Dundee University researchers could be the first in the world to develop a safe and effective male contraceptive drug after receiving a $900,000 grant.
The money, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will enable significant progress to be made over the next two years into what university researchers described as a “neglected” area of study.
Chris Barratt, professor of reproductive medicine in the School of Medicine, said research into male contraception addresses a “critical gap” in tackling poverty and ill-health worldwide.
He 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.”
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He added: “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.”
They will utilise the university’s 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.
It also has significant knowledge of drug design, synthesis and safety testing present in the Drug Discovery Unit.
Dr Paul Andrews, director of operations in the National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC), said the team hoped for results within the next two years.
He said: “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 support innovative thinkers worldwide. The new award is for $929,585 over two years.