Who’ll win the billion-dollar race?

The race of the century has started. No, it’s not a recap of the great Depression-era horse race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. It’s the erectile dysfunction (ED) contest between three giant pharmaceutical companies.

So what should you know about these competing drugs? If you haven’t heard of Viagra, it’s time for a nursing home. Pfizer was first on the market with Viagra to remind the sexually inept that it has the answer for them. Already, 20 million impotent men have risen to the occasion. Now, two new ED drugs are pursuing Viagra, determined to gain a share of the market.

All three impotence drugs work by blocking an enzyme that keeps muscle cells from relaxing. Released from this inhibition, muscles relax, allowing increased blood flow into the penis. If you have heart trouble and are taking a nitrate-based medicine, then ED drugs must not be prescribed for you. The combined effect of these drugs may cause a precipitous drop in blood pressure, with dire consequences. And other side effects, such as flushing, head-aches and upset stomach, occur in five to 10 per cent of cases.

Some researchers believe that the need for ED ugs may indicate underlying heart disease. This is currently an unsolved issue but there is a possible relationship since atherosclerosis decreases blood supply in both cases.

Only 15 per cent of men suffering from ED have sought treatment so far, so there’s a huge market out there, particularly if those in the untreated group could be persuaded to try the therapy. No wonder the pharmaceutical companies have pumped up their marketing plans, aiming to attract the attention of those many shy, impotent males.

So which drug will be the Seabiscuit of ED? Viagra, with a huge start, is halfway around the track. But it should be consumed without food, requires about an hour to being to have an effect and lasts four hours. It’s ideal for those who prefer sex to a gourmet meal.

Eli Lilly’s Cialis has been labelled the “Le Weekend” drug, lasting an incredible 36 hours. My initial reaction was “Wow!” You could pop one every few days and live in a state of perpetual erectile paradise. But 36 hours! Suppose after you take the pill, your partner gets a prolonged migraine headache. In your frustrated state the next morning, you pass several attractive women on your way to work, and Cialis opens the vascular floodgates.

I picture males sneaking through back doors and some subsequent interesting office scenarios. Besides, there’s a possibility that the longer-acting drug may also have longer-acting side effects.

Is it really necessary?
In the real world, who needs 36 hours of erectile bliss? If you have to chase your partner for that long before she says yes, your problem involves a lot more than ED. Moreover, humans are not like lions, which copulate every 15 minutes at mating time. So what do seniors really want? Studies show that most only want sex once a week or less.

Levitra, a joint venture of Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, lasts for four hours and can be taken with meals. So you can enjoy a romantic dinner with your partner, share a bottle of the best vintage wine, then turn the lights down low, in anticipation of an amorous interlude. But wine has a profoundly soporific effect. I envision some seniors sleeping rather than sexing with Levitra.

How effective are these drugs? Studies show that ED drugs provide erectile bliss for one-third of males, adequate response from another third and are a dismal flop in the rest. It is not well publicized that failure is often due to low amounts of the male hormone testosterone. A drug to increase testosterone, such as Andriol, along with an ED drug, may be the ultimate answer.

Since I have no personal experience with any of these drugs or any luck betting on horses, don’t ask me who is going to win the billion-dollar race. But if ED drugs prove to be a failure for some seniors, all is not lost. An Israeli scientist, Ya’acov Leshem, at Bar-Ilan University, put Viagra into a vase of cut flowers and found they stayed fresh longer than usual before wilting.