BEIJING/SHANGHAI Eli Lilly & Co., maker of impotence drug Cialis, hopes that Chinese couples who might resort to traditional aphrodisiacs or divorce court to resolve sexual problems will seek marital bliss with its own remedy.
The U.S. drugmaker launched a marketing campaign for Cialis in the world's most populous country on Thursday with the release of a survey showing that 45 percent of middle-aged Chinese couples had experienced erectile dysfunction problems.
Since only one-third of those couples had thought about seeking treatment, Lilly believes that efforts to boost awareness of the problem would increase sales of Cialis, whose long-lasting effects have given it the nickname "the weekender".
"This drug is effective, because men are like light bulbs. They can be turned on and off easily. Women are like irons, they need a long time to heat up, but also a long time to cool down," said psychologist Qiu Xiaolan, brought in as part of Lilly's media campaign to educate the public.
Cialis, which has been distributed to 5,000 Chinese pharmacies this month, is effective for up to 36 hours, longer than rival drugs on the market, Lilly says.
"It's a longer window of opportunity," Eli Lilly China President Jorg Ostertag told a news briefing.
About 35 million Chinese men suffer from some form of erectile dysfunction, Lilly said. Nearly 10 percent of these will eventually look for some sort of treatment, mainly in pharmacies.
Erectile dysfunction is common among men with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, and has historically been treated in China with traditional medicines containing herbs or animal parts such as tiger penis and rhinoceros horns.
"Erectile dysfunction has become a serious issue. It not only threatens men's health, but also challenges family relationships and harmony," Ostertag said.
A local court in south China granted a divorce to a woman who remained a virgin after four years of marriage due to her husband's apparent sexual dysfunction, Xinhua news agency reported in October.
More than 10 percent of divorce cases center on sexual dysfunction, Xinhua quoted a judge with the court in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region as saying.
The Supreme People's Court has ruled that sexual dysfunction that cannot be cured is proper grounds for divorce, Xinhua said.
Industry estimates for China's market for impotence drugs range from 500 million yuan to as much as 2 billion yuan a year ($65 million to $260 million).
Cialis, although growing faster globally than Viagra, still lags its rival, which was launched in China by Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, in 2000.
Levitra, an impotence drug developed jointly by Bayer AG, GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Schering-Plough Corp., is also available in China.
Pfizer does not disclose sales figures for Viagra in China but global revenues from of the drug rose 1 percent to $1.7 billion last year.
Worldwide sales of Lilly's Cialis jumped 30 percent to $971 million.