independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

The rise and rise of Generation Viagra

This month Viagra loses its patent protection. So what next for the little blue pill and its lookalikes? Chrissie Russell reports

Hollywood explored the little blue pills in the film Love and Other Drugs.

It used to be that whatever happened behind closed doors stayed there. Particularly if those doors were to the bedroom and what was happening was in fact not happening.

Male impotence might have been whispered about between housewives familiar with 'brewer's droop', but in general the best approach was to roll over and go to sleep.

Then along came Viagra.

In 1989 Pfizer scientists synthesised sildenafil citrate, a compound they hoped could be useful in treating high blood pressure and angina.

However, it swiftly became apparent the drug's strengths lay in treating other areas. In 1998, the drug was approved by the FDA as the first oral treatment for erectile dysfunction and Viagra's makers saw their research work rewarded with a Nobel Prize.

Suddenly Erectile Dysfunction (ED) was dragged out of the bedroom and into the spotlight. With a solution now available it seemed men were more willing to admit that a problem existed.

A cohort of celebrities led the way, flying the flag for Viagra. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner dubbed the drug "God's little helper" while Michael Douglas, married to Catherine Zeta Jones – 25 years his junior – hailed it as "a wonderful enhancement . . . that can make us all feel younger".

Hugh Hefner has called Viagra 'God's little helper'.

Even ageing lothario Jack Nicholson confessed to popping an occasional pill should the circumstances require it, explaining: "I like to date a nice range of women each year, but I only use Viagra when I am with more than one."

On this side of the pond, horse trainer Peter 'Racy' Casey left RTÉ pundit Tracey Piggott red-faced after an explicit revelation about how he intended to celebrate his good form later with this wife.

"If I win we are going to have sex twice," the 77-year-old announced to reporters. "I will need six Viagra for that."

In a later interview he added that he'd had problems hiding his pills from envious, light-fingered chums.

"I had a mate who stole a few off me and he went around causing ructions," he revealed. "A few of the boys want to know my secret but you have to keep these things safe."

There have even been films made about the blockbuster drug with Jake Gyllenhaal staring as a Viagra salesman in Love and Other Drugs and John Lynch appearing in the Irish-made comedy Hard Times about a group of pals who hijack a consignment of blue pills in the hope of flogging them on the black market and making a fortune.

The increase in publicity surrounding Viagra has corresponded with a rise in men coming forward to seek treatment.

Ten years ago, just one-in-10 men would go to their doctor to talk about treatment for an erectile problem, now it's one in three.

In 2011, a mammoth 115,000 prescriptions were issued by the HSE for Viagra, up from 104,000 in 2010 and just 61,000 in 2004.

The rise in demand meant that last year the cost of dispensing Viagra in Ireland set the HSE back €3.5m, with the highest proportion of usage concentrated in the Dublin South area.

With annual sales of €1.75bn, Viagra is one of the world's best-selling drugs, but all that could be set to change.

This month, Viagra loses its patent protection, meaning that, for the first time, rival manufacturers will be legally able to produce copies under the drug's chemical name, sildenafil. In the past, blackmarket copycats have been a problem for Pfizer and the company recently estimated that up to 80pc of 'Viagra' sold online was counterfeit, prompting them to launch an online shop for customers with prescriptions.

Irish Customs in 2010 seized €2.2m of illegal prescription drugs, 20pc of which was bogus Viagra and fake sedatives. But with the patent readily available, the black market will cease to be an issue.

Around 20 generic manufacturers are currently working on launching Viagra imitations due for distribution the moment the patent expires and potentially opening the floodgates on a price war.

Already Pfizer has revealed it will be dropping the cost of Viagra to 70pc of its original price, then to 50pc by 2014.

They're also hoping their brand recognition will give them the edge in a more competitive market. "We anticipate that Viagra will remain an important medicine as patients will want to have an ongoing access to a Pfizer medicine they already know and trust," a spokeswoman from the company told the Irish Independent.

"Pfizer places the utmost emphasis on product quality at every step in the manufacturing and supply chain process."

And who knows what other chemical pick-me-ups could lie further down the line. "We've been planning for the expiry of Pfizer's sildenafil patent for several years," adds the company's spokeswoman. "And there's a healthy pipeline of drugs in development."

Get the facts straight

Worldwide, more than 37  million men have been  prescribed Viagra. 

More than 50pc of Irish  men over 40 will  experience some degree of  erectile dysfunction (ED) at  some stage in their lives. 

One-fifth of men  suffering from ED split  from their partners  because of the problem.  ¦ 29pc of Viagra  prescriptions in Ireland are  issued to men between the  ages of 55 and 64. 

Damage to nerves,  arteries, smooth muscles  and fibrous tissues are the  most common cause of ED.  Diseases such as diabetes,  kidney disease, chronic  alcoholism, multiple  sclerosis, vascular disease  and neurological illness  account for some 70pc of  ED cases. 

Since it was introduced  here in 1999, Viagra has cost the taxpayer €28m  under the general medical  services scheme. 

Most of the world's  supply of Viagra is  produced in Ireland at  Pfizer's Ringaskiddy plant  in Cork, with the company  employing more than 3,000  people across the county. 

Research shows the  incidence of STIs in those  over 50 has more than  doubled in the last decade  in Ireland.  That could be an  unforeseen consequence of  increased sexual activity  among older people thanks  to the availability of drugs  like Viagra. 

It's estimated that by  2025, 322 million men will  be affected with Erectile  Dysfunction 

In 2008 Simon Cowell  turned down a $2m deal to  be the British face of  Viagra, saying “that has to  be a f ***ing insult”.

Also in this Section

Classifieds

CarsIreland

Findajob

Apps

Now available on

Top Stories

Most Read

Independent Gallery

Your photos

Send us your weather photos promo

Celebrity News