The Little Blue Pill




A team of scientists in an R&D facility of Pfizer headed by Dr. Nicholas Terrett started working on a cardiovascular drug.   1989: Dr. Albert Wood and Dr. Peter Dunn create a pill form of a new drug, sildenafil citrate, to address high blood pressure and angina. Clinical trials on animals show positive results. Considered a useful drug, it moves to the clinical development stage. Human testing of the drug was yet to commence. 1991: Dr. Nicholas Terrett comes up with its trade name, and the drug gets a British patent to treat cardiovascular problems.  1990-1993: The drug is tested on volunteers in clinical trials.

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1993: “How are the trials of sildenafil citrate coming up?” asks Dr. Ian Osterlough, responsible for the clinical development of the drug. “We have collated the response from all our centers. The results are dampening. We don’t see any major effect on blood pressure. However, volunteers are lining up for it,” said his assistant. “One in 15000 chemical compounds will last the journey from the laboratory to launch and make it to the market. Only one in fifteen of those (that get as far as being tested on humans) will survive. Many of us will work a lifetime without seeing any of our projects getting completed.  The animal trials were promising. I believed we had a good drug at hand. Unfortunately, we will have to abandon the project. What makes the volunteers queue up? I wonder. Anyway, please plot all the side effects on a graph and send the report to Dr. Terrett,” said Dr. Osterlough.

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A couple of days later: “Dr. Osterlough. There is an interesting observation. I need to talk to the nurses who are administering the drug to volunteers. Please arrange a meeting asap,” said Dr. Terret. Dr. Terret addressed a meeting of all the nurses of one center.  “There is one noting, by a very observant nurse. I want you to validate the observation. Please raise your hands if you have also noted an ‘erection’ in the male volunteers.” All the hands went up immediately. Later “Most of the volunteers were lying on their stomachs after the dose. They were embarrassed by this side effect,” the Head R&D confirmed.  Dr. Terret threw his fist up in the air. He was ecstatic.  “We will reposition the drug, create a new market.” New trials conducted on volunteers with erectile dysfunction showed increased erections within an hour of taking the drug. *** 1996- Pfizer patents the drug in the US 1998 –USFDA approves using sildenafil citrate to treat erectile dysfunction in a record time of two years. Pfizer pioneered in providing a solution to erectile dysfunction in a pill form. It made $411 million in the first year of launch, and the drug went on to be one of its best-sellers. A drug initially tested for heart problems now revolutionized bedrooms.   Serendipity gave the world The little blue pill – Viagra.

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Glossary: Angina: Severe pain in the chest because of inadequate blood supply to the heart   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!