Latest female sex drive pill hits roadblock
WASHINGTON—The 15-year search for a pill that boosts sexual desire in women has hit another roadblock, raising questions about the future of efforts to develop a female equivalent to Viagra.
Sprout Pharmaceuticals said yesterday it has reached an impasse with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over its drug, flibanserin.
The FDA questions whether the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks, considering its “modest” effectiveness and side effects including fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.
Sprout said it is appealing an October letter from the FDA that denied approval and asked for more information.
But chances for approval appear slim. Of the 17 appeals FDA considered last year, 14 were denied, according to government figures.
The agency’s letter is the latest challenge for companies working to develop therapies for women who report stress due to lack of libido.
It’s a market drug-makers have been trying to tap since the success of Viagra—an erectile-dysfunction drug that was developed in the late 1990s to increase blood flow to the genitals.
But unlike sexual problems in men, most of women’s sexual issues are psychological, not physical.
As a result, there are a number of alternate causes doctors must consider before diagnosing female sexual desire disorders, including relationship problems, hormone disorders, depression, and mood issues caused by other medications.
Likewise, other factors must be considered when treating it.
Experts say that developing drugs for female sexual dysfunction is so difficult because of how little we understand the underlying causes.
“Erectile dysfunction is a really easy thing to measure,” said Emory University researcher Kim Wallen.
“Motivation is a hard thing to measure and, quite honestly, we don’t know enough about what creates sexual motivation to manipulate it.”
Dr. Virginia Sadock, a psychiatrist, noted the idea that a single pill can restore female libido oversimplifies the problem.
Even if the FDA eventually approves a drug for female sexual dysfunction, she said it likely will be used with non-drug techniques to reduce stress and improve self-image.
“A pill just doesn’t take care of it,” stressed Sadock, who teaches human sexuality at New York University’s School of Medicine.
“You may take a statin drug to control your cholesterol, great,” she remarked.
“But you should also exercise and you should also watch your diet.”
Drug-makers have made several unsuccessful attempts at tweaking their approach to boosting female libido over the years.
Initially, Pfizer tested Viagra on women, hoping that the drug’s ability to increase blood flow to genitals would increase sex drive in women.
When that didn’t work, drug-makers turned to hormones, including the male hormone testosterone.
In 2004, an FDA panel rejected Procter & Gamble’s testosterone patch, Intrinsa, due to questions about its long-term safety—despite evidence of effectiveness.