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Feature Too Much Medicine

Evening the score on sex drugs: feminist movement or marketing masquerade?

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 17 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6246
  1. Ray Moynihan, senior research fellow, Bond University, Robina,Australia

Ahead of this month’s FDA workshop on patient focused drug development for women’s sexual problems, Ray Moynihan questions a campaign to get a rejected drug licensed

A thrice failed antidepressant is at the centre of a new marketing campaign to win approval for what could become the world’s first blockbuster sex pill for women. Frustrated by the drug’s repeated rejection, proponents have orchestrated a fierce attack, accusing the regulator of unfairness, and enlisting support from several well connected women’s organisations in the US. Critics counter that the campaign is exceedingly misleading, that it targets a desire disorder that does not exist, and that approval could see widespread overprescribing of a drug with marginal benefits and real safety concerns.

A few months ago a website called Even the Score emerged, ( attacking the United States Food and Drug Administration with the claim, “Men outscore women 26 to 0 when it comes to FDA approved treatments marketed for Sexual Dysfunction.” The argument is that men have sildenafil and a host of other drugs, but women have none. And according to Even the Score’s website, 43% of women experience sexual dysfunction.

The campaign uses the broad feminist language of rights, choice, and sex equality, but it has a narrow focus as well: it calls on the FDA to act for women “by approving the first-ever drug to treat the most common form of women’s sexual dysfunction.” Without using the drug’s name, it’s a demand for the regulator to approve the thrice failed antidepressant flibanserin, currently being pushed for hypoactive sexual desire disorder— a now obsolescent diagnosis—by new drug company Sprout, a key sponsor of the campaign. Sprout is run by a group of experienced pharmaceutical and investment specialists who reportedly bought flibanserin in 2011 and, according to the business press, have raised tens …

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