When researchers at the University of Arizona discovered a molecule that could help people lose weight and get a tan, they were surprised to see that not only were the male test subjects looking buffed and bronzed, but at a very low dose, they were also sexually excited.
This is not your grandfather’s Spanish fly. It’s not even your middle aged father’s Viagra or Cialis. Taken as a nasal spray the new drug called PT-141 may actually cause sexual arousal. Currently in development by Palatin Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey based company, PT-141 could be considered for FDA approval within the next year.
Like Vigara or Cialis, it is being marketed as a treatment mainly for sexual disorders in men, but unlike those drugs, PT-141 has the potential to help both men and women. It is believed to act on receptors for a hormone called melanocortin, which are found in the brain and elsewhere in the body.
“The crucial point about PT-141 is that it directly targets the brain’s arousal centres,” said Dr. Carl Spana, president and chief executive officer of Palatin Technologies. Impressed by the original test trials on female rats, Spana decided to invest millions of dollars into the research.
“The drugged female rats wasted no time in mounting the male rats,” he told New York Magazine.
The drug could even prove to be more popular than Viagra which works by directly stimulating blood flow in sexual organs. But for many women, it is lack of libido, not physiological difficulties, that causes them problems. According to a Palatin press release, by contrast, PT-141 targets the brain’s arousal centre and looks more likely to defrost sexual interest.
When Palatin went out looking for researchers to continue testing PT-141 they looked no further than James Pfaus, Ph.D. associate professor of psychology at Concordia University.
Pfaus was interested.
“My research is generally concerned with neural pathways for sexual arousal, desire, reward, and inhibition and such a specific effect seemed to indicate a specific neurotransmitter system involved in sexual desire,” he said.
That’s one of the reasons Pfaus found very promising about this drug.
“If you have a woman in a loving relationship who just doesn’t feel desire for sex, the question is why? What goes on to inhibit that?”
He said it could be that there was an interruption in the “chain of command” within the body which leads to desiring sex.
As for the results of PT-141 on his test rodents?
“You’d have to see the poor males paired up with females given the highest dose. The females mounted those males, which is a ‘super’ solicitation behavior. The males were good studs but they obviously weren’t keeping up with the females.”
More recently, in double-blind trials, women with sexual desire disorders on PT-141 had more sex, enjoyed it more, and also initiated it with their partners, despite most of them reporting having never initiated sex in their lives.
New York Magazine reported that women who took part in trials felt a “tingling and a throbbing” along with “a strong desire to have sex” within minutes. Men told the magazine a snort made them feel “younger and more energetic” as well as eager for sex.
“You get this humming feeling,” one man told the weekly. “You’re ready to take your pants off and go.”
But don’t expect Palatin representatives to be handing out free samples on the mezzanine just yet. PT-141 is continuously being tested on human subjects and is not expected to hit the market for another three years.
In the meantime, women’s rights groups have raised concerns about the abusive potential of PT-141. Pfaus regards the “date rape” potential as nonexistent.
“In my rats, the drug never made the females desire a less-desired male. It never made them more ‘random’ in who they chose to solicit and copulate with. They just wanted it more with the desired partner. The clinical trials so far have not revealed any evidence of the drug making women less ‘choosy’ in their partner preferences.”
Pfaus also made it clear that since it is a nasal spray, it cannot be slipped into a drink.
“The drug is way less efficacious as a pill, having to get through the gut to the mucosa of the small intestine and then into the blood stream, hopefully bypassing the liver.”
The drug must move successfully through Phase III trials before it will be approved by the FDA, but it does hold plenty of promise because it may help people who aren’t responding to available drugs. The full range of possible risks and side effects have yet to be determined.
“If the drug works to help people and their partners to reconnect sexually, with desire, better sex, and more intimacy, then I think the drug will do a great service to people in general.”