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World's first female sex drug could spur similar meds

Published Oct. 17, 2015

WASHINGTON — Most women with low sexual desire won't rush to get the first prescription drug to boost female libido when it becomes available today. But they may have more options down the road.

Addyi is a daily medication that can't be taken with alcohol or certain other drugs, which will likely limit its use. But experts think those restrictions could spur development of better treatments for women's sexual problems after more than a decade of neglect by most of the world's large drugmakers.

Kim Wallen, a psychology professor at Emory University, says Addyi represents a historic milestone that may open the door to more drugs targeting desire in men and women. Where Viagra and other men's erectile dysfunction drugs work by increasing blood flow to the genitals, Addyi acts on brain chemicals associated with desire.

"This is the first time that a drug, for either men or women, has been approved strictly to increase sexual desire," Wallen says. "That legitimizes many other drugs that are in development."

Treatments for women's libido issues are an untapped financial opportunity for drugmakers. Analysts estimate the market could be worth more than $2 billion, based on academic estimates that between 5 million and 9 million U.S. women may suffer from desire disorders.

But the area hasn't been a research priority for drugmakers in many years. Beginning in the 1990s, Pfizer, Bayer and Procter & Gamble all studied — then discarded — drugs targeting female libido.

Addyi was developed by the German conglomerate Boehringer Ingelheim, then sold to Sprout Pharmaceuticals after the Food and Drug Administration rejected the medication due to lackluster effectiveness and issues like nausea, fatigue and dizziness.

It took Sprout four years to win FDA approval for Addyi, which acts on brain chemicals associated with mood and appetite. The drug will come with a bold warning label about the risks of fainting if combined with alcohol or certain medications. Additionally, doctors and pharmacists must complete an online certification process to show they understand the drug's risks.

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