Male contraceptive quest boosted by funding from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The quest of researchers at the University of Dundee to develop a new male contraceptive has been boosted with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Researchers say the $900,000-plus award will enable significant progress to be made over the next two years in the discovery and development of the first safe and effective male contraceptive drug.

The University of Dundee is uniquely positioned to pursue this project. It combines the internationally recognised expertise in male fertility research in the School of Medicine with world-class robotic high-throughput imaging facilities at the National Phenotypic Screening Centre and the deep knowledge of drug design, synthesis and safety testing present in the Drug Discovery Unit, both within the School of Life Sciences.

Chris Barratt, Professor of Reproductive Medicine in the School of Medicine, said, “No effective, reversible and widely available form of contraception has been developed for the male since the condom and, as such, the burden falls largely to the female.

“Progress towards a male contraceptive has been slow because this is a highly neglected area of medical research. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has quite rightly recognised the problem and is investing in efforts to remedy the deficit. This is against the backdrop of a world where it is estimated that more than 214 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for contraception.

“According to the Guttmacher Institute, this results in 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions every year, often pushing women into life choices that increase poverty and pose severe health risks. The development of a drug for the male directly addresses a critical gap in the contraceptive portfolio.”

Dr Paul Andrews, Director of Operations in the National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC), said, “It is a significant challenge but, with the first round of funding from the Foundation, we have successfully established the platforms to allow us to screen many thousands of known drugs and new chemical compounds for their ability to interfere with a couple of really important behaviours (or phenotypes) that are essential for fertility. Firstly, their ability to swim up the female reproductive tract and, secondly, a cellular process in the head of the sperm which must happen for the cell to progress towards the egg. Our screening efforts so far have shown such drugs exist.

“With this follow-on funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation our next objective is to continue the hunt and carefully select the most effective molecules that have the right combination of properties that will make them good candidates for further development into a drug that can be safely taken by males. Drug development is a complicated and lengthy process but we aim to deliver one or two small molecule chemical series that fulfil these criteria within two years.

“This goal will be an important milestone along the path to a male contraceptive and a prerequisite for further development and clinical evaluation.”

The Dundee team was initially funded for one year through the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative, created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to supports innovative thinkers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mould in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.

The new award is for $929,585 over two years.


Notes to Editors

About the National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC)

NPSC is a world-class facility for automated, high content, phenotypic screening. The goal of the NPSC is to bring advances in industrial drug screening capabilities to academic investigators. NPSC is a partnership between the Universities of Dundee, Edinburgh and Oxford. The centre was established in 2014 with an £8M infrastructure award from the Scottish Funding Council to the Scottish Universities Life Science Alliance (SULSA).

NPSC operates as an open centre and aims to collaborate globally with individual researchers and charities as well as with the commercial sector, whether small businesses or large industry leaders, focussing on the development of the best physiologically-relevant assays for a wide range of human conditions or diseases and is tackling some of the major challenges facing society. Learn more at


About the University of Dundee

The University of Dundee is one of the UK’s leading institutes for medical and life sciences research. Dundee was the top rated university in the UK for biological sciences in the most recent Research Excellence Framework.

Research intensity is matched by teaching excellence, with a Gold Award in the UK Teaching Excellence Framework, and one of the best student experiences in the UK.

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