The male contraceptive pill just took one step closer to becoming a reality after a big funding boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A team of scientists at the University of Dundee have been given £1.2 million in the hopes that they can develop the world’s first male contraceptive drug within the next two years.

There has been no progress in the field since the arrival of condoms – mostly because of a lack of conclusive studies that show the key functions that must be carried out by human sperm after leaving the male body.

Also, researchers have struggled to design an adept system to allow them to screen the effects of existing drugs.

But this band of scientists have managed to develop a parallel testing system that uses a scaled-down microscope and image-processing tools, with the aim of accurately monitoring the speedy movement of human sperm.

Chris Barratt, Professor of Reproductive Medicine in Dundee University’s School of Medicine, was overwhelmed by the generous donation given to the team by the Microsoft co-founder.

He said: “There has been no significant change in the field of male contraception since the development of the condom.
“This means that much of the burden of protecting against unwanted pregnancies continue 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.

He added that his team hope to develop a safe and effective male contraceptive drug in two years time, saying that researchers at the University of Dundee are in the best position to do so.

He continued: “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.

“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.

“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.”

There have been many male contraceptive drugs produced in the past, but none have made it to market.

James Mackenzie, a reporter for The Press and Journal – a regional newspaper covering the north of Scotland – suggests that it’s the mindset of men, rather than the science, that has prevented the product from becoming commercially available.

He said: “The problem has never been the science of stopping sperm: it’s been the economics of such a pill as a commercial product. That in turn rests on assumptions about the mindset of the people who might take it, or, more importantly, the mindset of people whose partners might take it.

“Can men be trusted? It’s a very fair question.”

He also said that calling it a ‘male pill’ is damaging to the trans women and cis men who could also benefit from it.

He added: “The term “male pill” is a misnomer in two ways. First, this contraceptive would be useful for some trans women as well as the many cis men who may end up using it.

“Second, it doesn’t need to be a pill. This could help to answer the trust question.”

He concluded by saying that the sexism which still exists in society could hinder the product from becoming a viable option.

He continued: “Regrettably, the bulk of contraceptive responsibilities are still put onto women, just as the bulk of childcare and domestic work still are too.

There’s no pill that can sort out a fair division of labour around the home, but if the team at Dundee University can deliver the money shot and get a working product to market, they might just help redress the balance in bed.”

What are your thoughts on this? Is it something that you would like to see happen?