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European Men Get New Pill to Rival Viagra

Monday, February 3, 2003
By Ben Hirschler
Reuters Health

A new anti-impotence pill went on sale in Europe Monday, signaling the start of a multi-billion-dollar battle for a market so far dominated by Viagra.

British and German men will be the first to receive the drug, which its makers claim lasts longer and acts faster than Pfizer Inc's famous blue tablets.

Cialis, from Eli Lilly & Co and US biotechnology company Icos Corp, is being rolled out to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand, ahead of the United States.

The new, yellow pill stays active in the system for 24 hours, against three or four hours for Viagra, allowing greater sexual spontaneity by letting men and their partners choose the right moment for love-making.

It does not create a permanent state of arousal but means men can achieve an erection in response to sexual stimulation. Studies show it works in four out of five of those with ED.

Viagra has revolutionized the treatment of impotence since its introduction five years ago and has been a huge commercial success for Pfizer, with 2002 global sales of $1.74 billion.

The drug has established itself as the world's most famous pharmaceutical brand--but now rivals are muscling in.

In addition to Cialis, GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Bayer AG expect to launch their new impotence drug Levitra later this year.

Industry analysts at Merrill Lynch believe there is considerable room for new products, since more than 50% of patients on Viagra fail to ask for a repeat prescription and up to 25% do not achieve an adequate erection.

Viagra, Levitra and Cialis all work by blocking an enzyme known as PDE-5 that affects blood flow to the penis.

Robert Brown, global marketing director for Cialis at Lilly, said timing was crucial.

"Patients tell us the 24-hour window of opportunity eliminates the need for planning and makes them feel much more in control of their own sex life," he said in an interview.

He expects the market to grow significantly, with only 10% to 15% of the 30 million men with ED in Europe currently receiving treatment. He declined to forecast sales.

Cialis, which is manufactured in Basingstoke, southwest of London, will be available free on prescription from the state National Health System in Britain on the same basis as Viagra. This will limit its usage to patients who have been treated for prostate cancer and sufferers of conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

Other patients who are prepared to pay can get the drug with a private prescription.

The UK government introduced restrictions on Viagra in 1999 amid fears that NHS costs would soar if men without serious disorders were given free access to the drug.

Longer term, drug companies are investigating the potential of the class of drugs to help women suffering from lack of libido and difficulties with sex.

Pfizer has a "mark two" version of Viagra for women in clinical trials that should be finished in a couple of years.

Both Cialis and Viagra have been priced in Britain at the same level of £19.34 ($31.68) for a pack of four pills, and Brown said the product would be priced at competitive levels to Viagra in other countries.

In the United States, Cialis has an "approvable letter" from the Food and Drug Administration, indicating the authorities are ready to approve the product pending resolution of some outstanding issues.

Its US launch is expected in the second half of 2003.

© Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd