- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - Drug companies make $2.5 billion a year selling Viagra, Cialis and Levitra to help men enjoy sex. Because more women suffer from sexual dysfunction than men, developing a drug that could double those sales would seem to be a no-brainer.

Yet the pharmaceutical industry has failed women miserably. There isn’t a single sexual-dysfunction drug on the market that can help them.

Pfizer Inc. last year abandoned an eight-year Viagra study involving 3,000 women, saying its famous blue pill works only for men.

“I hate to say it, but women are much more complex than men,” said sex researcher Beverly Whipple.

Viagra and its two competitors are blunt instruments: They work simply, by increasing blood flow down below. Women who take the drugs tend to experience similar physical effects, but this alone rarely satisfies them.

“You are not going to make a product by looking at what works in men and apply it to women,” said Amy Allina, program director at the National Women’s Health Network in Washington. “That does reflect, in part, a lack of knowledge of what is underlying women’s sexual problems.”

The latest research, being conducted by academics rather than commercial drug companies, suggests a neurological solution is needed, because women are more affected by mood, self-esteem and other issues of the psyche than men.

Although Pfizer and other pharmaceutical titans have abandoned the pursuit of a Viagra for women as too complicated, a growing number of university researchers are reporting progress with the help of brain scanners and other technology.

“We basically found the areas of the brains that are activated in orgasm in women,” said Barry Komisaruk, who worked on the research, which is being funded by the federal government and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

Sex research using brain scans is just getting started, and scientists warn that any potential new drugs — or even better diagnoses of sexual dysfunction — are years away.

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