If Wrigley is to bring its Viagra gum to market before 2011 it will need to negotiate hard with Pfizer, which holds the Viagra patent until then. If the product does come to market, demand will undoubtedly be high. If a success, the technology of implanting drugs in gum could increase in popularity and potentially be used for more valuable healthcare applications.

The slow but steady chewing gum market may find itself enlivened by Wrigley's newest development - the company has taken out a patent on Viagra-laced gum.

Wrigleys' US patent 6,531,114, claims "a method for treating erectile dysfunction in an individual comprising the steps of providing a chewing gum composition that includes a therapeutically effective amount of sildenafil citrate in the chewing gum composition".

However, consumers should not get excited just yet. Taking out the patent is a very preliminary step. Pfizer's patent on Viagra itself is still current and lasts until 2011. If Wrigley cannot come to an agreement with Pfizer, it will have to wait until the patent expires and Viagra becomes generic.

Viagra's strong public image coupled with the novelty of a stimulating gum makes the basic concept an attractive one. Indeed, drinks manufacturers have already developed a range of 'performance enhancing' alcopops that contain naturally stimulating ingredients. The final product, if it is developed, will certainly benefit from novelty value and a high recognition factor, as well as appealing to consumers on its own merits.

The delivery of drugs through gum has not taken off in the medical world, as it is not a reliable way of releasing a known quantity of medicine. The amount of drug released over a period is dependant on how fast and long the gum is chewed for, resulting in dosage intakes that are not easily measured.

However, the market for over-the-counter medicines and vitamin and mineral supplements continues to grow and Wrigley's more convenient delivery system could be used for self-medicating products where dosage levels are not so important. Many people, particularly children, dislike swallowing pills - by contrast, chewing medicinal gum is not only easy, it is almost 'cool'.

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