Doctor saves babies with Viagra clone

BANGALORE, India, Reuters

A doctor in southern India saved three sick newborn babies using a cloned version of the anti-impotence drug Viagra but now faces ethical questions for publicizing the treatment.

Dr. P.V. Rajiv treated three “blue babies”, suffering a lung problem that starves them of oxygen, with an Indian-made copy of the drug, said A.P.S. Krishnan, vice-president at the Amrita Institute of Medical Science and Research Center in the port city of Cochin in Kerala state.

“We saved the babies by giving sildenafil citrate, also called Viagra,” he said. “They have gone home. They are doing well…Their parents are happy.”

However medical colleagues from a non-governmental organization, Health Action by People, said Rajiv should have consulted an ethics committee before going public in the case.

“I don’t doubt his intentions. But when you have an idea it is your duty to bring it before an ethical committee,” said NGO spokesman Doctor Raman Kutty, based in Trivandrum, the Kerala state capital.

Viagra is made by U.S. firm Pfizer Corp. Indian firms have been at the forefront of making copycat pills.

Krishnan said Dr. P.V. Rajiv first gave the drug orally to a baby suffering pulmonary hypertension, after consulting international journals which reported its use to treat adults in a similar condition. Blue babies have a condition that contracts vessels carrying oxygen-rich blood to the lungs.

Two more babies were then treated in a similar way, using a combination of the drug with nitric oxide, a traditional medicine which is expensive and involves using a ventilator.

“To our knowledge, nobody in the country has used this method (to treat children),” he said.

Krishnan said the government’s drugs regulatory body had so far raised no objection to using the drug on children and its use by Rajiv was warranted in the life-threatening situations.

“Obviously, he will use all available knowledge. It is an approved drug. If it is a dying child, why not use it?”