US researchers believe they are step closer to find hormone-free male contraceptive pill that may halt sperm production. In mice study the drug protected against pregnancy without affecting sex drive or generating other undesirable side effects. The study could pave the way for male version of pill taken by millions of women globally.
Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Baylor College of Medicine were testing a new drug called JQ1. It targets a protein which exists only in the testes and is crucial for sperm production. The testes of mice taking the drug began to shrink therefore the sperm production plummeted and what sperm were made were bad swimmers. Some were rendered infertile.
When the rodents were no longer taking the drug they were able to have babies. The drug is hormone-free, and did not produce any side-effects. One of the researchers, Dr James Bradner, stated this compound produces a rapid and reversible decrease in sperm count and motility with profound effects on fertility. These findings suggest that a reversible, oral male contraceptive may be possible.
Researchers hope they would be able to target the same protein in men, however, more tests will be needed to show whether the drug is both safe and effective for use in people. Besides, in JQ1’s favour is the fact that it could be given in pill-form. Most male contraceptives in development are jabs or patches.
Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at Sheffield University, explained to date, most of the trials have attempted to stop sperm production by manipulating the male hormone testosterone through the use of injections or implants. These approaches work reasonably well, but none have yet made it to routine use.
He added so the door is wide open for someone to develop a novel drug that does not rely on hormones. Although the study has only been performed on mice, it should be fairly easy to test out this approach out on humans and see whether it works equally well. This is impossible to predict in advance but it is certainly worth pursuing.
The study was published in the journal Cell.