• Exchanges

Keeping Male Contraceptive Research Front and Center

How likely is it that a new male method will be added to the contraceptive method mix in the next 10-20 years?  Given that men make over 1,000 sperm every second, the challenge might seem overwhelming.  Novel approaches, identification of new genetic targets, and more expansive acceptability research could lead to development of a game-changing male contraceptive in our lifetime.

In a six-part series on male contraceptive research, we brought together experts in the field to discuss the state of the science.  In “Beyond Condoms and Vasectomies:  What’s Happening in Male Contraceptive Research?” FHI 360’s Director of Research and Development, Dr. Gregory S. Kopf, set the stage for the robust discussion on the topic.

Dr. Rebecca Cuellar and Dr. Gunda Georg from the University of Minnesota tracked the path of the sperm from its formation to its potential fusion with an egg.  As they write in "A Sperm’s 88-Day Journey: Expanding Opportunities for Male Contraceptive Research, “To control male fertility non-hormonally, we must understand what we are trying to prevent.  It is not merely a single moment of fertilization that needs addressing; we need to explore what happens throughout the sperm’s 88-day lifespan.”

In “It Takes Two:  How Men Fit into Expanding the Method Mix,” Dr. Rebecca Callahan of FHI 360 and Dr. Dominic Shattuck of Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health reflected on the commonly cited perception that men will not use a new method.  Albeit scant, acceptability research on methods currently under development and on hypothetical methods indicates that men are interested in male contraception and their partners trust them to take on this responsibility.

Next, in New Male Contraceptives:  What’s in the Near-term Pipeline?, Drs. John Amory and William Bremner from the University of Washington reported on hormonal applications currently in clinical trials as well as non-hormonal options that would attack sperm production or function. They also referenced two long-acting, potentially reversible methods of male contraception that are getting an infusion of research interest.

Moving into the realm of new technologies, Drs. Julio Castañeda and Martin Matzuk from Baylor College of Medicine reviewed pre-clinical early research of male contraceptives in “Genetic and Small Molecule Advances Bode Well for Male Contraceptive Development. They noted the identification and characterization of approximately 1,000 genes predominantly expressed in the testis as potential targets for male contraception. Once these targets are validated, work can begin on designing specific inhibitors.

Dr. Kopf of FHI 360 closed out the series with his blog “Making new male contraceptives a reality” and a call to action to all stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry, advocacy groups, government and foundation funders, research-based organizations, and scientific societies.  All will play key roles in keeping this research front and center and adequately resourced to bring a new product to market.

Be sure to check the CTI Exchange blog over the next several months as we continue this conversation with other guest authors offering insights on this subject.