A team of researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine has developed a new drug that could offer a promising new form of male contraception. The drug, a soluble adenylyl cyclase (sAC) inhibitor, is designed to stop sperm from swimming and maturing, preventing pregnancies from occurring.
How Does It Work
The drug works by blocking a molecular switch that triggers sperm to swim and search for an egg, resulting in male mice becoming infertile within 30 minutes of receiving the drug. The study was published in Nature Communications.
The new drug offers hope in the quest for better birth control for men, who currently have two options: condoms or a vasectomy. Many experts in the field see the development of new forms of male contraception as increasingly urgent, especially given the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. There is a growing demand for more contraceptives, including ones that shift the burden of contraception from women to men.
One of the key advantages of the new drug is that it is designed to be an on-demand contraceptive. Most other male contraceptives that are currently in development, such as hormone-based approaches, take weeks or months to start working, and they require a daily pill or a gel that must be rubbed into the skin.
This makes them less attractive to some men, who may find the requirement of long-term use unappealing. By contrast, the sAC inhibitor can be taken just before intercourse, making it a more convenient and accessible option.
The development of new male contraceptives has been challenging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, any new contraceptive must be highly effective, easy to tolerate, and extremely safe since it will be given to healthy people.
In addition, many scientists have doubted that men would be willing to take such drugs. Finally, targeting sperm production with a drug has turned out to be a difficult task because many of the proteins involved are important for other bodily functions.
The discovery of the sAC inhibitor has given researchers new hope, however. The team at Weill Cornell Medicine began exploring the potential of sAC inhibitors as a form of birth control almost two decades ago after it became clear that the sAC molecule plays a crucial role in sperm activation.
However, interest in the molecule from drug companies waned over the years, and it wasn't until 2018 that the team began to focus on it again. At that point, Melanie Balbach, a postdoctoral scientist, showed her bosses a video of mouse sperm that had been injected with an experimental drug developed for eye disease.
The video showed the sperm just twitching rather than swimming as they normally would. This result gave the researchers hope that blocking sAC could be a viable way to develop a male contraceptive.
The latest study shows that the improved version of the sAC inhibitor is highly effective at preventing pregnancies in mice, and it can be taken as an injection rather than a pill. The researchers are now working on developing the most potent and optimal form of the drug so that it can be taken as a pill and will prevent pregnancy for up to 12 hours. They have founded a start-up company called Sacyl6.
Pharmaceuticals, to help move the research forward once the best version of the drug has been identified.
While the development of a new male contraceptive is exciting, it is important to note that it will be many years before the drug becomes available to the public. John Amory, a physician, and researcher developing male contraceptives at the University of Washington said that the process of developing a new contraceptive can be slow and that there is a lack of interest from the industry in turning academic insights into commercial drugs. Nonetheless, the team at Weill Cornell Medicine is hopeful that the sAC inhibitor could be a game-changer for male contraception, and they are!