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An Oral History of Viagra

Nineteen years after Viagra was made available to the public (by prescription), a generic version was released today. Viagra made a grand run during that time, becoming a household term even among those who never used it. The story behind the drug is told by those who were there, the scientists at Pfizer Inc., the doctors who prescribed it, the FDA that approved it, and the marketers that made it famous. It all started out in low-priority trials for sildenafil, which might have been a treatment for high blood pressure and chest pain.  

David Brown (Pfizer chemist) : It was so close to failure that people weren’t coming to the meetings. I mean, you know how people sort of smell failure and disappear? It was that close.

I think it was June 1993. I stood up in front of the clinical development committee—senior management—and, as in previous quarters, got crucified for wasting money. And I was given an ultimatum, basically: “Come back in September. If you’ve not got good data then, we’re closing it.

Literally days after that, we were doing a study in South Wales on miners. At the end, there’s always kind of an open question: Is there anything else you noticed you want to report? One of the men put up his hand and said, “Well, I seemed to have more erections during the night than normal,” and all the others kind of smiled and said, “So did we.” That was the breakthrough.

Ian Osterloh (Pfizer research and development): At the time, no one really thought, “This is fantastic, this is great news, we’re really onto something here. We must switch the direction of this program.”

Read how Viagra went from failed experimental blood pressure drug to the most talked-about pharmaceutical in the world at Bloomberg. 

(Image credit: SElefant)


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