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Reproductive Health

'Viagra for Condoms' Nears Approval

Condom

 (iStock)

A new erection-enhancing condom product, dubbed "Viagra for condoms," is nearing regulatory approval and could be on sale in Europe by the end of the year.

Analysts say the condoms, which contain a gel that helps men maintain a firmer erection for longer, could make a significant splash in the condom market, where innovation is rare and patent-protected inventions are hard to come by.

The product could also provide a boost to Durex, the world's biggest-selling condom brand, not least in the U.S., the world's largest market and one where Durex has struggled to gain a sizable market share.

European regulatory approval for the product, developed by U.K. biotechnology firm Futura Medical PLC and licensed to Durex's owner SSL International, was held up during SSL's takeover last year by consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC.

Futura now expects the green light in the first half of 2011, meaning the condom, named CSD500, could be on the shelves of pharmacies and supermarkets by the end of the year.

Futura's condoms contain a gel with an agent that boosts blood flow—a so-called vasodilator—which is absorbed through the skin, enhancing erections. Finding an active ingredient was straightforward—it's a generic compound for the treatment of angina, a severe chest pain caused by lack of blood flow to the heart. However, "immobilizing" the gel in the condom, so the vasodilator only touches the wearer during sexual intercourse, was the clever part.

"The challenge is having a stable product in a condom—a gel that doesn't do anything detrimental to the condom," Futura Chief Executive James Barder said.

"Some products can degrade the latex very quickly,"  Barder said, noting that adding the vasodilator to the lubricant is complicated. "It has to be immobilized in the condom." Most of the patents protecting CSD500 are associated with this "immobilization",  Barder said.

Unlike the drug Viagra, to which Futura's product has inevitably been likened, the condom is not being scrutinized by regulators as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. Rather, it's specifically targeted at men who struggle to maintain an erection while wearing a condom.

If European regulators give CSD500 the green light, it will be because it encourages these men to use protection, and so help to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The commercial benefit of this distinction is twofold. Firstly, as Barder points out, erectile dysfunction is generally found in older men, whereas the inability to maintain an erection while wearing a condom is "much less age specific", meaning a wider potential market.

Moreover, as a medical device rather than a drug, the condoms will be available off the shelf, avoiding the need for a potentially embarrassing trip to the doctor for a prescription.

Reckitt has so far remained quiet about the product, and declined to comment prior to regulatory approval. Reckitt boss Bart Becht has played down the potential of new Durex products, telling analysts back in November: "In terms of SSL innovation, there are some interesting projects in the pipeline, but I would say, most of them are relatively small."

Still, experts say a clinically proven, patented innovation should help the consumer goods firm take market share from major competitors, which include U.S. firm Church & Dwight Co. and Australia's Ansell Ltd.

Click here to read more about this story from the Wall Street Journal.