There’s a common argument offered by both animal rights activists and other critics of the pharmaceutical industry which goes something like this: companies spend too much money (and kill too many animals) creating drugs like Viagra. Back in 1999, for example, animal rights activists made a big deal out of the fact that dogs had been used in Viagra research. As the BBC reported,
But the RSPCA said it planned to look into the experiment to determine whether they had inflicted unnecessary pain, while the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection promised to lobby the Home Office to find out why it permitted the tests.
Sarah Kite, of the BUAV, said: “We are appalled that experiments of this nature have been carried out.
“These beagles have been mutilated in grotesque experiments for a drug which has no life-saving use.”
Kite should have known better than to make such a ridiculous claim. Drug compounds developed to treat one disorder routinely turn out, after further research and often through post-approval clinical experience, to have uses well beyond the purpose they were originally marketed for. And that appears to be happening with Viagra as well.
Doctors at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital are, in fact, using Viagra to save the lives of newborns who suffer from pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension can cause heart failure and death. It can be treated with nitric oxide, but as Vanderbilt Dr. Don Moore, MD, notes, only for short periods of time effectively as a stop gap measure. Moreover nitric oxide treatment is expensive.
Viagra is already being tested in adults to see if it can be used as a treatment for pulmonary hypertension, and doctors at Vanderbilt have begun using it in infants who have life threatening hypertension. The number of infants who have been treated at Vanderbilt and elsewhere is still small, and there are risks with using Viagra in infants, but so far it appears that Kite could not have been more wrong in claiming that Viagra has “no life-saving use.” (I.e., business as usual for BUAV).
Vanderbilt doctors use Viagra to treat infants with pulmonary hypertension. Press Release, Carole Bartoo, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, April 19, 2004.
Dogs mutilated in Viagra test. BBC, March 12, 1999.