Sprout Pharmaceuticals plans to expand its workforce from 34 employees to just over 200 as it builds a specialty sales force to market its female libido drug Addyi to health care professionals.
“Our focus is really on educating the marketplace and setting realistic expectations out there,” CEO Cindy Whitehead said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
Addyi is expected to be available to patients by Oct. 17. Sprout will certify health care providers and pharmacists by having them review an online presentation and complete a knowledge assessment at the end, Whitehead said.
The company has no near-term plans to do direct-to-consumer marketing through TV, radio or other outlets, Whitehead said.
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Addyi can be prescribed to pre-menopausal women who have been diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
Although Addyi has frequently been referred to in media reports as the “female viagra,” Whitehead said part of the education process will be explaining that the company’s drug works differently than the drug taken by men. Addyi works by influencing brain chemistry, particularly the levels of dopamine and serotonin.
“Normal sexual desire fluctuates, hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a medical condition,” Whitehead said. Women who have lost interest in sex because of their partner, or because of stress or a hectic schedule, are not candidates to take the drug, she said.
Whitehead said it remains to be seen how large the potential market for the drug is in the U.S.
“We’re the first of our kind, the first in this class,” she said. “ ... We don’t know how many women will be treatment seeking.”
The company hasn’t set a price for the drug. But Sprout expects patients with insurance will have a copay of between $30 and $75, which is similar to the policies that now cover Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs. The company also plans to offer a copay assistance program when the drug is launched.
Sprout officials were asked about the possibility that the drug could eventually be approved for older women, particularly post-menopausal women. Whitehead said Sprout will look to conduct follow-up studies on those patients in the future.
Sprout also plans to begin seeking approval of Addyi in other markets next year. The company has already had initial discussions with regulators in Canada and Europe, Whitehead said.
Sprout officials were asked several times about the role that advocacy groups played in the FDA’s decision. Whitehead said repeatedly that the decision was based on science, and that the pressure put on regulators did not influence their decision.
“I think Addyi’s not only a breakthrough moment for women but marks a monumental shift in the dialogue around women and sexual desire,” Whitehead said. “Yesterday, it’s my opinion that science won and so too did women.”