FDA backs ED upstart Stendra as a fast-acting alternative to Viagra

It's no picnic competing with a cultural phenom. Auxilium ($AUXL) and Vivus ($VVUS) know this well: Their new erectile dysfunction pill Stendra has to go up against Pfizer's ($PFE) Viagra. Competition from Eli Lilly's ($LLY) blockbuster Cialis doesn't help, either.

That's why the companies have been studying Stendra for some sort of competitive edge. Now, they may have found one: The FDA backed the ED pill as a fast-acting treatment, taken 15 minutes before sex. Previously, the directions prescribed a 30-minute lead time.

Cue the talk of spontaneity. Lilly's Cialis is taken daily, while Pfizer advises men to take Viagra one to two hours beforehand.

Auxilium's new Stendra campaign features black-and-white ads and cheeky taglines.--Courtesy of Auxilium

Auxilium, which markets Stendra in the U.S. under a deal with Vivus, has already been leaning on the drug's "rapid onset of action" in its rollout. The company launched Stendra last December and in March unveiled a series of ads to tout that speed. The campaign features black-and-white ads that cheekily address the time-to-liftoff countdown. In one spread, an amorous-looking couple embraces in a parked car. "This time he was ready ... before they got home," the tagline winks.

The new marketing hook came at a good time for Auxilium. The company said last week it would hack 30% of its workforce, partly because of low sales of its testosterone replacement therapy Testim. That entire class of drugs is set for another blow to sales, now that an FDA panel has backed new limits on their use.

And earlier this week, Endo Health Solutions ($ENDP) stepped up with a $2.2 billion hostile bid for Auxilium. The company will need as much ammo as it can get to persuade shareholders to let it stay independent and continue with its plans to buy QLT.

- read the release from Auxilium

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