The Viagra story – whoda thunk?

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this one before but prior to becoming a mommy I was a research assistant, teaching assistant and medical technician in diagnostics.  So, I’ve been lucky enough to be in contact with some of the best and most up-to-date research in molecular biology and medicine.  It was during some down-time that I heard this story.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Pfizer is the big dog that made Viagra – everyone knows what that is; especially if you don’t have a good spam blocker on your email.  There is a never-ending barrage of ads, anecdotes, jokes, etc. about this ED-fighting drug.  But the story of how it came to be a wonderdrug is a less-well known story.  This was a drug designed to treat angina.  A quick look into the human trial phases for drugs in development sees the drug distributed under the direction of an approved physician to pre-screened candidates that are deemed suitable for the trial.  Such people have to be in need of the drug but also sufficiently healthy and very carefully monitored for their condition as well as for side effects.

Part of the human drug trial phase is safety and efficacy.  Well, at the end of the trial, the physicians polled the participating patients and found that their angina was no better and in many cases worse.  At this point the patients are to give back all remaining pills.  Many of the male patients refused which is naturally against the conditions of trail participation.  With a great deal of questioning, it came out (so to speak) that the reason these male patients didn’t want to give back the pills was a relief of ED symptoms.  And so it was discovered that a drug designed to get Pfizer into the enormous pool of patients with angina instead got them into the unexpected (and as it turned out, far more lucrative) area of ED treatment.

Viagra works by increasing the effectiveness of nitric oxide (NO) in the blood which relaxes smooth muscle tissue and helps the corpus cavernosum of the penis to fill with blood and ‘do it’s thing’.  Likewise NO works on the heart to improve vasodilation and therefore decrease cardiac workload – reducing angina symptoms.  But with every work-around that we’ve ever come up with or discovered in nature, stimulation of one of the myriad processes that the body handles second-by-second can lead to greater efficacy in one downstream pathway over another.  Hence, Viagra working far better on the corpus cavernosum rather than the heart.

Makes you wonder how much research can even be effectively directed to the intended question.  Especially when we are required to use animal models.  Your dog will die if it eats your grapes.  Mice can’t get typhoid with the same bacteria we do.  Really?!?  How effective are animal trials when we know even less about them than we do about us? Big Pharma hit the bullseye for a target they weren’t aiming for –> Viagra.  It’s a scarier thought than it at first seems.

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About YouGetWellSoon

I'm a Calgary mom who left a life of research and teaching to stay at home and raise my children. I'm also a business owner: YouGetWellSoon.
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