(CNN)The US Food and Drug Administration approved a drug to return sexual desire to some women with low libido, the agency said Friday.
The drug, bremelanotide, sold under the brand name Vyleesi by AMAG Pharmaceuticals, is an injection to be taken before sex. It's intended to treat women who are premenopausal and have hypoactive sexual desire disorder, where a lack of interest in sex may cause significant distress in a woman's life.
It will be available in September, and the company has not yet determined pricing or reimbursement information, according to AMAG spokeswoman Sarah Connors.
"Most women who come into my office have no idea that there's this condition ... and that they are one of millions," said Sheryl Kingsberg, division chief of Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Kingsberg was involved in the drug's clinical trials and has served as a paid consultant for the companies responsible for its marketing and development, AMAG and Palatin Technologies.
Kingsberg, a clinical psychologist, said that "the impact of sexual dysfunction on a woman's self-esteem, on her body image, on her self-confidence and on her relationship is profound."
Experts say the diagnosis is the most common type of sexual dysfunction among women, estimated to affect between 8% to 10% of women. Kingsberg said the FDA's decision gives clinicians another tool to help these women.
"No matter how good my psychotherapy, how good the relationship, how good their beliefs and values are about sexuality being healthy, there are a huge number of them that I cannot help because there is an underlying biologic issue," she said. In that way, she added, it is similar to depression, which has biological underpinnings that have been revealed over decades, prompting the development of drug therapies.
Not the first drug for women's sexual desire
Bremelanotide is not the first drug to be approved for this purpose. The drug flibanserin, sold as Addyi by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, was approved in August 2015. However, in the wake of both fanfare and controversy, the drug has not been not widely used, in part because women couldn't take it with alcohol and health care providers had to be specially certified to prescribe it.
"Based on our data, we don't have an interaction with alcohol, so we don't believe there will be a restriction," Dr. Julie Krop, chief medical officer of AMAG Pharmaceuticals, said of Vyleesi.
Another difference between the drugs is that Addyi, an oral tablet, is taken once daily, whereas patients can take bremelanotide as needed, Krop added.
"They don't want to have desire all the time," she said.
Some have billed the drug as a "female Viagra," though Viagra acts on blood vessels, whereas bremelanotide acts on brain receptors.
"Female sexual dysfunction is more complicated in some ways than male sexual dysfunction, so it's more difficult to treat," said Dr. Nicole Cirino, co-director of the Menopause and Sexual Therapy Clinic at Oregon Health and Science University's Center for Women's Health. She was not involved in the drug's research or development.