Sunday, March 27, 2011

Attention! A Brief Post About a Little Blue Pill

Today in history marked a momentous step in male-female relations: In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the little blue pill Viagra. As we all know by now, "Vitamin V" is a oral medication that treats impotence. Viagra took sex in a completely new... direction (I'll spare you the obvious applicable rhyming word for 'direction').

Anyway, Sildenafil (Viagra's chemical name) was originally synthesized and studied to treat high blood pressure. This little fact makes me wonder about the testing protocols scientists applied to the development of Sildenafil: I'd like to know exactly how chemists at Pfizer discovered that while Viagra had little effect on high blood pressure, it could induce penile erections.

Seeing the economic opportunity in the effect of Viagra, Pfizer elected (again dispensing with the obvious rhyme) to market the drug for impotence. Sildenafil was patented in 1996, and just two years later the FDA approved it for use in treating "erectile dysfunction," a fancy new clinical name for impotence.

The "little blue pill that could" was immediately successful: It flew off the shelves into the medicine cabinets of middle-aged men and of course the scripts of late night comics.

In just its first year, the $8-$10 pills yielded about a billion dollars in sales. Even the distinguished almost-octogenarian Senator Bob Dole marketed Viagra on TV, confessing to ED (one imagines, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering but suddenly happy spouse). This kind of direct-to-consumer marketing was new to the prescription drug industry and changed forever the sales and marketing of pharmaceuticals: Today, sales and marketing account for approximately 30% of the pharmaceutical industry's costs, in some cases more than research and development.

Viagra's success stimulated (come on, there's no other word for it) a wave of competitors (and equally embarrassing commercials for) Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil).

As with many drugs, Viagra's long-term effects on men's health remain unclear ironically, Viagra warns those who suffer from heart trouble), but its popularity is unabated: The latest data says that more than 20 million Americans have tried it, a number which will no doubt get bigger (it's just too easy) as the baby boomer population ages... and they want to relive the Summer of Love (again and again and again).

Cheers, Little Blue Pill.


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