The history of Viagra

The history of Viagra

Famously, the origin story of Viagra’s effect was an accident. In the early 1990s, American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was conducting trials in south east England to see if a new medicine, sildenafil citrate, could reduce high blood pressure and chest pain. The results were underwhelming and the medicine appeared mostly ineffective, leaving the chemists very close to having their funding and project stopped. The little blue pill was close to remaining undiscovered.

A few days later, Pfizer chemists finished a trial of sildenafil with a group of Welsh miners. When asked if they’d experienced anything else during the trial, one of the group raised their hand - they’d had more erections during the night than usual. Other members of the group admitted having the same experience, and the trail of breadcrumbs began.

David Brown, one of the chemists working of the sildenafil trials, now faced a new challenge: securing the funding to research this side effect in a new area of medicine. At the time, erectile dysfunction wasn’t recognised as an illness so patients didn’t talk to their doctors about it. This meant Pfizer had no idea how many men were experiencing it. And this meant they had no idea how common ED was, and how commercially successful a solution would be.

When the idea of creating a medicine which resolved erectile dysfunction was suggested, it wasn’t immediately seen as a huge money maker - but that’s what it went on to be. Since Viagra was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) twenty years ago, it’s racked up tens of billions of dollars in revenue.

Viagra’s marketing normalised talking about ED

When Viagra was first launched, men hardly talked about erectile dysfunction to their doctors, and despite the serious long term impacts of ED, it remained a taboo subject. But things quickly changed. Less than two months after Viagra was approved by the FDA on 27 March 1998, it made the front cover of Time magazine as “The Potency Pill”.

Ex-presidential candidate Bob Dole had been partially paralysed during World War II and experienced erectile dysfunction. He starred in some of the early ads for Viagra and helped to normalise the discussion. After all, men hadn’t been telling their doctors if they were suffering from ED as before Viagra there was no cure for the problem. This meant there was still a lot of stigma around the topic.

How Viagra made it into pop culture

Viagra was subject to a lot of jokes at first, but it skirted the risk of being seen as one. The magic medicine was solving a very real problem for older men. Eventually pop culture took to it too, including having it’s own Sex and the City episode: The Man, The Myth, The Viagra. The little blue pill made its way everywhere, from daytime TV to Saturday Night Live skits, one featuring a woman flushing her husband’s medicine down the toilet.

Why Viagra had to get cheaper

Pfizer has a monopoly on Viagra due to taking out a patent on the medicine, which has allowed them to drive up the cost. This lead to a huge black market for it, which was often fake, useless, or at worst, dangerous. These dangers made it necessary for Pfizer to loosen their hold and make it more affordable.

It’s not long until Pfizer’s patent on Viagra expires, and they’ve already got ahead of the curve by selling their own generic version. It’s the exact same medicine, and only has a few differences: it goes by its chemical name Sildenafil, it’s white instead of blue, and it’s far cheaper. In the US, Pfizer have also allowed Teva Pharmaceuticals to sell generic Viagra, which helps drive prices down.

In the UK, the medicine has been available over the counter since last November, known as Viagra Connect. There are certain circumstances which mean Viagra isn’t suitable for you, but now a pharmacist, not a doctor, can decide if you can buy it.

At Eddie, we wanted to make it as easy and unintrusive as possible for you to buy Viagra Connect. We know talking about ED can be difficult, so we’re making it as straightforward and simple as possible. Simply answer a few questions from our pharmacist, and you can buy a subscription, or get a one off purchase, online.

Content Marketing Officer
Content Marketing Officer
Libby Mayfield

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