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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 15:17 GMT

July: Gill Samuels, Viagra creator

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Gill Samuels, director of science policy at the Pfizer Central Research Site, Sandwich, Kent, is one of the key developers of the impotence drug Viagra, which has provoked a storm of publicity during 1998.

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The last 12 months has been an enormously exciting time. Viagra has been the first programme I have ever worked on where there has been such a tremendous response from paitents.

Even in the early stages when it was known that we were doing trials in the UK we had patients writing in wanting to participate, and we have had some wonderful letters from patients who participated in those trials.

Even before Viagra was launched in the US in April we realised that it had a very profound effect.

The question was how many of those men who did have erectile dysfunction would actually want to receive treatment for it? It was very, very difficult to predict the absolute numbers.

There is no doubt about it that the media interest in Viagra raised the awareness of erectile dysfunction, and probably encouraged men who had the problem, but did nothing about it, to contact their doctor.

Stunning success

In six months in the US probably three million men have taken Viagra. That is the kind of figure you would normally have two years after the launch of a new drug. It is quite stunning.

Unfortunately a number of men have died after taking Viagra. Any death is a tragedy, and we are always concerned when there are reports of serious adverse events associated with the use of any of our pharmaceuticals. But to my knowledge none of these deaths have been directly attributable to Viagra.

One thing that we have to remember is that we are talking about approximately 130 deaths among over 3,000,000 men who have received Viagra.

Many of them are older and often have another disease such as heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes. When you resume sexual activity that can actually place a strain on the heart. It is exercise and it does increase cardiac workload.

Cost a gross exaggeration

We were annoyed when the press reports came out in Britain in July claiming that Viagra would cost the NHS 1bn a year, because that was way out from our best estimates.

We predicted that the cost of Viagra in five years time to the NHS would be no more than 50m a year.

It has really been a matter of trying to correct the figure in people's minds ever since. I think that is a representation of a lot of the media reports on the compound. It has been very, very difficult to produce a sense of reality around Viagra.

While a new medicine is under regulatory approval there is almost nothing we as a company can say, so the media can have a field day, and we are not in a position to contradict - it is most unfortunate.

Sad state of affairs

The NHS already funds drugs for erectile dysfunction to the tune of 12m a year, and here we talking about something like Viagra which costs around half the existing therapies. It was all a very confused and confusing situation for many people.

It is very sad that the NHS has put a temporary ban on NHS prescription of Viagra. We hope that the issue will be settled, so that patients can get the most most appropriate treatment.

We also hope that the media becomes bored with printing some of the more salacious type of stories.

If I could have changed anything this year, without any doubt it would be the knee jerk reactions by people to media stories.
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In this section

January: Scott Ritter

February: Touched by an angel

March: Jane Couch

April: Gitta Sereny

May (1): People of Northern Ireland

May (2): Mo Mowlam

June: The England-Argentina referee

July: Gill Samuels, Viagra creator

August: David Shayler

September: Neville Lawrence

October: Ann Widdecombe

November: Sally Becker

December: Deborah Hickey