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Male Birth Control Derived From Cancer Compound Works in Mice

A drug developed to treat cancer worked as a form of male contraception in mice in a study that may point the way toward a birth control pill for men, researchers said.

Scientists found that giving the compound, called JQ1, to mice reduced the number and quality of their sperm, then allowed normal sperm production to resume when the medicine was stopped, according to research described today in the journal Cell. The drug didn’t lower testosterone, interfere with mating or affect health of offspring after JQ1’s use, researchers said.

While scientists don’t plan on studying this specific compound in humans, the finding suggests a similar acting medicine may hold promise for developing the first male birth control pill.

“These findings suggest that a reversible, oral male contraceptive may be possible,” said James Bradner, the senior author on the study and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, in a statement. “While we will be conducting more research to see if we can build on our current findings, JQ1 shows initial promise as a lead compound for male contraception.”

The drug disrupts the process through which sperm develop and become mature, reducing the quantity and quality of the sperm in mice, the study found. The treatment, which has yet to be tested in humans as a form of birth control, was initially developed to block a gene linked to lung and blood cancers.

Despite the availability of birth control for women and condoms for men, as many as 49 percent of births in the U.S. were unplanned in 2006, according to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Birth Control Market

The U.S. market for female birth control pills was more than $3.5 billion in 2011, according to data from IMS Health Inc. Those drugs can carry side effects, including blood clots and weight gain.

Sales of condoms were $430 million in the 12 months through June 10, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a market-research firm in Chicago. Church & Dwight Co.’s Trojan brand leads the U.S. market with 69 percent of sales.

Previous studies in male contraception have looked at using a combination of testosterone and progestin as a gel, patch or injection to lower sperm count in men, which would reduce the risk of pregnancy.

The research by scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the National Institutes of Health, the Smith Family Foundation, and Damon-Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

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