UPDATED: FDA to Sprout: Forget advertising your sex-drive med till 2017

Sex sells and Sprout's Addyi is likely to do just that. But it won't be thanks to any big-time advertising, at least at first. Sprout got approved for Addyi, the first drug to treat low female sex drive this week, but part of its agreement with the FDA means it won't market or advertise the drug on radio or TV for 18 months.

That might not matter. Thanks to widespread media coverage--along with the drug's "little pink pill" and "female Viagra" memes and long-standing arguments on the unfairness of sexual dysfunction drugs for men but not women--demand for a treatment is already building.

Eighty percent of women surveyed recently by Treato said they would take a daily pill to improve a low sex drive. Another 73% said they were likely to discuss low sex drive with a physician. However--and this may be where Sprout's inability to advertise could work against them--70% of the women in Treato's group had never heard of a drug treatment for women's low sex drive before participating in the survey.

Will doctors be inundated with requests? Maybe. But education, not only on what the drug is, but how it works, will be important. Unlike Pfizer's Viagra or Eli Lilly's Cialis for men, which have the physiological effect of increasing blood flow, Addyi is a psych drug. It works in the brain to increase dopamine, stimulate some receptors and block others, making the effect more indirect. Also, Addyi must be taken daily for at least a month before it works, versus the same-day effectiveness window for male treatments.

Addyi's initial marketing will focus on physicians, with plans to hire a sales force of 200 to call on them, Sprout CEO Cindy Whitehead told the New York Times. She expects insurance companies to cover Addyi, making it available to women at co-pays between $30 and $75. And Sprout will help patients with co-pays, she added. 

Marketing has played a key role all along the Addyi saga. Critics argue that it was marketing in the first place that got Addyi approved. The FDA had twice rejected the drug--once under previous owner Boehringer-Ingelheim and once under Sprout. After its rejection, Sprout did more testing and helped launch an organization called "Even the Score," along with two dozen women's groups, to lobby on behalf of a drug for women who suffered from low libido.

- read Sprout's press release
- see the NYT story

Editor's note: This story was updated with details about Sprout's commercial plans for Addyi and background on its drive for approval.