A drug to boost female sex drive could be worth billions to the company that
manages to get it approved by the FDA. Recently, two new treatments have made
strides towards that goal. But some are skeptical of the real value of such a
drug to the women it's supposed to help.
In late 2004, FDA approval of Intrinsa, a testosterone patch for low
female sex drive, seemed imminent. News reports heralded Intrinsa as a "Viagra for her," suggesting that it would
health for women just as erectile
dysfunction pills had for men.
By Gretchen Voss
You'd never buy a car without test-driving it first, right? So why settle
into a lifelong marriage before trying one on for size?
"I'm just really not ready to be committed like this." That's what
Andi said to Tucker, her husband of 11 months, after she came home from a crazy
day at work two years ago with an overwhelming urge to quit her marriage.
Today. Right now. "This just isn't for me."
She spoke stoically — no tears, no histrionics. She had been imagining...
Except an FDA advisory panel saw things differently. Finding numerous
problems with the evidence for the drug's effectiveness and safety, experts on
the panel voted against approving it. Procter & Gamble, the company
responsible for Intrinsa, withdrew its application. Procter & Gamble is
a WebMD sponsor.
Now the frontrunner in the race to market the first prescription drug for
low female sex drive is Boehringher-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. It has a drug
called flibanserin in phase III clinical trials, the final phase of drug
testing required for FDA approval. The company is a WebMD sponsor.
Flibanserin is a bit mysterious. It is a kind of antidepressant, but it hasn't been approved previously
for any use. Boehringher-Ingelheim is saying little publicly about the drug.
The company declined WebMD's request to interview a company representative,
instead issuing a prepared statement. The statement does not explain how the
drug is supposed to work, other than that "flibanserin is a molecule acting
on the central nervous system and is not a hormone product."
Another drug, called bremelanotide, is in development for low female sex
drive and male erectile dysfunction at the same time. Both potential uses are
being tested in phase II clinical trials, which are early studies to assess how
well a drug works and how safe it is.
Bremelanotide is a new chemical created in the laboratory. It's given in the
form of a nasal spray, and it acts on the central nervous system.
"It's actually working in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus,
which is known to be involved in sexual arousal in both men and women,"
says Carl Spana, PhD, CEO of Palatin Technologies, the company researching
What Is Desire?
Arousal -- that is, erection -- is the goal of treatment for men. For women,
researchers hope that ease of arousal will translate to increased sexual
Technically, arousal and desire are not the same thing. Arousal is the
physical and psychological state of being primed for sex. The penis becomes
erect, the vagina lubricates, heart rate increases, and blood vessels dilate.
Whereas arousal can be easily seen, sexual desire is vague. It has to do with
wanting to become aroused, but there are a lot of questions about what that