters.

"A medication may be the right treatment, but it may not, depending on what is truly the cause of the low desire. If a woman is exhausted and stressed and needs help taking care of the children, a pill is not the answer. The answer is to minimize the exhaustion and to get help with the children."

The firm says it happened during the libido effects of flibanserin while investigating the chemical as an anti-depressant.

Martinez is worried about the over-medicalization of sex. 

BioSante, a U.S. drug firm, is working on treatments to boost low desire in women as well.  The firm expects the U.S. market for a female sexual dysfunction drug to be worth over $2 billion.

One step in pursuing that market is by labeling symptoms that have stuck around for generations and defining them in clinical terms, making them more likely to be seen as requiring a clinical response.

One example of this came last week when Boehringer released data from a European survey that showed women with low libido and associated distress suffered personal and emotional impact from their sexual problems.

A U.S. commercial research organization made an announcement alongside the survey that said it was setting up a "register of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD)" to help scientists better understand female sexual health problems.

Professor Sheryl Kinsberg, who teaches reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University, told Reuters it was important for women's lack of desire to be given recognition.

"Many of the women I see with HSDD experience a high level of guilt and feelings of confusion," she wrote. "They also complain about the distance they feel between themselves and their partner. The emotional impact of HSDD is significant."

However, a social psychologist at University College London, Petra Boynton, said the study approached over 60,000 women across Europe but only 11 percent were classified as having a problem. 

"Unfortunately with this study, and many others like it, the tools used are designed specifically for the drug funded research," she told Reuters. "Getting hold of actual surveys is very difficult and sharing of research information -- something that is usually standard scientific practice -- is limited."

Boynton says the drug industry is seeking to "reclaim a feminist discourse" by saying women's sexuality has been largely ignored by scientific research, and their efforts are redressing the balance.

"In truth there is lots of detailed and interesting research on women's sexuality that specifically addresses the many issues that may cause low sexual desire -- like pregnancy, menopause, bereavement, divorce, a lack of privacy, or poor body image.

"It is completely wrong to set this up as a 'battle of the sexes debate' or imply women aren't studied, or that female sexuality isn't interesting."

Boehringer's flibanserin increased the number of satisfying sexual events to an average 4.5 per month from 2.8 in a six-month trial.