Rooney Nelson, born and raised in Jamaica, beat all the odds as the marketing genius behind the success of the little blue pill, Viagra, for male erectile disfunction. As the drugs hits its twenty year anniversary, the fascinating story behind its astounding success if finally being told.
The revolutionary erectile-dysfunction drug is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its Brobdingnagian launch in a most auspicious way: by finally going generic, writes Esquire, in a humorous historical article released late in 2018.
Rooney reminisces about his first days at Pfizer, when employees wouldn’t leave their cubicles without putting on a suit jacket. “It was not a hip kind of place,” he says with a laugh, wrote Esquire.
Researchers initially were looking for a drug to treat chest pain. What they found, is a chemical that could make men experience erections.
Rooney was chosen, along with Sal “Dr. Sal” Giorgianni, as the dynamic duo to make the drug that initially generated howls of laughter, into a viable product that would be taken seriously by doctors, regulators, and patients.
Part of the issue, they realized, was semantics. No guy wanted to tell his doctor he was impotent. The word had too many negative overtones: weakness, helplessness, sterility. “In the early days,” says Brinkley, “just talking about impotence was taboo. You couldn’t even say the word penis.” They needed to come up with something better than impotence. Viagra’s medical team came back with just the fix: erectile dysfunction. It was perfect, they thought. “Impotence makes you feel like you did it to yourself,” as Nelson puts it. “Erectile dysfunction feels like it’s happening to you.”
Approval from the FDA came in later after many a sleepless night worrying about Pfizer’s $100 million investment into the drug’s launch.
The rest of the story is public knowledge. The story of its initial success is not, until now.