Consumer Reports warns against fast-growing use of testosterone drugs

Consumer Reports has weighed in on the rising use of testosterone drugs, which added some $2 billion to drugmakers' coffers last year. If patients listen to the magazine, pharma companies could watch those numbers shrink.

The magazine is urging men to think carefully before starting on testosterone therapy, citing risks such as enlarged prostate or breasts, blood clots, sleep apnea and cardiovascular effects. Consumer Reports also contends that men are using testosterone replacements unnecessarily. In fact, Consumer Reports' Dr. John Santa figures most men don't need the drugs.

So, Santa worries about the sudden explosion in testosterone drug use--and the advertising that promotes it. Therapies such as Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Axiron; AbbVie's ($ABBV) AndroGel; and Auxilium ($AUXL) and GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Testim have taken off like a rocket over the past few years as companies rolled out new products and amped up their advertising. IMS Health says sales of testosterone drugs grew by 90% over 5 years, reaching $1.9 billion in 2011. By 2017, the entire testosterone market is expected to hit $5 billion.

AndroGel itself has grown to blockbuster status, with $1.15 billion in 2012 sales; it's now AbbVie's second-best-selling drug. GlaxoSmithKline signed on to co-promote Testim with Auxilium Pharmaceuticals last year, and by year's end, the drug had racked up $237 million in sales.

Meanwhile, and not coincidentally, spending on TV and print ads grew by 170% in the three years ending in 2012. Companies spent $14 million promoting prescription testosterone products in 2011; last year, they spent $100 million, Consumer Reports says. According to Nielsen data gathered by FiercePharma, Abbott Labs' ($ABT) drug division, now known as AbbVie, spent $80 million advertising AndroGel to consumers last year. The company's promotional efforts included a disease-awareness campaign to alert men to the symptoms of low testosterone, including low libido and depression.

Drugmakers say they only market the remedies for men who have demonstrably low levels of the male hormone, but experts worry that many are using the drugs for lifestyle reasons--to look or feel younger, or increase sexual drive or improve performance--regardless of their proven effects or of FDA's officially approved indications. Apparently, some men are turning to testosterone for help with erectile dysfunction, Santa told ABC News, but that malady usually isn't caused by low testosterone.

- read the ABC News story

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