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San Francisco Monday, 19 February, 2001, 00:10 GMT
'Viagra principle' harnessed
viagra
Viagra has been a phenomenal success
The chemical reaction which makes Viagra such a successful drug is being harnessed to tackle other illnesses.

Viagra was designed to help men with erectile dysfunction, but one expert in the field, Dr Joseph Beavo, believes that one day soon we will have the equivalent of Viagra for the mind, eyes and lungs.

Certainly, work on similar drugs to tackle asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is already advanced.

Addressing the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, Dr Beavo said there was potential for drugs as effective as Viagra in several areas of disease.

Selective action

Viagra works by stopping the work of a body chemical called phosphodiesterase, which affects only the smooth muscle of the penis.


The problem has been finding a compound which isn't too toxic

Professor Fan Chung, Imperial College
However, there are many different types of phosphodiesterases (PDEs) in different types of cell around the body. There are certainly some which, in theory, affect areas such as insulin production, vision and memory.

Finding a drug that could inhibit the work of these PDEs without affecting any of the others is the goal of many teams of scientists around the world.

Dr Beavo said: "The challenge has been for the drug companies to find agents that are selective for specific phosphodiesterases without causing toxic side effects."

Airway restrictions

So far, Viagra has generated more than $1bn in sales - a successful anti-asthma drug would rival that.

Professor Fan Chung, a professor of respiratory medicine from Imperial College in London, UK, is working on drugs to control two PDEs, which, if successful, would have an impact on the disease.

The first targets and inhibits inflammatory immune cells such as neutrophils, T-cells and macrophages, stopping them from releasing the body chemicals, or cytokines, which cause the airway restrictions characterising an asthma attack.

The other may work on the smooth muscle lining the airways in a similar way to Viagra's effect on smooth muscle in the penis. Professor Chung said: "The problem has been finding a compound which isn't too toxic. But in the last few years we have been getting closer."

See also:

02 Jun 98 | Medical notes
13 Nov 00 | Health
24 May 00 | Health
23 Mar 00 | Health
Links to more San Francisco stories are at the foot of the page.


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