More Of the Back Story — On Merck’s Finasteride Franchise — And The Dominican Republic Connection

At the outset, I’ll note that none of this is material any longer to Merck’s consolidated financial fortunes. Even so, I commend this small bit of investigative journalism to those following the finasteride series here — as we wait for word, about last Thursday’s hearing in Brooklyn. I’ve mentioned in passing the early research Dr. Imperato-McGinley conducted in the 1970s in the Dominican Republic. Here is how at least one MSM outlet is portraying the connection, this Monday morning — to finasteride.

From the Mens’ Journal article, then — a particularly provocative bit:

. . . .Knowing the drug’s origins might prompt some to shy away from it. Finasteride has its roots in the 1970s, when scientists discovered a rare group of men in the Dominican Republic who were born with ambiguous genitalia and often mistakenly raised as girls.

These men possessed other unique traits: They never lost their hair or had prostate problems. This was because they failed to produce an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

DHT is critical for fetal development of male genitals, but in adults it impairs hair growth. Enter Merck, which unveiled a compound — finasteride — that slashes DHT levels 70 percent. As Belknap puts it, the drug works by mimicking the sex-steroid profile of pseudohermaphrodites. . . .

Of course, finasteride is the chemical name of the drug Merck ultimately branded as. . . Propecia® or, in some geographies, as Proscar®. And now you know why the plaintiffs’ lawyers might feel that her work in the Dominican Republic would be relevant to allegations of sexual side effects, via lawsuits — even if her research in the DR concluded in the 1970s — and even though Merck’s branded drug wasn’t cleared for male pattern baldness until 1996 or so. Onward — Me? I’ve always been more than happy to play the cards I’ve been dealt — in the gene pool department. Smile.

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