Strides are being made toward the development of a male oral contraceptive. Researchers at the University of Minnesota are making tweaks to experimental compounds already developed by the drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), to produce a safe, soluble and fast-acting male contraceptive.

While testosterone has previously been studied as a potential target for male contraception, it’s efficacy and side effect profile is questionable.  “At certain doses it causes infertility,” says Jillian Kyzer, a graduate student working on the topic. “But at those doses, it doesn’t work for up to 20% of men, and it can cause side effects, including weight gain and a decrease in ‘good’ cholesterol.”

BMS has created several experimental compounds but each has had its own drawbacks. One of these compounds was good at inhibiting fertility, but wasn’t very soluble so it couldn’t be taken orally, while another could be taken orally, but wasn’t selective in terms of its cellular targets. Kyzer and her colleagues are currently working on several compounds that are similar in structure to the BMS compounds; the modifications they have employed so far have yet to improve the specificity of the compounds for the intended retinoic acid receptor–α target.

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“It would be wonderful to provide couples with a safe alternative because some women cannot take birth control pills,” said research team leader Gunda I. Georg, PhD. Her team will continue to refine the chemical structures to achieve the ultimate balance of solubility, specificity and stability to design a better male pill.

The researchers are presenting their work to date at the 251st National Meeting & Expositing of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

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