MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

As you know, I am not in the habit of telling personal stories on this blog. Today, allow me to make an exception by taking you back 40 years into my own history.

Back in the 1980s, I spent much of my time doing research in hemorheology (flow properties of blood). At the time, this was a buoyant area of research, and my late friend Arpad Matrai and I were enthusiastically investigating it, first in London under John Dormandy and later at the LMU in Munich. But we were by no means the only team working in hemorheology. Another group at Aachen was much larger, better-funded, and in many ways way ahead of us. One member of that group regularly irritated us; this was Holger Kiesewetter, the ‘hero’ of my story.

Arpad was sure that much of Kiesewetter’s work and even more of his financial dealings were suspect (“How come a junior research can afford driving a Porsche?”, he used to wonder). Something did not seem quite right. Despite our reservations, we did collaborate occasionally. In 1984, we even managed to co-organize a conference and jointly publish its proceedings.

After my friend and co-worker Arpad had died of leukemia, I gradually drifted back into clinical medicine, became a professor of rehab medicine first in Hannover and then in Vienna. This also meant that I completely lost touch with Holger Kiesewetter. I was, therefore, more than a little surprised to one day receive a phone call from him in Vienna. He told me that he had applied for a professorship at my Uni and asked me to support his application. I did not promise to do so and I certainly did not lend my support to his application. Quite simply, I remembered too many instances that gave me reasons to be concerned about my ‘friend’s’ integrity.

Kiesewetter did not get the Vienna post but I later learned that he had become a professor of transfusion medicine at the Charite in Berlin. In the mid-1990s, a chance meeting at an airport occurred when we were both catching flights. He told me that he was doing fine, and he seemed to have his fingers in many pies.

Then I lost sight of him completely.

Until yesterday, that is.

I was doing some searches on herbal remedies when I came across the intriguing subject of ‘BIO VIAGRA‘. A German article reported this:

“In clinical trials, 50 men had much better sex afterward, more fun in bed, and just generally felt better about themselves,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily cited Olaf Schroeder from Berlin’s Charite hospital as saying. “Their libido was even higher than the control group taking Viagra,” he said. The potent cocktail includes tribulus terrestris, a herb already used in alternative medicine, a root vegetable found in the Andes called maca and grape juice extract, newspapers said. The treatment, dubbed “Plantagrar”, is due to be launched in early 2010, the Bild daily said.

Having published a review of maca, I was interested and continued searching.

Another article stated that a certain Mr. Schröder had stated that he had investigated the efficacy of the remedy on 50 test persons. However, the data of the experiment have not been published. In addition, the researchers’ procedure has been massively criticized: 25 men were given the bio-potency drug, 25 others a placebo, i.e. a tablet without active ingredients. Afterward, the test persons were to compare their experiences with those they had had with Viagra. Fritz Sörgel, director of the Nuremberg Institute for Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research, calls the procedure “completely dubious”. “This is a completely new kind of study that this doctoral student has invented.” The number of test persons is much too low, the comparison with Viagra cannot be taken seriously.

This sounded already quite dodgy, and a third article in the usually reliable German Medical Journal provided more details:

For several months, those involved kept a low profile, but now the affair surrounding the development of a herbal aphrodisiac at Berlin’s Charité University Hospital has consequences: Last week, the head of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. med. Holger Kiesewetter, was given leave of absence. This step was taken “at his own request”, said hospital spokesperson Claudia Peter. The withdrawal came about two weeks after the public prosecutor’s office searched his work and private rooms as well as other locations.

The “Bio-Viagra affair” had caused a furore in mid-March. A doctoral student of Kiesewetter’s had claimed to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur that he had successfully developed an aphrodisiac on a purely herbal basis. Some daily newspapers reported on the remedy, which was called “Plantagrar”. A little later, however, the Charité management denied it. It was “the activity of an employee (. . .) on his own responsibility”. The case also came to the attention of the drug supervisory authority. Erectile dysfunctions are recognised diseases according to the ICD-10 classification system. The “Bio-Viagra” was therefore a drug whose development should have been controlled, the state office for health and social affairs said.

A spokesperson for the Berlin public prosecutor’s office confirmed the presumption of a violation of the German Medicines Act to the Deutsches Ärzteblatt. In addition, Kiesewetter is being investigated for bribery, corruption and breach of trust to the detriment of the Charité. The head of the institute had apparently been promised benefits by private companies.

That sounded very much like the Kiesewetter I remembered. I was unable to find the actual trial or more details about the herbal remedy. The scandal seems to have put an end not only to the university career of the researchers but also to the aphrodisiac.

However, I did find a Wiki page about Kiesewetter that suggests that ‘bio viagra’ was by no means the only escapade from the straight and narrow. But what is he up to today? Did he retire? No, after the debacle at the Charite, he seems to have gone into private practice:

After working as director of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Immunohaematology at the Charité and head of the coagulation outpatient clinic at the Charité, he has been providing patient care at the Hämostaseologicum Berlin-Mitte since 2010.

This is also the address he used for his most recent (2020) publication.

Am I worried about my old ‘friend’?

No, I am confident that he is doing just fine … financially, I mean.

 

One Response to ‘Bio viagra’ and my ‘friend’ – a personal story

  • A very good read amidst so much bad news here in the USA. It’s good to know that the system worked in the end, but too bad Germany, Vienna (and everywhere else sadly) continues to tolerate SCAM. At least no one was actually harmed (other than a lighter wallet)– only disappointed.

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