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Contraceptive Watch

Testing a male pill; looking for infertile genes; new condom released

Organon Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company in Scotland, has begun safety and efficacy trials of a so-called male contraceptive pill.1

According to published reports, 150 Scottish men in Edinburgh began taking the pill in October, along with an undisclosed number of men in Cape Town, South Africa and Shanghai and Hong Kong in China.

The pill reportedly “fools” the body into ceasing sperm production by increasing the levels of progesterone in much the same way the low dose female pill does. Researchers report that the new male pill does not cause the weight gain, acne, mood swings or increases in cholesterol which have marred women’s use of progesterone anti-fertility drugs. However, men using the pill will be required to reverse their decline in testosterone with an implant that will have to be replaced every 6 months. Details on how the implant will function and what it might do to the overall cost of the male pill were not disclosed.

Once men stop taking the pill, Organon reported, sperm production returned to normal in “a few weeks.”

Cameron Martin, with the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary whose research made Organon’s efforts possible, predicted that the trials will be successful and that the male pill will be on the market as early as the year 2000. “There is no doubt the drug could be produced,” Martin said. “It could start in two or three years.”

Researchers searching for gene-based fertility block

Meanwhile other Scottish researchers at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital have begun searching for a genetic means of bringing about infertility.2 Researchers have found that genes from one of two key gene families, called the RBM or Daz genes, are missing in infertile men and women. It seems likely, researchers say, that these genes produce a protein which is necessary for the egg and sperm cells to fully mature.

Because the actions of the genes in humans are rather complex and difficult to isolate, researchers have begun to work with mice who have a predecessor of the gene families in their genetic structure. Researchers round that mice which had two copies of the disrupted gene (homozygote) were rendered infertile. “The [homozygous animals] turned out to be perfectly normal in all respects except that they don’t have any germ cells surviving by the time they are adults. This was true of both male and female animals,” said Howard Cooke, who heads up the molecular biology effort attached to the research project,

Anatomical and histological analysis found that ovaries and testes of the homozygous animals were all of normal appearance except for being of smaller size and containing no living germ cells. Germ cells in fertile mammals, including human beings, usually proliferate before birth and then remain dormant until puberty and adult sexual life.

Although the results of these studies remain “unclear” Cooke said, it would theoretically be possible for future genetic manipulation to allow parents or the government to decide, in advance, which human being would be born fertile and which would not.

Company launches Duron condom

London International Group announced the release of Durex Avanti, a new condom made of Duron, onto the European and, eventually, global market. The condom’s innovative use of Duron means that it is “stronger” than latex, company executives say, while also being thinner than latex. Further they point out that the Duron condoms are suitable to use with oil based lubricants which currently cause latex condoms to degrade.

London International is well suited to promote the condom worldwide. The company is already active with other products in 140 countries.


1 Scripps, “Tests set for male contraceptive pill,” 9 October 1997.

2 Bioworld, “Gene linked to infertility may lead to new contraceptives,” 16 September, 1997.

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