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FDA Approves Viagra Rival

The government approved sale of a second pill to treat erectile dysfunction Tuesday, setting the stage for a fierce battle with Viagra in the billion-dollar-plus impotence market.

The new drug, Levitra, is in the same family as Viagra. Both work by targeting an enzyme important for maintaining an erection. The Food and Drug Administration approved Levitra Tuesday.

Until now, the blue, diamond-shaped Viagra pills have been the only oral prescription drug available for an estimated 30 million American men who suffer some degree of impotence — most of whom don't seek medical therapy.

Levitra, made by Bayer AG and marketed by GlaxoSmithKline, recently began selling in Europe. A third impotence pill — Cialis, from Eli Lilly & Co. and Icos Corp. — also has European approval and is expected to hit U.S. pharmacies later this year.

All three drugs work in the same manner, and there have been no published studies directly comparing the pills to determine advantages of each.

With the new competition, urologists expect a boom in direct-to-consumer advertising that might entice more men suffering from impotence to visit a doctor and check out their options.

Sales of Viagra, which hit the market in 1998, totaled $1.7 billion last year. Even before it had competition, Pfizer Inc. made the pill one of the nation's most heavily promoted drugs, spending $101 million on marketing in 2001 alone.

Bayer and Glaxo haven't detailed their marketing plans for Levitra yet, but they are beginning a three-year sponsorship deal with the National Football League reported to be worth about $18 million.

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