"Golden Spear": China's potent answer to Viagra

"Golden Spear": China's potent answer to Viagra
China is producing its first erectile dysfunction medicine treatment, called "Jin Ge" which translates into "Golden Spear".

BEIJING - China is producing its first erectile dysfunction medicine treatment based on compound ingredients previously patented for Viagra, and the drug is expected to perform well on the market.

Shanghai-listed Guangzhou Baiyuanshan Pharmaceutical Holdings Co is launching the pill next month - nearly two decades after the United States Food and Drug Administration approved Viagra as an erectile dysfunction treatment.

The drug will be marketed under the brand name Jin Ge, which translates to "Golden Spear", after a line by Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) poet Xin Qiji which portrays soldiers' bravery.

Unlike "the little blue pill", as Viagra is commonly known, Jin Ge will come in red, green, orange and pink, and in different packs.

Since the US-based company Pfizer's patent for Viagra, which uses sildenafil as its main ingredient and is known as Wei Ge in Chinese, expired in China in May, Chinese pharmaceutical companies have been scrambling for a share of the ED medicine market.

Guangzhou Baiyunshan held a news conference in Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou on Sept 18 to announce it had received permission from China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) to produce a crystalline compound using sildenafil citrate and would start selling the medicine in late October.

"Sex is important to a couple's intimacy and relationship, but a large number of Chinese men have ED issues, which results in an unsatisfying sex life for both partners," says Zhang Feng, deputy director of the China Sexology Association in Beijing.

"It's good news that ED medicine produced by a Chinese manufacturer is now available to Chinese."

There are no reliable figures for ED's prevalence in China, but US figures show 52 per cent of American men older than 40 suffer from the disorder. Guo Yinglu, a Chinese Academy of Engineering member and one of the country's leading urological surgeons, believes the Chinese figure is about the same.

Zhang Buyong, a principal researcher with the SFDA's South Medicine Economy Research Institute, estimates more than 120 million Chinese men have ED. "That would mean an ED treatment market of 1.3 billion yuan (S$270 million) in China, with a rapid annual increase," Zhang says.

Foreign manufacturers currently dominate the market.

Viagra producer Pfizer controls nearly half the market, followed by Eli Lilly and Co, another American drug-maker which manufactures Cialis, and German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG, which makes Levitra. Viagra costs a wallet-shrinking 100 yuan a pill in China, Zhang says.

Guangzhou Baiyunshan is the first Chinese company to receive SFDA approval to produce the ED medicine.

The company started research and development on ED medicine that uses sildenafil as the main ingredient in the 1990s but had to halt its research after Viagra was patented in China in 2001, explains Li Chuyuan, president of Guangzhou Baiyunshan's parent company Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings.

Guangzhou Baiyunshan is first among the Chinese companies vying to produce the medicine because of its track record, Li says. Also, it employed the services of Ferid Murad, the co-winner of the Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1998, whose work on nitric oxide led to Viagra's development.

Guangzhou Baiyunshan will change the status quo of China's ED medicine market because it has the advantages of lower pricing and more sales channels than foreign rivals, Zhang, the researcher, says.

At the news conference, Guangzhou Baiyunshan signed agreements with leading pharmacy chains to distribute Jin Ge and said it was confident it could meet "vast demand" as it had a production capacity of four billion pills a year.

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