San Diego A drug that bombed as an antidepressant is now being touted by its maker as a possible "female Viagra," and local women wanting to take a chance on the experimental substance in exchange for a new sex life can sign up for trials conducted by UCSD's medical school. "Women who have sexual dysfunction should realize this may be a treatable condition, not just a personal problem," says Thuy-Tien L. Dam, M.D., in a news release put out by the school last month to drum up participants. "Candidates for the study are women who have desire problems; women who once had a healthy sex-drive who now notice a big difference in desire level, for some unknown reason."
Though the release doesn't mention it, the drug in question is known as Flibanserin, developed during the 1990s by German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim, which hoped to market it as a treatment for depression. But though experiments showed that the drug reduced stress in laboratory rats, its main effect on humans seemed to be to raise arousal rates in women. So the drug company is now spending millions of dollars on a nationwide experiment with 1400 women in 75 locations, including UCSD, hoping to hit the jackpot if the federal government gives its stamp of approval. But that may not be so easy. Since Flibanserin affects the central nervous system in as yet unknown ways, the Food and Drug Administration is said to be questioning its possible approval as a so-called lifestyle drug marketed solely to enhance sexual activity. Emphasizing possible risks, trial guidelines ban recruiting experimental subjects who have "a history of Major Depressive Disorder within 6 months prior to the start of the study, current suicidal thoughts, or any history of a suicide attempt."