In August, Sprout Pharmaceuticals finally obtained clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its Addyi drug, which has been widely nicknamed “the female Viagra.”
But Sprout CEO Cindy Whitehead isn’t a fan of that phrase. “I think it isn’t the female Viagra,” she said on Tuesday, speaking on stage at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in San Francisco.
Whitehead, whose company had to lobby for FDA approval more than once, also dismissed reports that came out one month after the drug became available in October, which alleged that only 227 prescriptions for Addyi were made at that time. Though she declined to share exact numbers, she said the 227 number was inaccurate, adding that almost 10,000 medical providers and 30,000 pharmacies are now certified to prescribe the drug.
“The barometer of success for this drug isn’t measured against an on-demand drug for men,” she said of the early skepticism about Addyi’s potential to succeed.
Whitehead also added that more than anything, her company is currently focused on educating the public about how the drug works and why it’s important that it be an available option for women. Unlike male drugs for treating erectile dysfunction, the most famous being Pfizer’s Viagra brand, Sprout’s pill is taken on a daily basis and aims to have a gradual and prolonged effect on women’s sexual drive—not a quick fix for a blood-flow issue, as she calls male erectile dysfunction.
As with psychological issues, Whitehead says there is an involved process for diagnosing lower female libido. Part of that process includes a questionnaire that asks a range of questions, from how long the lower sexual drive has persisted, to whether the patient even cares that it’s lower—a point that was met with cheers from the event’s all-female audience.
The strong relationship between female libido and psychological health is precisely what Whitehead believes will be the biggest challenge her company, mostly, she says, because misperceptions about women’s sexuality are what has deterred others from bringing a similar drug to market.