James Bradner and his colleagues at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are working to create a molecule that can lead to the world’s first male birth control pill.
Bradner and his team accidentally stumbled upon the possible contraceptive when he was developing an inhibitor molecule that could make cancer cells forget they were cancer. It would lead to new treatments for blood and lung cancer. While in the process of developing the molecule, Bradner found that the molecule known as JQ1 could also inhibit a protein found in the testes that is essential to fertility.
"In mating studies, JQ1 accomplishes a complete and reversible contraceptive effect in males without adversely affecting testosterone levels or mating behaviors and without prompting obvious [birth defects]in offspring," Bradner and Martin Matzuk, of the Baylor College of Medicine wrote in their study.
JQ1is a small molecule that can easily move through blood stream into the testes. Once there, it binds to the protein BRDT, an important component of sperm production.
"These cells effectively forget how to make mature sperm," he said. "The result is a profound decrease in sperm count and impaired motility, leading to a complete contraceptive effect. It's really stunning."
Bradner said that once JQ1 is developed it can be administered through a pill, injection, or applied topically.
"As early as next year, we may have a sense of how well this works in humans," he said. "What was initially a side project in our laboratory has become a major focus of our research…we're still aggressively advancing a derivative of it as a cancer drug."