Published On: Mon, Mar 14th, 2016

Scientists ‘close to breakthrough’ in development birth control pill for men

birth control pill for men  -pregnant (2)

 

Women can choose from a wide selection of birth control methods, including numerous oral contraceptives, but there’s never been an analogous pill for men. That’s not for lack of trying: For many years, scientists have attempted to formulate a male pill. Finally, a group of researchers has taken a step toward that goal by tweaking some experimental compounds that show promise.

The researchers present their work today at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 12, 500 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

One compound that’s been studied as a potential male contraceptive is testosterone. “At certain doses it causes infertility, ” says Jillian Kyzer, a graduate student working on the topic. “But at those doses, it doesn’t work for up to 20 percent of men, and it can cause side effects, including weight gain and a decrease in ‘good’ cholesterol.”

Bringing any male contraceptive to market requires it to satisfy several requirements, explains Kyzer’s team leader, Gunda I. Georg, Ph.D., who is based at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. It would have to be soluble so it could be taken by mouth. It would start working fairly quickly, and it wouldn’t diminish libido. It would be safe even if taken for decades. And because some users would eventually want to have children, its impact on fertility would be reversible, with no lingering ill effects on sperm or embryos. “That’s a very high bar for bringing a male contraceptive to market, ” Georg points out.

These hurdles have driven many investigators from the hunt, yet Georg’s team perseveres. “It would be wonderful to provide couples with a safe alternative because some women cannot take birth control pills, ” she says.

Drug companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), have created some experimental male contraceptives, but these too have drawbacks, Kyzer says. For instance, one of the company’s test compounds is good at inhibiting fertility but isn’t very soluble, so it can’t be taken by mouth. “No one wants to inject themselves with a needle once a day or once a week for most of their lives, ” she notes.

Another Bristol-Myers Squibb experimental compound can be taken orally but isn’t very selective in terms of its cellular targets in the body. That means the compound not only interacts with the retinoic acid receptor-α, which is involved in male fertility, but also with two other retinoic acid receptors that are unrelated to fertility. That flaw could cause side effects.

Gunda Georg, leader of the research team, told The Times that the aim is to develop a pill just as effective and convenient as the female version.

The Minnesota scientists have built on progress that was made last June, when experts at the University of Virginia discovered a specific enzyme, ESP1, a protein that forms in the head of a man’s sperm.

“Understanding at the molecular level exactly how the sperm is able to bind with and enter the egg opens opportunities to identify molecules that can disrupt or block the fertilization event, ” said John Herr, a professor of cell biology working on the University of Virginia’s study, The Evening Standard reports .

But one giant step towards male oral contraception doesn’t mean women will soon be freed from having to take that tiny pill every day. According to a 2011 survey by Anglia Ruskin University, even if there was a male pill available, 52 percent of women think their partner would forget to take it.

 

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