Major funding award to further new male contraceptive research
Published on 3 August 2021
University of Dundee research that aims to develop a new male contraceptive has been boosted by major new funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Experts will utilise the $1.7 million award over the next two years to continue their quest to identify suitable compounds with the potential to develop the first safe and effective male contraceptive drug.
“There has been no significant change in the field of male contraception since the development of the condom,” said Chris Barratt, Professor of Reproductive Medicine in the University’s School of Medicine.
“This means that much of the burden of protecting against unwanted pregnancies continues to fall upon women. We hope to address that inequality and we have already made progress, thanks to our previous round of funding received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Dundee is uniquely placed to continue with this research, combining our internationally recognised expertise in male fertility research within our School of Medicine, with our knowledge in drug design based within our School of Life Sciences.
“By the end of this two-year period we would like to have identified a high-quality compound that we can progress to the first stages of drug development. That would be a significant step forward for the field and could potentially be the key that unlocks a new era in male contraception.”
Recent data suggests that between 2015-19, there were 121 million unintended pregnancies, with women living in the world’s poorest regions nearly three times as likely to fall pregnant unintentionally, in comparison to those in the wealthiest regions.
But while there is an urgent need to develop new methods for male contraception, drug discovery efforts have been hampered for a variety of reasons. Firstly, by the relatively poor understanding of human sperm biology. Secondly, by the lack of studies that convincingly link a protein target in human sperm to the key functions that sperm must carry out after leaving the male, and thirdly the absence of an efficient system to screen the effects of the myriad chemicals and known drugs that are available.
To address these deficits, Dundee researchers have already developed a miniaturised parallel testing system that uses a fast microscope and image-processing tools that precisely showcase the very fast movement of human sperm, thus allowing the effects of drugs to be accurately measured.
Work to identify suitable molecules has continued throughout this period, with this latest round of funding providing continued support to the research carried out by the Dundee team.
“Dundee houses a world leading Drug Discovery Unit within the School of Life Sciences, which has proven expertise in innovative science and delivering translational science,” added Professor Barratt.
“Our work is incredibly challenging, and so the importance of being able to work with world-class research colleagues within the same institution cannot be overstated. Collaborative working is absolutely critical as we proceed and being able to do that in-house is a huge advantage as we progress with this research.”
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