A team of scientists announced yesterday that they have developed a male oral contraceptive that is 99% effective in mice and causes no observable side effects. The drug is expected to enter human trials by the end of the year.
This is a big step in expanding birth control options for men.
The results will be presented at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society. «Since the female contraceptive pill was approved in the 1960s, researchers have been interested in a male equivalent,» Md Abdullah Al Noman, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who will be in charge of the project, told AFP. describe this work in detail.
And to add: “Multiple studies have shown that men are interested in sharing the responsibility for contraception with their partners. Only here, until now, there were only two options available on the market : condoms or vasectomy.
The female pill uses hormones to disrupt the menstrual cycle, and historic efforts to develop a male equivalent targeted the male hormone, testosterone. The problem with this approach is that it causes significant side effects such as weight gain, depression and increased levels of cholesterol called “low density lipoprotein”, which increases the risk of heart disease.
The female pill also has side effects, including blood clotting risks, but since women are at risk of becoming pregnant without contraception , the risk calculation differs.
To develop a non-hormonal drug, Md Abdullah Al Noman, who works in the laboratory of Professor Gunda Georg, targeted a particular protein: the retinoic acid receptor (RAR) alpha. In the body, vitamin A is converted into different forms, including retinoic acid, which plays an essential role in cell growth, sperm formation and embryo development. This protein must interact with RAR-alpha to perform these functions, and laboratory experiments have shown that mice lacking the gene that creates RAR-alpha are sterile.
For their work, the two scientists worked on developing a compound that blocks the action of RAR-alpha by identifying the best molecular structure using a computer model. “If we know what the keyhole looks like, then we can make a better key and that’s where the computer model comes in,” explained Md Abdullah Al Noman. Their chemical, known as YCT529, was also designed to interact specifically with RAR-alpha, and not two other related receptors, RAR-beta and RAR-gamma, to minimize potential side effects.
Marketing planned within 5 years?
Given orally to male mice for four weeks, YCT529 significantly reduced sperm count and was found to be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy in a mating trial.
The researchers monitored weight, appetite and general activity and found no apparent adverse effects, although the mice obviously couldn’t report side effects such as headaches or mood swings.
And what is very interesting in this method is the fact that it is not definitive. Indeed, four to six weeks after stopping the drug, the mice were able to produce offspring again.
The team, which has received funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Male Contraceptive Initiative, is currently working with pharmaceutical company YourChoice Therapeutics to initiate human trials by the third or fourth quarter of 2022.
“I am optimistic, it will move quickly. There’s obviously no guarantee it will work but I’d be really surprised if we didn’t see an effect in humans as well,” said Gunda Georg, considering a possible time-to-market in five years or less.
A lingering question about future male birth control pills is whether women will trust men to use them, but several recent surveys have shown that most women will in fact trust their partners.
For their part, many men have indicated that they would be open to this drug. «Male contraceptives will be added to the method mix, providing new options that will allow men and women to contribute in whatever way they see fit to contraceptive use,» the organization said in a statement . non-profit Male Contraceptive Initiative, which is involved in fundraising and advocacy on this file.
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