Invented by Accident
17 years ago, March 27, 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially approved use of the drug Viagra, an oral medication that treats impotence.
Sildenafil, the chemical name for Viagra, is an artificial compound, which was originally synthesized and studied to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and angina pectoris (a form of cardiovascular disease). However, chemists at the Pfizer pharmaceutical company found, that while the drug had little effect on angina, it could induce penile erections, typically within 30 to 60 minutes. Seeing the economic opportunity in such a biochemical effect, Pfizer decided to market the drug for impotence. Sildenafil was patented in 1996, and a mere two years later–a stunningly short time compared to other drugs–it was approved by the FDA for use in treating “erectile dysfunction,” the new clinical name for impotence.
Fathers of Viagra
The names and status of the original inventors or the non-inventors of drugs manufactured by Pfizer are secrets that every employee of the company has to maintain. However, in spite of such high levels of secrecy, Peter Dunn and Albert Wood are given the dues for the process that facilitated the invention of Viagra by the British Press.
The names of these two scientists appeared on Pfizer’s patent application paper (WOWO9849166A1) for the manufacturing process of Sildenafil Citrate. But, it was only in the year 1991 that the potency of Sildenafil to cure angina was discovered by Andrew Bell, Dr David Brown and Dr Nicholas Terrett. In fact, Terrett was named in the 1991 patent for the use of Sildenafil as a treatment for heart problems, and he is thereby recognized as the ‘father of Viagra’. In the words of Dr. Terrett, “Basically me and my team discovered how useful the drug might be… they (Wood and Dunn) created a way of mass producing it only.
Again it was Nicholas Terrett and his colleague Peter Ellis in 1994, who discovered that the drug can be very effective in enhancing the flow of blood to the penile region in patients suffering from erectile dysfunction while they were investigating on the utility of Sildenafil as a heart medicine. Sildenafil was found to increase the muscle relaxing effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that generally gets released when a person is sexually stimulated. The smooth relaxation of the muscle in the penis facilitates higher rate of blood flow and helps in producing an erection.
Viagra’s massive success was practically instantaneous. In the first year alone, the $8-$10 pills yielded about a billion dollars in sales. Viagra’s impact on the pharmaceutical and medical industries, as well as on the public consciousness, was also enormous. Though available by prescription only, Viagra was marketed on television, famously touted by ex-presidential candidate Bob Dole, then in his mid-70s. Such direct-to-consumer marketing was practically unprecedented for prescription drugs (now, sales and marketing account for approximately 30 percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s costs, in some cases more than research and development). The drug was also offered over the internet–customers needed only to fill out an “online consultation” to receive samples.
An estimated 30 million men in the United States suffer from erectile dysfunction and a wave of new Viagra competitors, among them Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil), has blown open the market. Drug companies are now not just targeting older men like Dole, but men in their 30s and 40s, too. As with many drugs, the long-term effects of Viagra on men’s health are still unclear (Viagra does carry warnings for those who suffer from heart trouble), but its popularity shows no signs of slowing. To date, over 20 million Americans have tried it, and that number is sure to increase as the baby boomer population continues to age.
Viagra and Lawsuits
One billion dollars in sales were made in Viagra's first year of production. Many lawsuits surround Viagra and Pfizer including the suit filed for $110 million dollars on behalf of Joseph Moran, a car dealer from New Jersey, who claimed that he crashed his car into two parked cars after Viagra caused him to see blue lightning coming from his fingertips, at which point he blacked out. Joseph Moran was driving his Ford thunderbird home from a date at the time.
Viagra and Family Relations
There is no doubt that extension and enhancement of the sexual relationship greatly affected the family lives. “More than 20 per cent of breakdowns of relationships are caused because a man has erectile problems. It can cause agony for a man when he cannot perform as he feels he should. Many partners are kind and supportive. A few are cruel. And, when you have huge great men crying like babies in your clinic, you get pretty desperate for something that will put their problems to right as soon as possible. Viagra has done that in a great many cases that have come to my clinic, I am glad to say, “notes Dr Graham Jackson, a consultant cardiologist in London and an expert on sexual problems.
Certainly, the drug has brought joy to many relationships. However, it has also had - in some cases – surprisingly, a destructive impact. “Now men have a drug to help them get it up and get going, they have also shown a worrying tendency to get up and leave - for younger women,” as one sex counsellor put it.
“Older men are more able to perform again, so they're going elsewhere - to younger, greener pastures,” said New York divorce lawyer Raoul Felder, who recently acted for the wife of a 70-year-old man who began cheating on her days after taking Viagra.
“The problem is that Viagra widens the age period in which men can commit adultery and that is the catalyst for most relationship breakdowns. On the other hand, Viagra has saved as many, if not more, marriages than it destroys,” said James Stewart, of the London law firm Manches. This point was backed by David Ralph, a consultant at the Institute of Urology, University College London. 'Viagra has transformed the lives not only of millions of patients with erectile dysfunction but the lives of their partners as well.'
Less Known Viagra Uses
* It appears Viagra is good not only for treating male impotence. Israeli and Australian researchers have discovered that small concentrations of the drug dissolved in a vase of water can also double the shelf life of cut flowers, making them stand up straight for as long as a week beyond their natural life span.
* Tests on lab hamsters showed that Viagra may help people overcome jet lag faster. The study showed that Viagra helped the hamsters reset circadian rhythms faster (sleep - wake cycle) measuring their recovery by how quickly they hopped back onto their exercise wheels. It is important to note that the drug only worked in conjunction with light therapy, and only in one time direction - the equivalent to flying eastbound.
* Athletes have been documented using Viagra believing it to enhance their performance. There is no evidence to suggest this is the case but that does not seem to stop them from trying Viagra. There is also no evidence to support the idea that Viagra and anabolic steroids, when taken together, enhance or accelerate steroid delivery.
* A group of researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University have found that Viagra can be useful in the treatment of prostate cancer when used in combination with doxorubicin. The drug combination has also been found useful in the treatment of ovarian and stomach cancer.
* Pulmonary Hypertension is a medical condition associated with high blood pressure in the blood vessels going to the lungs. Sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, lowers the pulmonary pressure and has been approved by the FDA for both men and women for this non-sexual purpose (under the trade name Revatio). Viagra may also be useful in treating mountain sickness because it lowers pulmonary pressure and enables a climber to exercise in low oxygen conditions or at high altitude.
* Recent research suggests that Viagra can help burn off white fat, which in particular seems to be responsible for many of the deleterious effects associated with obesity, such as diabetes and inflammation. Brown fat is more readily burned off and mice treated with Viagra were shown to have higher levels of brown fat protein. In addition, their white fat showed the “presence of ‘beige’ (not quite white and not fully brown) fat.”
* In Raynaud’s, cold leads to spasms of the small arteries which supply the fingers and toes with blood. These body parts can then become pale and painful. People with Raynaud’s have found that taking Viagra (or rival drug Levitra) has been helpful.
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