Another Dead End for “Pink Viagra”

It’s official. Boehringer Engelheim, the German pharmaceutical company, has shelved its plans to develop flibanserin. They’ve decided to focus on other drugs that “have better potential to make it to market.”

The pill’s been called “pink Viagra” because it was hoped it would do for women what other drugs have done for men with erectile dysfunction. I know flibanserin has been controversial. The drug was rejected by both an advisory panel and FDA staff, and much of the discussion about the project cancellation has focused on the negatives.

I don’t argue with concerns about Boehringer Ingelheim’s research or focus on marketing instead of fact-finding. But I do know that some of my patients who struggle with a loss of desire are desperate for more options that offer hope. They’re well-informed about their condition and their choices, and they’re fully capable of making decisions about the trade-offs between side effects and a return to a more complete sexuality.

The broader issue for me is the lack of focus on pharmaceutical options for women. Pfizer, makers of Viagra, canceled research into a female counterpart in 2004. Boehringer Ingelheim appears to be saying that it’s just too hard to follow through on a drug for women. What are the barriers? Are they cultural? Is male sexual satisfaction easier to talk about? To measure? To “monetize”?

As a physician, I want the most possible options to explore with my patients. Sometimes mindfulness, information, localized hormones, and tools like vaginal dilators and clitoral pumps are enough to change a woman’s life. Sometimes they’re not. I’m optimistic about ongoing research about testosterone for women’s sexual health, but I’d like to know that pharmaceutical companies see the issues we face as clearly and as important as I do.

Have you found a drug treatment that’s helped? Are you with me in thinking more options to consider is a good thing? Or would you rather pharmaceutical companies keep their focus elsewhere? Lots of voices will help them set their agendas.


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