Viagra could be licensed for use by women with sex problems in three to four years, the manufacturers said yesterday.

Viagra could be licensed for use by women with sex problems in three to four years, the manufacturers said yesterday.

The drug, which treats impotence, was first licensed in Britain in September last year and was made available on the NHS to some men five months ago. It is seen as a wonder treatment by Britain's two million impotent men, most of whom are middle-aged or older.

Pfizer believes that a similar percentage of women in Britain experience some form of sexual dysfunction and so Viagra could be a big revenue earner if its benefits can be extended to women. The drug works by increasing the blood flow and doctors are currently doing physical and psychological experiments on women to see how they respond to it.

Early results are encouraging and could lead to Viagra being marketed to women early in the next century, Dr Michael Sweeney, medical director at Pfizer, said. He told the BBC: "The science is still developing but I think we're looking at at least three or four years before it's officially on the market."

The results suggest the drug could help post-menopausal women with sex problems. The company is also looking at the potential to combine Viagra with hormone replacement therapy. Results from tests on 800 women in the United States are being analysed.

In a separate study, doctors involved in trials of the drug at the Boston University School of Medicine have shown that a significant number of the 200 women tested have been helped by the Viagra pill.

Dr Jennifer Berman said: "We're finding that there's a statistically significant increase in sensation, the ability to become aroused and the ability to have an orgasm, in the women we're treating."

The drug has been linked to fatalities. Since it was introduced in the US 17 months ago, 130 users have died worldwide, including 31 in Britain.

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