Company Behind Viagra for Women Busily Developing Media-Friendly Acronyms for Bad Sex

Last Updated May 19, 2010 12:38 PM EDT

Ladies! Does your HSDD lead to USSE? These and other puzzling acronyms will soon become familiar to you now that Boehringer Ingelheim has finished a positive phase III trial for flibanserin, the Viagra-like pill for women it's developing. In the same way that Pfizer (PFE) replaced the embarrassing "impotence" with the clinically blameless "erectile dysfunction" when it marketed Viagra, BI is dreaming up a bunch of medical euphemisms for loss of libido among pre-menopausal women.

There's a semi-serious lesson for managers in all this. When you're promoting a product that can't be discussed at the dinner table, developing a scientific term for it can get you media coverage that ordinarily wouldn't be available, or advertise it in general audience venues. And it helps you "own" certain themes. (Just ask the people selling adult incontinence or feminine sanitation products.)

HSDD is "Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder" and USSE is an "unsatisfying sexual event." BI's other euphemism for "just not feeling it" is "bothersome decreased sexual desire."

If you're assuming that HSDD or BDSD might be the result of a complicated mixture of relationship, psychological, sexual, cultural and health issues that may not even be a real medical condition, you're probably right. But BI has nonetheless managed to boil down BDSD into a seven-point scale, ranging from 1 (very much improved) through 4 (no change) to 7 (very much worse).

A cynic might suggest that a seven-point scale is a bit too simplistic to distill the mysterious inner erotic life of the human female, so BI also measured women on the FSFI, or "Female Sexual Function Index," which has a 52-point scale. The company reported:

By 24 weeks, 48.3 percent of (of 450) women receiving flibanserin and 30.3 percent of women receiving placebo reported feeling very much improved, much improved or minimally improved (p<0.0001).
Two serious thoughts on this: That statistic appears to imply that 51.7 percent of women on the drug felt negatively about their "sexual events," but BI doesn't elaborate on that.

Also, it's not completely clear from BI's release whether their numbers are primary endpoint results or a retrospective analysis of existing data. The gold standard for drug trials is to have your results prove your primary endpoint, the actual stated goal of the trial.

The company said, "These findings add to data from the primary and secondary endpoint analysis of flibanserin pivotal trials," (emphasis added) which suggests that some of the results in the release are the product of post-hoc cherry-picking from a pre-existing study that had a different primary endpoint.

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