Hard Science: Rx For Sex

There's Competition For Viagra In The Next Wave Of Drugs

On a quiet corner of Beverly Hills, there's a revolution that's taking place: the men's sexual revolution.

"At many levels, this is bigger than the advent of the birth control pill and its impact on the sexual revolution of the late '60s," says Dr. Harin Padma-Nathan, head of The Male Clinic, a place dedicated to eradicating erectile dysfunction.

"This is one of the largest sexual medical research centers in the world."

The medicines his clinic tests in industry-financed trials include pills, a cream, even a nasal spray that has nothing to do with a stuffy head. These are the drugs taking the revolution to new heights.

Correspondent Bill Lagattuta met with five of the clinic's patients: Wes, Tolman, Joe, Curt and John.

Do they know what they're being given?

"I have no idea. I just sign the dotted line, say I'll be the guinea pig and go for it," says John Britton, 51, an athletic instructor who developed erectile dysfunction after he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Over the past eight years, John has tested several drugs for Dr. Padma-Nathan, including Viagra, with mixed success. He and his wife, Tracy, record their results in diaries and questionnaires.

"You definitely know when it works and when it doesn't," says Tracy.

"She's been great, and she's stuck with it," says John. "She does get benefits out of it, though."

Some of the most dramatic benefits have come from a brand new pill called Cialis. It reportedly lasts up to 36 hours, and its nickname is "the weekender."

"It was exciting, added to the intimate experience," says John. "Great to feel like I got all of my magic powers back, and obviously my wife was happy and I was happy."

Thanks to clinical testing by couples like John and Tracy, Cialis was just approved by the FDA last month. It is the most recent prescription medication to challenge Viagra, the reigning ED champ.

"The first time the Viagra worked, I just wanted to go screaming 'Eureka!' and running around the room," says retired businessman Tolman Jeffs, a prostate cancer survivor. "I don't feel like a revolutionary. I just feel very fortunate to be in the program."

He was one of the first patients in the world to test Viagra in one of Dr. Padma-Nathan's experiments eight years ago. He says he's been a user ever since.

The rest, as we now know, has become medical, social and marketing history. Who could forget the famous Bob Dole ED ad?

New York advertising guru Donnie Deutsch says that even though the famous Bob Dole ad never even mentioned the name of the product, it put Viagra on the cultural map.

"Viagra's a huge name. And it's almost become a generic name. You know, the first drug into a category becomes a category. It's the Kleenex, if you will," says Deutsch.

For millions of men like Tolman, Viagra was the magic pill they'd been waiting for. But the magic doesn't work for everyone. And according to the pharmaceutical industry, there are nearly 25 million men not taking Viagra who could benefit from ED treatment. So now, more than a dozen other companies are rushing in to tap into that multi-billion dollar market.

"Then it becomes a share battle. It's not just good enough to say, 'Hey, we solved this problem,'" says Deutsch. "We gotta do it faster, we gotta do it better, we gotta do it safer."

Four of the men 48 Hours talked to have tried Levitra, a new pill, including Joseph Anzallo, 61, who developed ED when he got diabetes.

"I think if I had to purchase one of the products, I would purchase Levitra," says Joseph.

Levitra, which has been on the market for the past few months, is very similar to Viagra. But the ads have come a long way since the Bob Dole days. One ad features a younger, average Joe, who just needs a little help with his "aim."

"You really don't have to be Fellini to figure out what is going on here," says Deutsch, laughing. "All I'm missing is the train going through the tunnel!"

That ad, with all of its Freudian implications, says everything you need to know about where the male sexual revolution is heading. ED – "erectile dysfunction" -- is old news. EQ -- "erectile quality" -- is now the name of the game.

"I think they're going for an entire male audience, because it's basically they're going for anybody who has sex," says Deutsch. "I think there are a lot of guys out there using this way beyond erectile dysfunction, and I think the ad companies are quite happy about that."

"This is a great product, in certain cases solving problems for men, in other cases making life better for men," adds Deutsch. "Advertising doesn't create that, they are certainly exploiting it, they are certainly hitting that nerve, and welcome to America."

In the secure medicine closet at the Male Clinic, more drugs are awaiting FDA approval -- and a chance to get in the game.

The first stage of testing often takes place not at home but here in the lab – where patients wear a device called a rigidometer and watch pornographic videos.

"We start the visual stimulation, and we measure the erection response which is what you see by the bars here," says Padma-Nathan, pointing at the computer screen.

Some of the newest medications that recently passed these early tests may eventually send all these pills the way of the horse and buggy.

CPA Wes Witt, 61, a prostate cancer patient, has been trying a cream called Alprox-TD. Unlike the Viagra and Levitra that he tried with limited success, Wes says that the results were nearly instant and automatic with this cream.

"I was obviously quite relieved and very excited when I found out I could be a man again," says Wes.

His wife, Dixie, says: "It's good for your marriage. Come on, let's face it. It's not everything, but it's an important part of a marriage."

But perhaps the most truly revolutionary treatment in the pipeline is a nasal spray recently tested by photographer Curt Huettner, 45, the group's lone bachelor. Like many younger ED patients, Curt has no other serious health problem.

How did this drug make him feel? "It made the process of getting an erection feel like you were a 15-year-old boy again," says Curt.

The spray is called PT141, and unlike the other medicines, which operate on the penis itself, it works on the area of the brain that triggers erections to begin with.

"It helped the libido so you had the urge and desire to get active and get things goin' again," says Curt.

Of course, the medical community doesn't want to use a word like "aphrodisiac," but a drug that stimulates desire could rewrite the rules of the whole game. Apparently, PT141 could work for women, too. There are all sorts of new possibilities.

As the male sexual revolution marches forward on these new fronts, its foot soldiers have never been more motivated.

"My wife has been very supportive," says Tolman. "And also made it very, very clear that with or without sex and she still loves me. And I still love her. But it's better if we have the intimacy."

And thanks to their pioneering work, there may never have been a better time to be a man.

"There seems to be something for everybody," says John. "The odds are that something's going to work."

"We wanna stay young. We wanna stay vital," adds Donnie. "And this generation is gonna do anything it can to keep itself young and vital."