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This month in pharma...

Exploring the industry's most important dates, we recall March 1998: the launch of Viagra

Time travelExploring the industry's most important dates, we recall March 1998: the launch of Viagra.

Hollywood romantic comedies and the pharmaceutical industry may not be the most likely of bedfellows, but in 2010 the two came together in the film 'Love and Other Drugs', with Jake Gyllenhaal falling for Anne Hathaway amid his attempts to bring a certain treatment for erectile dysfunction to the attention of doctors across the US.

Though based on former Pfizer sales rep Jamie Reidy's book, 'Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman', chronicling Reidy's nine years at Pfizer where he marketed one of the world's most famous drugs, the cinematic experience may not carry quite the level of truth or relevance that Pfizer would probably want portrayed.

The rather well-known (in the world of drug development anyway) real story of Viagra has some twists and turns suitable for its own intense television political drama though, if not the big budget Hollywood romance.

It was 1983 when the physiological causes of erectile dysfunction became a major treatment target, thanks in part to a dramatic performance from Professor Giles Skey Brindley. When presenting his research findings at the Urodynamics Society meeting in Las Vegas, the professor injected himself with vapaverine, causing increased blood flow to the penis, before dropping his trousers to reveal the results.

Viagra began life in 1985 though, initially conceived and developed by scientists based in Kent, UK, researching a suitable product for use in people with high blood pressure. Clinical trials showed that, although the drug wasn't quite as useful a treatment for heart-related issues as proposed, it did have some considerable side-effects on the sex lives of its subjects.

The erectile dysfunction research began in 1993 with 3,000 participants aged between 19 and 87 taking part. It was another three years before Pfizer registered a patent in the names of British scientists Peter Dunn and Albert Wood after the two men found a way to mass-produce the treatment.

Approval from the US Food and Drug Administration came quickly after and Viagra was accepted as the first oral treatment for erectile dysfunction on March 27, 1998.

Success was soon at hand for Pfizer, with annual sales of the drug reaching the $1bn mark between 1999-2001, with almost complete share of the market helping to raise company revenue by 20 per cent from 1998 to 1999.

Competitors followed however, with the introduction of GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra, co-marketed by GSK, Schering-Plough and Bayer, taking away Viagra's overwhelming share of the market five years later.

Today, Viagra has become one of those rare drug brands that has managed to sneak its way into common parlance, and most emails that fill the spam folder.

Supermarkets have also found a place for the drug among the usual groceries, with UK chain Tesco announcing in September 2010 that its stores would begin selling a cut-price version of the drug.

The expiration of worldwide patents over the next few years for Viagra will continue to see competitors and generics emerge, but its worldwide success ensures the name will remain a part of popular culture.

The Author
Tom Meek, assistant web editor at PMGroup

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25th March 2011


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