Washington Insider : Science, Not Ideology

Paul Thacker
Paul Thacker

You have to hand it to the executives at the small company Sprout Pharmaceuticals. When the FDA rejected their application for flibanserin to treat Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), the company began a political and PR assault on the agency. Instead of arguing about the science, the company changed the whole debate, arguing that lack of approval for their drug was a sign that the agency was sexist. This might seem a weird tactic since the agency is run by a woman, but let's not let facts stand in the way.

The company also enlisted several congressional offices to send a letter complaining about FDA's alleged sexism, and created a coalition of women's groups to amplify the charge. Several medical and public health experts have called this charge of sexism hogwash, but Sprout seems determined to stay on message, recently raising millions from investors to keep developing the drug.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, for instance, Sally Greenberg of the National Consumer's Union stated that there are 26 drugs to treat male sexual dysfunction, but none for female sexual dysfunction. This factoid has been discredited already by the FDA, but Greenberg is a part of Sprout's latest front group called Even the Score, and she remains disciplined in repeating the company's talking points.

The company also planned an educational meeting in mid-September for congressional staffers and seems unrelenting in its campaign to change the topic from drug safety and efficacy to feminism and discrimination.

Let's hope the FDA stays focused on science and ignores ideology.

Paul Thacker is a consultant to several nonprofits and a fellow at the Safra Center on Ethics at Harvard University.