KU hopes to create birth control for men

National Institutes of Health issuing grant for $7.9 million

Kansas University researchers think they’re on the verge of creating the first oral contraceptive for men.

The National Institutes of Health announced Monday it would award KU $7.9 million to develop a drug that temporarily stops male fertility.

“When I talk to women, their first reaction is, ‘It’s about time something was developed for the male,'” said Gunda Georg, lead researcher on the project. “I think women would welcome the opportunity to not be the only ones to have to carry the burden for that, and I think men are willing to help.”

KU researchers already have identified a compound, named Gamendazole, that causes temporary infertility in male rats by stopping sperm production. They have filed for a patent for that compound and are hoping it will advance to clinical tests in the next five years.

The new NIH grant will allow the researchers, who are on both the Lawrence campus and at the Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., to test more compounds that might affect enzymes that are specific to sperm, making the sperm temporarily unable to fertilize an egg.

Georg, who directs the Center for Drug Discovery at the Higuchi Biosciences Center in Lawrence, said researchers would test around 500,000 compounds for their effects on sperm. The team is hoping to find compounds that would either hinder sperm development, rendering them ineffective, or sperm mobility, which would keep them from reaching an egg.

“Now, we’re going full-fledged into it,” Georg said. “We are quite hopeful we will be successful.”

Once potential compounds are identified, they will be tested in male rats at the KU Medical Center. If those tests are successful, the scientists would work with a drug company to start clinical trials on the new compounds, which could happen within eight to 10 years.

Georg said the additional research was necessary in case Gamendazole was found unsafe or didn’t reach clinical trials for another reason.

Birth control pills have been available to women since the 1960s, but male contraception has been limited to condoms and sterilization.

“Half the population has been ignored,” said Joseph Tash, a reproductive biologist at the KU School of Medicine who is working on the research team.

However, Georg said, researchers have made major strides in understanding the male reproductive system in the last decade.

Male contraceptives being tested in China and Europe are hormone-based and either involve injections of a male hormone similar to testosterone or a combination of testosterone and a female hormone.

“When you are interfering with hormones, the fear is the libido will go away,” Georg said. “I don’t think men are too keen on that.”

Gamendazole caused 75 percent of rats to lose fertility within three weeks of taking the compound, and 100 percent of rats to become infertile by five weeks. Partial fertility returned to some rats after six weeks.

Tash said the goal was to find a compound that is effective in every instance, then is reversible.

“Obviously, the goal is 100 percent effectiveness,” he said. “The female pill is 95 to 99 percent effective. We hope to at least meet that level.”