Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals

The merging of marketing and medical science : female sexual dysfunction

As the search for the so-called ‘Pink Viagra’ continues, controversy surrounds the nature of the medical ‘condition’ such a pill would treat.

  • Do women with a low libido really have a disease called ‘hypoactive-sexual desire disorder’?
  • Does it really affect one-in-ten women as drug companies claim?

There’s already a marketed treatment for HSDD in the form of a pill called Addyi, a drug whose 2015 FDA approval came with intense debate over whether sexual desire was indeed a medical issue. Addyi has since become a commercial nonentity, in large part because women are restricted from drinking alcohol before taking it. The controversy around the drug’s approval faded along with its meager sales.

But bremelanotide, which promises a similar effect with fewer side effects, has rekindled the conversation around whether sexual desire can be a matter of pharmaceutical science.

Continue reading on stat news.

In an article in the BMJ almost 10 years ago I described the making of female sexual dysfunction as the freshest, clearest example of the “corporate sponsored creation of a disease.”1 Looking back over the past decade, it has become clear that drug companies have not simply sponsored the science of this new condition; on occasions they have helped to construct it. Corporate employees have worked with paid key opinion leaders to help develop the disease entity; they have run prevalence surveys to portray it as widespread; and they helped create the measurement and diagnostic instruments to persuade women that their sexual difficulties deserve a medical label and treatment. Drug marketing is merging with medical science in a fascinating and frightening way, raising questions about whether a new approach to defining diseases is warranted.

Continue reading on the BMJ.

Condition branding is a marketing technique in which companies develop conditions concurrently with developing drugs; examples include gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, social anxiety disorder, erectile dysfunction and hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Although it is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to market drugs prior to regulatory approval, there are no restrictions on marketing diseases, and industry seeks to establish a disease state in the minds of clinicians years before an expected drug launch. Continuing medical education (CME) courses are an important part of promotion prior to drug approval and have become a key marketing tool for increasing clinician receptivity to new products. We systematically identified 14 free, internet-based, industry-funded, accredited CME modules on hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women which came out before a new drug, flibanserin, was being considered for regulatory approval in the USA. Common themes in these modules included the following: Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is common, underdiagnosed and can have a profound effect on quality of life. Women may not be aware that they are sick or distressed. Simple questionnaires can assist clinicians in diagnosing the disorder. It is problematic that there are medicines available to treat sexual problems for men but not women. In fact, there is no scientifically established norm for sexual activity, feelings or desire, and there is no evidence that hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a medical condition. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a typical example of a condition that was sponsored by industry to prepare the market for a specific treatment.

Continue reading on the BMJ.

Author: DES Daughter

Activist, blogger and social media addict committed to shedding light on a global health scandal and dedicated to raise DES awareness.

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