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Monday, January 4, 1999 Published at 14:35 GMT


Viagra rival set for licence

The treatment is marketed as Z-Max in Mexico and the US

Vasomax, an anti-impotence drug that claims to be work faster than Viagra, could soon be available in the UK.

In trials in the US and Mexico, where the treatment is licensed for use under the name Z-max, men have reported it working twice as fast as Viagra.

There have also been fewer side-effects reported using the drug.

However, Pfizer, the company that makes Viagra said that Vasomax is only effective in half as many patients.

The introduction of a second anti-impotence pill to the UK market will put increased pressure on the Department of Health to issue guidelines as to who should receive treatment.

Viagra was licensed for use in the UK in September but doctors were immediately banned from prescribing it on the NHS until the department drew up guidelines.

Vasomax is expected to sell at around £4 to £5 for a 40mg pill, similar to the NHS price of £4.84 for Viagra.

Early licence

Schering-Plough, the US-based company that markets the drug, says the UK Medicines Control Agency could grant a licence for sale of the drug as early as April.

The company applied for the licence in August last year.


[ image: Will Vasomax's little white pills become as well known as Viagra's little blue ones?]
Will Vasomax's little white pills become as well known as Viagra's little blue ones?
The drug was developed by Zonagen, a US company that specialises in reproductive medicine.

Dr Paul Quartey, medical director of Schering-Plough in the UK, said the drug had fewer side-effects than Viagra.

In the US, more than 69 deaths have been linked with Viagra use, although the Lancet medical journal reported that it was not possible to determine the cause as no previous medical histories were available for the 69 men.

"The two areas where the treatments differ are in men with heart disease on nitrates and colour vision," Dr Quartey said.

Patients receiving nitrate-based treatments for heart disease are at risk of having dangerously low blood pressure. This is because Viagra can interact with the nitrates.

'Safety advantages'

A few Viagra users have experienced problems with colour vision after taking the drug, although Dr Quartey said this was rare.

He said no such interactions or visual disturbances had been reported in trials of Vasomax.

However, other known side-effects of Viagra, such as headaches, slightly lower blood pressure and stuffy noses had also been found in Vasomax users, he said.

Dr Quartey said he remained confident that Vasomax would sell well if it was licensed.

"It's a good drug, it works and it has some safety advantages as far as we know now. I see no reason why it shouldn't do as well as Viagra."

Vasomax produces the same effect as Viagra- increased blood flow to the penis - but it does it a different way.

While Viagra targets enzymes that control blood flow to the penis, Vasomax inhibits the nerves that keep blood vessels in the organ tight.

This allows blood to flow in and produce an erection.

'Viagra more effective'

Pfizer said it felt confident that Viagra was a more effective treatment.

Miranda Kavanagh, a director of the company, said: "As I understand it from the limited information available publicly, the efficacy (of Vasomax) is only half that of Viagra."

Side-effects were not a problem when Vaigra was used properly, she said.

"The side-effects of Viagra, in trials of 5,000 patients, were found to be transient and seen in only a small percentage of patients involved, while the efficacy was found to be over 80%."

Dr Quartey said that, in smaller trials, Vasomax had been shown to have 53-59% efficacy at improving sexual performance significantly.

Guidelines

The Department of Health has said that it will shortly publish guidelines on who should be allowed treatments for erectile dysfunction on the NHS.

It is concerned that the rush for treatment could have a devastating impact on prescribing budgets, especially if people seek Viagra for leisure use.

It wants to ensure that only those with a genuine clinical need receive such treatments.

But Dr Quartey warned that clarification was urgently needed.

"It's a muddle right now where doctors don't know if they can prescribe it and individuals don't know if they go to their doctor whether they will get it," he said.

"What is needed is clear guidelines. It's less important what they are so long as they are there."



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