Male contraceptive pill found 99% effective in mice
6:05 JST, April 6, 2022
WASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — A team of scientists said March 23 they had developed a male oral contraceptive that was 99% effective in mice and didn’t cause observable side effects, with the drug expected to enter human trials by the end of this year.
The findings will be presented at the American Chemical Society’s spring meeting, and mark a key step toward expanding birth control options — as well as responsibilities — for men.
Ever since the female birth control pill was first 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 present the work, told AFP.
“Multiple studies showed that men are interested in sharing the responsibility of birth control with their partners,” he said — but until now, there have been only two effective options available: Condoms or vasectomies.
Vasectomy reversal surgery is expensive and not always successful.
The female pill uses hormones to disrupt the menstrual cycle, and historic efforts to develop a male equivalent targeted the male sex hormone testosterone.
The problem with this approach, however, was that it caused side effects such as weight gain, depression and increased levels of a cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein, which increases heart disease risks.
The female pill also carries side effects, including blood-clotting risks — but since women face becoming pregnant in the absence of contraception, the risk calculation differs.
To develop a nonhormonal drug, Noman, who works in the lab of Prof. Gunda Georg, targeted a protein called “retinoic acid receptor (RAR) alpha.”
Inside the body, vitamin A is converted into different forms, including retinoic acid, which plays important roles in cell growth, sperm formation, and embryo development.
Retinoic acid needs to interact with RAR-alpha to perform these functions, and lab experiments have shown mice without the gene that creates RAR-alpha are sterile.
For their work, Noman and Georg developed a compound that blocks the action of RAR-alpha. They identified the best molecular structure with the help of a computer model.
“If we know what the keyhole looks like, then we can make a better key — that’s where the computational model comes in,” said 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, in order to minimize potential side effects.
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