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The inventor of Viagra shares how its popularity began with Welsh miners.


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It was a fortunate coincidence: a heart medication that didn’t work well, turned out to be a highly successful treatment for erectile dysfunction, earning billions of dollars. However, the success of Viagra could have had a different outcome if it weren’t for the honesty of the Welsh miners who participated in a clinical trial just before the drug was going to be abandoned, as stated by one of its co-inventors.

Dr. David Brown, speaking before the showing of “Men Up,” a new BBC drama produced by Russell T Davies, discussed the unexpected side-effect of a drug during early trials. The drug’s effects on ordinary middle-aged Welsh men were nearly missed.

Brown, a previous medicinal chemist at Pfizer, stated, “The entire situation could have easily been overlooked. I believe there would not be any medication available today if it weren’t for that one miner speaking up.”

Brown was in charge of developing sildenafil as a possible treatment for angina, but the outlook was not favorable. By 1993, Pfizer had nearly given up on the project.

According to Brown, who currently runs the company Healx which utilizes artificial intelligence for drug development, the statement essentially conveyed that the money invested for the past eight years was a waste and the project will now be terminated.

As a final attempt, a research was conducted at a medical facility in Merthyr Tydfil, located in south Wales. Brown stated, “We were uncertain if the dose was correct. We believed that increasing the dose may result in a greater impact on angina.”

The city, which had experienced financial struggles and job loss due to the shutdown of coalmines, had many eager individuals willing to help. According to Brown’s memory, the male participants received a payment of £300 to take part in a drug study that required them to stay overnight at the clinic, give blood samples, and be observed.

“The following morning, the study’s female conductor distributed a survey,” Brown explained. “The final question was always open-ended, inquiring if there were any additional effects that were observed.”

There may have been individuals who were hesitant to bring up the topic, but one person bravely spoke up and revealed that they had experienced frequent erections throughout the night. Brown noted that this person must have been taking the strongest dosage. Other volunteers also shared similar experiences.

Pfizer’s clinical associate informed Brown about an uncommon side effect. According to him, “She was a very attractive young woman with blonde hair. She seemed embarrassed when she told me about it.” He responded, “I believe I know the reason for this occurrence.”

Viagra pills

Upon further examination, it was discovered that the medication, intended to dilate blood vessels near the heart for better circulation, was also causing similar effects on arteries in the penis. Brown and a fellow medical professional quickly recognized the potential for commercial success, but their superior initially dismissed the notion of shifting focus to erectile dysfunction treatment.

“I had a moment of realization,” recalled Brown, “I closed his office door and firmly stated, ‘I will not leave until you give me the money’. It was a risk, but an hour later he handed over the money.”

Brown expressed concern when going through the documents from previous trials and finding that other participants had reported having erections, but this information was not shared – likely because it was seen as inappropriate or irrelevant.

The drug would not exist if the miner and clinical research associate had not spoken up, according to him. This could have been overlooked otherwise.

The drug Viagra has provided a never-ending source of material for comedians. However, for Brown and his team, erectile dysfunction was not a laughing matter but rather a significant unmet medical necessity.

According to Brown, Pfizer prioritizes profit above all else. They are quick to jump on opportunities that promise large financial gains. As soon as the news reached their New York headquarters, they wasted no time in acquiring the drug. Within two weeks, the drug went from being disregarded to becoming the top product in their global portfolio.

In 1998, the medication was released for sale and quickly became one of the most commonly prescribed drugs ever, positively impacting the lives of countless individuals.

Although he played a crucial part in the development of Viagra, Brown claims that men rarely express gratitude for the invention or openly discuss issues with erectile dysfunction. He stated, “I have never had a man bring it up to me.” This speaks volumes about the stigma and shame surrounding male sexual health and impotence. It remains a significant taboo in society.

He holds reservations about the Viagra experiments being the source of motivation for Men Up, set to be broadcast during the Christmas season – but admits he will still tune in to watch. “It concerns me a bit,” he remarked. “As a logical scientist, the origins of discoveries hold significance in the realm of scientific philosophy. Breakthroughs are not common and comprehending the factors behind them is crucial in the field of science. However, when it comes to television drama, I anticipate that some of the details may be altered. I would prefer it to be based on factual information.”

Source: theguardian.com