Sprout Pharmaceuticals Continues to Fight FDA over Female Viagra

The makers of a pill intended to boost sexual desire in women will try again this week to persuade regulators that the drug warrants approval after two rejections.But a new review released by the Food and Drug Administration shows government scientists still have concerns about whether the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks. The FDA review highlights several safety issues with flibanserin, including low blood pressure and fainting spells. Those problems increased when patients combined the drug with alcohol and some other medications, according to the document. A panel of FDA experts will discuss the drug at a public meeting Thursday, before voting on whether to recommend its approval.

Supporters of Sprout’s drug say women’s sexual disorders have been long overlooked by the FDA. But critics argue that drug development efforts like Sprout’s medicalize women’s sexual problems, which are often related to stress, relationship issues and other life circumstances. The drug’s initial developer, Boehringer Ingelheim, abandoned work on the drug in 2011 and sold it to Sprout, a startup company from Raleigh, North Carolina. Sprout resubmitted the drug with additional effectiveness and safety data, but the FDA again rejected the drug in October 2013. Sprout submitted the drug again after filling a formal dispute over the FDA’s second rejection.

Flibanserin is the first drug to approach the issue through brain chemistry. Originally studied as an antidepressant, the pill was repurposed as a libido treatment after women in company studies reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction. But the FDA has twice rejected the drug because of lackluster effectiveness and side effects including fatigue, dizziness and nausea. Clinicians who helped study flibanserin point out that they already prescribe other antidepressants without FDA approval to treat sexual desire disorders. They argue that those drugs, including Wellbutrin and Viibryd, carry worse side effects than flibanserin, such as agitation and seizures.

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