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.
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.
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.
Efficacy and Safety of Flibanserin for the Treatment of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder in Women, A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.8565 2497781, February 29, 2016.
In August 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved flibanserin as a treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in premenopausal women, despite concern about suboptimal risk-benefit trade-offs.
Objective To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials assessing efficacy and safety of flibanserin for the treatment of HSDD in women.
Medical databases (among others, Embase, Medline, Psycinfo) and trial registries were searched from inception to June 17, 2015. Reference lists of retrieved studies were searched for additional publications.
Randomized clinical trials assessing treatment effects of flibanserin in premenopausal and postmenopausal women were eligible. No age, language, or date restrictions were applied. Abstract and full-text selection was done by 2 independent reviewers.
Data Extraction and Synthesis
Data were extracted by one reviewer and checked by a second reviewer. Results were pooled using 2 approaches depending on the blinding risk of bias.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Primary efficacy outcomes included number of satisfying sexual events (SSEs), eDiary sexual desire, and Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) desire. Safety outcomes included, among others, 4 common adverse events (AEs): dizziness, somnolence, nausea, and fatigue.
Five published and 3 unpublished studies including 5914 women were included. Pooled mean differences for SSE change from baseline were 0.49 (95% CI, 0.32-0.67) between 100-mg flibanserin and placebo, 1.63 (95% CI, 0.45-2.82) for eDiary desire, and 0.27 (95% CI, 0.17-0.38) for FSFI desire. The risk ratio for study discontinuation due to AEs was 2.19 (95% CI, 1.50-3.20). The risk ratio for dizziness was 4.00 (95% CI, 2.56-6.27) in flibanserin vs placebo, 3.97 (95% CI, 3.01-5.24) for somnolence, 2.35 (95% CI, 1.85-2.98) for nausea, and 1.64 (95% CI, 1.27-2.13) for fatigue. Women’s mean global impression of improvement scores indicated minimal improvement to no change.
‘Female Viagra’ safety, efficacy questioned in new study, medicalnewstoday, February 29, 2016.
Conclusions and Relevance
Treatment with flibanserin, on average, resulted in one-half additional SSE per month while statistically and clinically significantly increasing the risk of dizziness, somnolence, nausea, and fatigue. Overall, the quality of the evidence was graded as very low. Before flibanserin can be recommended in guidelines and clinical practice, future studies should include women from diverse populations, particularly women with comorbidities, medication use, and surgical menopause.
Drug industry links run deep in field of sexual medicine
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD)
Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria said:
“The main hurdle (for – Addyi – approval) was to try and define the disease,”…
“And I think (Sprout) bamboozled the FDA into considering this a disease.”…
“This (HSDD-targeting) drug will be marketed to everyone who doesn’t want to have sex, for whatever reason – the ‘Not tonight, honey, I have a headache’ market.“…
“The market has been shaped around turning lack of desire into a disease and I think it’s highly problematic,” … “This idea that you can tamper with and increase sexual desire with a pill – this is the brave new world.”…
Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman , Director of PharmedOut, Georgetown University Medical Center said:
“Creating a diagnosis gives a company monopoly over the market it created,” …
Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI)
Ray Rosen, the psychiatrist who led the FSFI panel said:
“Obviously, there’s no biochemical thing you can measure to say ‘this women has so much desire,’ so it has to be a subjective rating of some kind,”…
Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman , Director of PharmedOut, Georgetown University Medical Center said:
“The industry-generated tests are rigged tests, designed to make healthy people think they are ill,”… “They medicalize normal human variation and normal ups and downs.”…
FDA approves first treatment for sexual desire disorder
” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved Addyi (flibanserin) to treat acquired, generalized hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in premenopausal women. Prior to Addyi’s approval, there were no FDA-approved treatments for sexual desire disorders in men or women.
“Today’s approval provides women distressed by their low sexual desire with an approved treatment option,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “The FDA strives to protect and advance the health of women, and we are committed to supporting the development of safe and effective treatments for female sexual dysfunction.”
HSDD is characterized by low sexual desire that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty and is not due to a co-existing medical or psychiatric condition, problems within the relationship, or the effects of a medication or other drug substance. HSDD is acquired when it develops in a patient who previously had no problems with sexual desire. HSDD is generalized when it occurs regardless of the type of sexual activity, the situation or the sexual partner.
“Because of a potentially serious interaction with alcohol, treatment with Addyi will only be available through certified health care professionals and certified pharmacies,” continued Dr. Woodcock. “Patients and prescribers should fully understand the risks associated with the use of Addyi before considering treatment.”
Addyi can cause severely low blood pressure (hypotension) and loss of consciousness (syncope). These risks are increased and more severe when patients drink alcohol or take Addyi with certain medicines (known as moderate or strong CYP3A4 inhibitors) that interfere with the breakdown of Addyi in the body. Because of the alcohol interaction, the use of alcohol is contraindicated while taking Addyi. Health care professionals must assess the likelihood of the patient reliably abstaining from alcohol before prescribing Addyi.
Addyi is being approved with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS), which includes elements to assure safe use (ETASU). The FDA is requiring this REMS because of the increased risk of severe hypotension and syncope due to the interaction between Addyi and alcohol. The REMS requires that prescribers be certified with the REMS program by enrolling and completing training. Certified prescribers must counsel patients using a Patient-Provider Agreement Form about the increased risk of severe hypotension and syncope and about the importance of not drinking alcohol during treatment with Addyi. Additionally, pharmacies must be certified with the REMS program by enrolling and completing training. Certified pharmacies must only dispense Addyi to patients with a prescription from a certified prescriber. Additionally, pharmacists must counsel patients prior to dispensing not to drink alcohol during treatment with Addyi.
Addyi is also being approved with a Boxed Warning to highlight the risks of severe hypotension and syncope in patients who drink alcohol during treatment with Addyi, in those who also use moderate or strong CYP3A4 inhibitors, and in those who have liver impairment. Addyi is contraindicated in these patients. In addition, the FDA is requiring the company that owns Addyi to conduct three well-designed studies in women to better understand the known serious risks of the interaction between Addyi and alcohol.
Addyi is a serotonin 1A receptor agonist and a serotonin 2A receptor antagonist, but the mechanism by which the drug improves sexual desire and related distress is not known. Addyi is taken once daily. It is dosed at bedtime to help decrease the risk of adverse events occurring due to possible hypotension, syncope and central nervous system depression (such as sleepiness and sedation). Patients should discontinue treatment after eight weeks if they do not report an improvement in sexual desire and associated distress.
The effectiveness of the 100 mg bedtime dose of Addyi was evaluated in three 24-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials in about 2,400 premenopausal women with acquired, generalized HSDD. The average age of the trial participants was 36 years, with an average duration of HSDD of approximately five years. In these trials, women counted the number of satisfying sexual events, reported sexual desire over the preceding four weeks (scored on a range of 1.2 to 6.0) and reported distress related to low sexual desire (on a range of 0 to 4). On average, treatment with Addyi increased the number of satisfying sexual events by 0.5 to one additional event per month over placebo increased the sexual desire score by 0.3 to 0.4 over placebo, and decreased the distress score related to sexual desire by 0.3 to 0.4 over placebo. Additional analyses explored whether the improvements with Addyi were meaningful to patients, taking into account the effects of treatment seen among those patients who reported feeling much improved or very much improved overall. Across the three trials, about 10 percent more Addyi-treated patients than placebo-treated patients reported meaningful improvements in satisfying sexual events, sexual desire or distress. Addyi has not been shown to enhance sexual performance.
The 100 mg bedtime dose of Addyi has been administered to about 3,000 generally healthy premenopausal women with acquired, generalized HSDD in clinical trials, of whom about 1,700 received treatment for at least six months and 850 received treatment for at least one year.
The most common adverse reactions associated with the use of Addyi are dizziness, somnolence (sleepiness), nausea, fatigue, insomnia and dry mouth.
The FDA has recognized for some time the challenges involved in developing treatments for female sexual dysfunction. The FDA held a public Patient-Focused Drug Development meeting and scientific workshop on female sexual dysfunction on October 27 and October 28, 2014, to solicit perspectives directly from patients about their condition and its impact on daily life, and to discuss the scientific challenges related to developing drugs to treat these disorders. The FDA continues to encourage drug development in this area.
Consumers and health care professionals are encouraged to report adverse reactions from the use of Addyi to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program at http://www.fda.gov/MedWatch or by calling 1-800-FDA-1088.
Addyi is marketed by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products. ”
Full Prescribing Information, addyi, Revised: 8/2015.