Like men, women also have problems with low libido. Unlike men however, women are not given medication to address it.
It seems that major drugmakers have neglected the need to produce a medication for women with sexual problems. This neglect lasted for over a decade until German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim finally developed the first female libido drug flibanserin, now marketed by Sprout Pharmaceuticals under the brand name Addyi.
Addyi is a daily drug women can take to solve their low libido problems. Unfortunately, though, there seems to be a lot to pay for the price of a stronger libido. Addyi can't be taken together with alcohol or other drugs. This sounds limiting, but experts are hopeful that the development of the first female libido drug will lead to more options in the near future.
Psychology professor Kim Wallen from Emory University said Addyi is a historic milestone that "may open the door to more drugs targeting desire in men and women." While the male libido drug Viagra works by increasing the blood flow to the genitals to solve erectile dysfunction, Addyi targets desire-related brain chemicals to solve low libido problems in females.
"This is the first time that a drug, for either men or women, has been approved strictly to increase sexual desire. That legitimizes many other drugs that are in development," said Wallen.
In the United States, the number of women who suffer from low libido range from 5 to 9 million. For many years, that market remained an untapped financial goldmine whose worth could exceed $2 billion, analysts said.
In the 1990s, Procter & Gamble, Bayer and Pfizer dabbled in developing a drug to treat female libido. After discarding their plans, no drug company revisited the potential until Boehringer Ingelheim came into the picture with flibanserin.
Boehringer tried to get the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the medication, but the drug was rejected. According to the FDA, flibanserin wasn't that effective and caused side effects like fatigue, dizziness and nausea. Boehringer then sold flibanserin to Sprout Pharmaceuticals in 2011.
Sprout spent four years trying to get flibanserin an FDA approval. It was finally granted in August 2015, and now Addyi has hit the market.
The drug targets brain chemicals in women that are responsible for appetite and mood. Fainting remains a high risk when the drug is taken with alcohol and other medications, and this risk is part of Addyi's warning label. Pharmacists and doctors are also required to take a certification process online to ensure that they understand the risks that come with the drug's prescription.
Dr. Lisa Dabney from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York shared that some patients have inquired about Addyi. However, upon learning that it couldn't be taken together with alcohol, many female patients lost interest.
"It's definitely an option that's going to help patients. But it's going to have a limited patient audience because of the alcohol restrictions and the fact that you have to take it every day," said Dabney.
In some company studies, women who were given regular doses of Addyi were found to have a "slight increase" in sexually gratifying occasions each month. A separate survey done via questionnaire also revealed a slight decrease in stress and slight increase in libido.