Scientists have developed a contraceptive drug that temporarily stops sperm in their tracks and prevents pregnancies in mice, a "game-changer" discovery that could pave the way for 'the male pill' in the future.
The researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine, U.S. noted that condoms, which have existed for centuries, and vasectomies have been men's only contraceptive options to date.
Research on male oral contraceptives has stalled, partly because potential drugs for men must clear a much higher bar for safety and side effects, they said.
Human clinical trials soon
The team, including study's co-senior authors Lonny Levin and Jochen Buck, discovered that mice genetically engineered to lack an important cellular signalling protein called soluble adenylyl cyclase (sAC) are infertile.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates that a single dose of a sAC inhibitor called TDI-11861 immobilises mice sperm for up to two-and-half hours and that the effects persist in the female reproductive tract after mating.
After three hours, some sperm begin regaining motility and by 24 hours, nearly all sperm have recovered normal movement, the researchers said.
TDI-11861-treated male mice paired with female mice exhibited normal mating behaviour but did not impregnate females despite 52 different mating attempts.
Male mice treated with an inactive control substance, by contrast, impregnated almost one-third of their mates.
"Our inhibitor works within 30 minutes to an hour. Every other experimental hormonal or nonhormonal male contraceptive takes weeks to bring sperm count down or render them unable to fertilise eggs," one of the researchers said.
The researchers noted that it takes weeks to reverse the effects of other hormonal and nonhormonal male contraceptives in development.
Since sAC inhibitors wear off within hours, and men would take it only when, and as often, as needed, they could allow men to make day-to-day decisions about their fertility, they said.
"The team is already working on making sAC inhibitors better suited for use in humans," Mr. Levin said.
The next step is repeating the experiments in a different preclinical model. These experiments would lay the groundwork for human clinical trials that would test the effect of sAC inhibition on sperm motility in healthy human males, Mr. Buck said.
If the drug development and clinical trials are successful, Mr. Levin said it could lead to the development of “the male pill”.