Male pill conceived
Monash scientists on cusp of a breakthrough
THE quest for a male contraceptive pill is back in business thanks to new funding for a team of Aussie scientists on the cusp of developing a drug that blocks the transport of sperm.
Scientists say the hormonefree pill will bypass side effects such as infertility, birth defects and loss of libido that have hindered the development of a male contraceptive.
Dr Sab Ventura, from Monash University’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, says the drug may actually increase a man’s libido.
If the next stage of development is successful, trials could begin and a male pill might be on the market in five to 10 years.
Previous attempts to develop a male contraceptive have focused on hormonal targets or on making sperm incapable of fertilisation. These methods interfered with male sexual activity and risked irreversible effects on fertility.
Instead, Monash University researchers are looking at chemicals to switch off the brain signal that causes sperm to be released from the body.
Their previous research showed infertility in mice could be prompted by genetically deleting two proteins that trigger the transport of sperm — 1A-adrenoceptor and P2X1-purinoceptor.
The sperm is there but the muscle is not receiving the chemical message to move it.
There is already a widely available drug approved for long-term use that targets one of the two proteins linked to the movement of sperm. Flomax is used to treat older men having difficulty urinating.
The researchers are trying to develop a drug to block the second protein before combining the two in a single pill.
Dr Ventura said he would use a $190,000 grant from the Male Contraceptive Initiative to employ a chemist to work on other chemicals to block the second protein. Research on mice showed blocking these proteins had no effect on libido.
“The type of drugs we’re looking at may improve sexual function in men because they dilate blood vessels and that is what Viagra does,” he says.
The US consortium has provided grants to other male contraception projects. One uses a hydrogel injection to block the movement of sperm.
The quest for a male contraceptive has been dogged by lack of funding for decades.
A clinical trial of an injectable male contraceptive was shut down in 2011 because drug companies would not fund it because the ingredients were off patent.
Dr Ventura believes men want a contraceptive pill.
“There is a lot of social science research that shows men are happy to take control of contraception and women are happy to let them do it but it’s very hard to say without one on the market,” he said.