Drug companies have not only sponsored the science of a new condition known as female sexual dysfunction, they have helped to construct it, in order to build global markets for new drugs, reveals an article in the British Medical Journal.
Researching his new book ‘Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals’ Ray Moynihan, journalist and lecturer at the University of Newcastle in Australia, discovered that drug industry employees have worked with paid key opinion leaders to help develop the disease entity; they have run surveys to portray it as widespread; and they helped design diagnostic tools to persuade women that their sexual difficulties deserve a medical label and treatment.
He believes that “drug marketing is merging with medical science in a fascinating and frightening way” and he asks whether we need a fresh approach to defining disease.
He quotes a company employee saying that her company was interested in “expediting the development of a disease” and he reveals how companies are funding surveys that portray sexual problems as widespread and creating tools to assess women for “hypoactive sexual desire disorder.”
Many of the researchers involved in these activities were drug company employees or had financial ties to the industry, writes Moynihan. Meanwhile, scientific studies conducted without industry funding were questioning whether a widespread disorder of low desire really existed.
Industry is also taking a leading role in “educating” both professionals and the public about this controversial condition, he adds.
For example, a Pfizer funded course designed for doctors across the United States claimed that up to 63% of women had sexual dysfunction and that testosterone and sildenafil (Viagra) may be helpful, along with behavioural therapy. And he points out that German drug company Boehringer Ingelheim’s “educational” activities “went into overdrive” as the planned 2010 launch of its desire drug, flibanserin, approached.
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