The Billionaire CEO Behind the Female Viagra

The number of pharmaceuticals catering to male sexual dysfunction hovers around twenty-six, encompassing a staggering six-billion-dollar industry. It wasn’t until 2015, however, that female sexual dysfunction in the medical world was finally taken seriously; addressed, and remedied – all thanks to female CEO Cindy Eckert. Addyi became the first drug designed to enhance female libido and win FDA approval, shifting the way female sex, desire, dysfunction, and entrepreneurship was seen.

Combining her love for science and business, Eckert’s career started off founding and selling specialty pharmaceutical companies. It wasn’t until she came across Sprout Pharmaceuticals that she noticed that a giant gap in the market existed: there was no medication specifically tailored to female sex dysfunction, despite the gargantuan success and investment behind drugs such as Viagra. Widespread societal notions rooted in sexism shaped the pharmaceutical industry in ways Eckert discovered difficult to overcome – while Viagra took only six months to gain investment traction and fast-tracked FDA approval, Addyi took over six years, with the initial 100 million dollars of funding coming from Eckert’s own personal network. She never received venture money, as the majority of large potential investors failed to see the value behind medication addressing female sexual dysfunction. Discussing the reasoning behind this, Eckert draws attention to how female sex has long been perceived – as a passing thought, with little regard to if women are actually having satisfying and pleasurable sex. She states the number of women who were dismissed when they brought up their lack of sexual desire, with many medical professionals deeming it as natural, simply a phase, or something that could be rectified with a glass of wine.

Women in control of their sexuality and finances has long been terrifying to the patriarchal fabric of society at large, and despite Addyi filling a massive hole in the market, Eckert says she was continuously lowballed while attempting to sell the product. Buyers attempted to leverage deals as low as 200 million, but Eckert knew the inherent value of what Addyi had to offer. She refused to settle even when an offer of 900 million came in – “if the deal didn’t have a ‘b’ at the end, I knew I was being lowballed.” She successfully sold Sprout Pharmaceuticals to Valeant Pharmaceuticals for $1 billion, re-acquiring it for next to nothing shortly afterwards as part of a lawsuit settlement.

Using the money from her billion-dollar-deal, Eckert established an investment firm called The Pink Ceiling with the aim to provide capital for female-led businesses. Women have historically been underrepresented in the corporate and entrepreneurship realm, and although this is shifting, women lack the plethora of mentors, connection, and capital that men have always had easy access to. Sourcing investment opportunities and corporate guidance, Eckert hopes to see more women on top and have the resources and confidence to see value in their products catering to women.



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