(7 Dec 2017) LEADIN:
The little blue pill that's reinvigorated the sex lives of millions of men is turning white.
Two decades after its U.S. launch, drugmaker Pfizer's iconic blockbuster Viagra is getting its first generic competition next week.
Like millions of other men, Daniel Lobello's life improved dramatically when he started taking Viagra.
Drugmaker Pfizer is launching its own cheaper generic version of Viagra, rather than lose sales when the impotence pill gets its first generic competition on Monday (11th December).
Lobello says: "Having access to the medication has improved my relationship, because it takes a lot of the stress and tension away."
Pfizer's new white pill will be half the 65 US dollars-a-pill people paid for the blue pill.
Lobello nods when his doctor Matthias Hofer asks: "You pay all of it just out of your pocket, right?"
Hofer who works at Northwestern Memorial Hospital says: "It will specifically make a difference for patients who were not able to or unwilling to afford the expenses associated with Viagra now."
Generic maker Teva Pharmaceuticals will start selling its version next week, but it's not disclosing the price.
Even more generics go on sale next summer and that will steadily reduce the cost of medical bills for erectile dysfunction or ED, the name coined by Pfizer.
Lobello welcomes the change: "It's great that the drug companies are starting to cut the prices down on the meds, because it is something that people, men, need. But since it's gone to a generic form, it's gone even cheaper, so there's other avenues now to get the medication than just going to your local pharmacist and doing it under your prescription plan."
Launched in 1998, Viagra was the first drug treatment for impotence.
It transformed a private embarrassment and frustration into a publicly discussed medical condition.
It made treatment easy and certainly more palatable compared with options like penile injections and implants.
Eli Lilly's Cialis came out in 2003 and now dominates the U.S. market with on-demand pills and daily, low-dose ones. Viagra is a close second.
Pfizer says its market research shows 20 percent of customers are loyal to Viagra.
Rather than give up sales to generic makers as drugmakers once did, the company is also fighting to keep men on the brand-name blue pills.
Jim Sage, president of U.S. brands for Pfizer Essential Health says: "We will continue to support the branded version of Viagra. It'll maintain the same name. There will also be a generic version, and in our case, Pfizer's case, we will have an authorized generic."
In January, the drugmaker will offer two new discount programs and bigger copayment card discounts.
Uninsured men can get Viagra half off for cash through an innovative online home delivery program, Pfizer Direct.
Erik Gordon, a professor and pharmaceuticals analyst at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, says Pfizer's undertaking is unprecedented.
"What usually happens is companies cut off marketing, because they're going to lose 90 or 98 percent of the business pretty quickly no matter what they do," Gordon says.
"Pfizer is really hoping to keep a lot of the business. Even if it keeps 20 percent of the business, this campaign will be a success."
Lobello is satisfied with the pills he's taking, but thinks a lot of men probably would start using generic or brand-name Viagra when the cost comes down.
He is one of millions looking forward to lower medical bills.
Hofer says: "I think it will be a stimulus for patients to be able to buy Viagra, the brand Viagra, in pharmacies for a reduced price. There's no question about that."
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The class of drugs that Levitra, Viagra, Stendra, and Cialis belong to are called PDE5 inhibitors. They work by relaxing tight blood vessels, allowing more blood to surge into the penis and cause an erection, says Gregory Bales, M.D., an associate professor of urology at the University of Chicago.
The little pills do the trick for more than two-thirds of men with Viagra protects the heart (ED). They also work for guys who simply need them for a short time to get their “confidence back,” says Michael Eisenberg, M.D., director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University.