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New 'sex pills' may put heat on Viagra

With FDA approval, new drugs will join Viagra in the U.S. impotency treatment market.
With FDA approval, new drugs will join Viagra in the U.S. impotency treatment market.

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Mayo Clinic

(CNN) -- Viagra, the little blue pill that has dominated the male impotence market in the United States since its launch in 1998, will be getting some competition soon.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved rival drug Levitra for use in the United States, and Cialis is awaiting the federal government's go-ahead. The pills, already available in Europe, are similar to Viagra in the way they work.

"Levitra is like Viagra 2.0," said Dave Zinczenko, editor of Men's Health magazine. "Just like you upgrade cell phones and laptops, 'sex pills' have made a lot of advances."

Levitra works more quickly -- within 16 minutes -- than Viagra, which takes 30 minutes to an hour to kick in, Zinczenko said. The makers of Levitra also claim the drug can last up to 50 percent longer than Viagra, with fewer side effects.

Meanwhile, Cialis has been dubbed "the weekender" because of its reputed ability to last up to 36 hours.

But no studies have been published comparing the use of the medications with each other.

Side effects for such drugs can include headaches, upset stomachs and nasal stuffiness.

In addition, health experts said these pills can have harmful interactions with other drugs such as heart medications and should only be taken by prescription.

Erectile dysfunction is a disorder that affects up to an estimated 30 million men, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In five years, Pfizer Inc.'s Viagra has become one of the best-known brand names in the world and claims about 3 million users in the United States. Worldwide, it stacked up more than $1.7 billion in sales last year.

Bayer AG, along with Eli Lilly & Co. and ICOS Corp., the makers of Levitra and Cialis, respectively, are looking to grab some of the field with their U.S. entrance.

With the aging of baby boomers, the market is only expected to grow, analysts said.

"There is no question that the demographics of the aging population support increased [use] of drugs for erectile dysfunction," said Tony Butler, a pharmaceutical analyst with Lehman Brothers. "The number of people approaching the age of 50 is increasing in every year."

But does America really need another sex pill?

"My sense is that the discussion around erectile dysfunction and physicians may be somewhat more enthusiastic or easier as new products enter the market," Butler said. "The barriers between ... patient and physician will be much easier with newer entrants [to the market]."

Dr. Jennifer Berman, a urologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said she believes the new medications may be warranted if improvements have been made and options are created for patients.

"Viagra is a very safe, very well-tolerated medication, but it doesn't necessarily work in all men," Berman said. "And I think that the goals of these other drugs are to increase the number of people who might benefit from these drugs."

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