Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Rival drugs seek piece of Viagra's territory

By Jack Garland
The Associated Press

LONDON - Viagra, the little blue pill that has revolutionized the sex lives of millions of men, has two potential rivals for the big U.S. market.

One, called Cialis, is known as "Le Weekend" pill in France for its reputed long-lasting effect. The other, Levitra, is promoted as the choice for those who want more spontaneity, because it works in less time than Viagra.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Levitra last month, and the makers of Cialis - Eli Lilly & Co. and Icos Corp. - expect approval later this year.

All three drugs are effective about 70 percent of the time, and the side effects - headaches, nasal congestion and flushing - are similar. They all work by increasing blood flow in the penis in response to stimulation by blocking an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5, or PDE-5.

Both new drugs went on the market in Europe this year. They apparently prompted more men to seek treatment, creating an expanded market that Viagra easily dominates. However, analysts say it is too early to tell how much Viagra will be affected by the newcomers.

"With the exception of the U.K., in the European markets, they like innovation. And when something new comes along, they want to try it," said industry analyst Brian Benedetti of IMS Consulting in London. "Once the enthusiasm for the new drugs dies down, we will see how it settles."

Benedetti thinks the chances of Cialis or Levitra unseating Viagra as market leader are slim because, he says, the two products share more similarities with Viagra than differences, and Viagra is already a household name.

Britain-based GlaxoSmithKline and German-based Bayer AG, who make Levitra, agree Viagra's brand recognition is formidable.

Viagra's sales hit $1.7 billion last year; the drug has been taken by about 20 million men worldwide. The U.S. market, a big target for the new drugs, accounted for just over $1 billion of Viagra's sales, or 60 percent of last year's total.

Some experts say the new pills, particularly Cialis, may offer patients a strong alternative. Cialis's longer-lasting effect has formed a central part of its marketing campaign; Viagra is supposed to be taken up to an hour before sex and can last up to five hours.

"I have had patients come back to me after trying Viagra saying that the time scale is a problem," said Dr. Clive Gingell, a consultant urologist in Bristol, England, who conducted the earliest experiments with Viagra in 1994.

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Rival drugs seek piece of Viagra's territory