For centuries men and women have sought ways to conceal the ravages of the aging process. It was that passion that drove Spanish explorer Ponce de León to spend several months in 1513 searching the northern Caribbean for the legendary fountain of youth. People have used face powders, corsets and wigs to mask reality and, more recently, face-lifts, hair transplants and tanning salons. Now, two new prescription drugs are the latest aids to vanity. One purports to grow hair on bald spots and the other claims to reduce skin wrinkling caused by the sun.
The hair-growing product, Rogaine, contains minoxidil, a drug that was developed to treat hypertension. But in 1986 The Upjohn Co. of Canada turned that drug’s most persistent side effect— unwanted hair growth—to advantage by marketing Rogaine as a hair lotion. According to Upjohn spokesmen, companysponsored research shows that after 12 months of treatment 48 per cent of 619 patients tested had reported “moderate or dense” hair “regrowth.”
Because federal law prohibits advertising prescription drugs in lay publications, Upjohn launched a national campaign last October that, without naming Rogaine, proclaimed, “If you are facing baldness, you should know the facts.” The ad notes the development of new treatments for common baldness and urges people who are concerned to talk to their doctors. In medical and pharmaceutical journals, Upjohn names the drug whose success in the first quarter following its introduction raised the
price of the parent company’s stock by 25 per cent.
Douglas Squires, vice-president and assistant general manager at Upjohn Canada’s Toronto head office, said that various scientific studies in Canada, the United States—where the Food and Drug Administration has not yet cleared Rogaine as a hair restorer—and Europe “indicated that topical application twice a day grew hair on between 30 and 40 per cent of balding patients.” But Dr. Walter Unger, a University of Toronto dermatologist, said that in recent yearlong trials he conducted on 42 male patients at Upjohn’s request, only 10 per cent “grew hair that was more
than fuzz.” However, he said that about half of the patients “thought they were losing less hair.”
Still, Unger said that he is not entirely skeptical about Rogaine’s value. “There’s very little to lose—a bit of money and a bit of time,” he said. “It does work to some extent on some people.” But treatment costs of about $75 per month were too high for Dr. Eric Grafstein, a 28-year-old emergency department physician at Ontario’s Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital. Grafstein said that he had used Rogaine for six months last year and that he could not decide if it had arrested the thinning of his hair. Declared Grafstein: “I would be still using it if I could get a free supply.”
Although Squires would not divulge sales figures for Rogaine, he said that consumer demand for the product had been encouraging. According to Gerald Ziedenberg, the owner of a Shopper’s Drug Mart franchise in Toronto, Rogaine “is a very big item.” He added that many of his customers were U.S. citizens who had bought Rogaine on prescriptions they had obtained from Ontario doctors.
U.S. residents have no such problem obtaining the new antiwrinkle cream Retin-A, manufactured by Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. of Raritan, N.J., and sold as a treatment for acne. The drug is produced in Canada by Rorer Canada Inc. of Toronto under the brand name Vitamin A Acid (VAA) and by Stiefel Canada Inc. of Montreal, which calls it StieVAA. Including a pharmacist’s typical dispensing fee, a oneounce tube of the cream sells for about $17. But medical opinion about tretinoin—the active ingredient in all those preparations—is as mixed as it is about Rogaine.
In Vancouver, Dr. Stuart Maddin of the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine said that he had been prescribing VAA for about three years and that it made “small wrinkles caused by sun damage certainly less obvious.” For his part, Montreal dermatologist Dr. Théodore Arsenault said that VAA may cause redness and irritate the skin. Although he has prescribed it to reduce wrinkles, he said that it was still too early to judge the product’s effectiveness.
Obviously, neither drug represents the fountain of youth. But for the drug manufacturers, chemicals that grow hair and reduce wrinkles are profitable signs on the trail of Ponce de León.
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