Source: Sunday Times
Date: 22 February 2004

Viagra plus passion: the new lust drug

Sarah-Kate Templeton

SCIENTISTS have created the world’s first “lust drug” which can spark desire in men who have lost the ability to become sexually aroused. The drug, taken in the form of a nasal spray, has been successfully tested on 270 impotent men who have all since been able to resume their sex lives.

PT-141, as the drug is provisionally named, works by stimulating the parts of the brain responsible for sexual excitement. Medicines such as Viagra, by contrast, restore a man’s sexual potency by directly increasing blood flow without increasing desire.

Dennis Earle, director of business development and strategic planning at Palatin Technologies, the American company based in New Jersey which has invented the medicine, said: “Let’s assume a man is not aroused by watching a pornographic movie: PT-141 flicks on that arousal switch.”

Only men have been treated with the drug so far, but the researchers are optimistic it could also work for women after successful tests on female laboratory animals. Trials on women are planned soon.

The researchers are also working on combining PT-141 with Viagra for a “super-strength” anti-impotence cocktail. In the next phase of trials, this will be given to men with severe erectile dysfunction.

“We will now go on to evaluate PT-141 in combination with Viagra. This would be primarily for men who do not respond to Viagra alone,” said Earle. “We believe the combination of the two would be extremely powerful.”

The company hopes to market PT-141 by 2008. It will also hope to profit from the booming market in drugs to cure sexual problems. Since it was introduced in the late 1990s, Viagra has become a huge seller in the pharmaceutical industry. Viagra has been taken by 20m people worldwide and in the last quarter of 2003 made £235m for Pfizer, its manufacturer.

However, PT-141 may also be subject to a number of the same criticisms as Viagra whose runaway success has meant it has leaked out on to the black market and can be bought off the internet or even in nightclubs as a recreational drug. The combination of Viagra with a “lust drug” may lead to fears that it will encourage irresponsible sex.

Many experts are also concerned that drugs which treat sexual dysfunction may only be dealing with symptoms of more deep-seated problems in a relationship. When Viagra first came on the market, lovers hoped the pills would revitalise sex lives and were disappointed to find out that they were not a solution to a relationship that had lost its sparkle.

It is not expected that PT-141 will bring loving passion back to couples who are no longer attracted to one another and its inventors point out that it is not an aphrodisiac, merely a chemical stimulant for the brain.

The results of early trials of the spray are reported in the January edition of the International Journal of Impotence Research. The paper states that PT-141 is the only sex drug known to arouse a man without some other form of external stimulation. In medical trials, this is normally provided by racy magazines or films.

PT-141 is a synthetic copy of a chemical in the brain called a melanocyte-stimulating hormone. Within 30 minutes of PT-141 being taken, the drug activates the brain’s melanocortin receptors — the neural nerves involved in sexual arousal — thereby increasing the feeling of sexual interest.

This is believed to prompt the release of other sex hormones in a domino-like effect which then leads to physical arousal.

There is another sex drug, Uprima, which also works on chemicals in the brain to send signals to the sexual organs. However, while Uprima boosts dopamine levels and increases arousal, PT-141 is the only medicine which can prompt a sexual response with no external stimulation.

Other researchers have found that similar drugs to PT-141 can help cut obesity. Melanocortin hormones are also involved in suppressing appetite. Researchers are now investigating them as possible anti-obesity treatments. Others have even suggested a combined “lifestyle” wonder drug which could boost libido and cut weight.

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