New $8.3M NIH contract to advance hormone-free birth control research at University of Minnesota

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

University of Minnesota researchers will investigate pharmaceutical alternatives to existing hormone-based birth control under a new $8.3 million contract from the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

The primary goal of the five-year research contract is to develop new non-hormonal male and female birth control drug targets while expanding on existing targets. 

To that end, the contract will support a team of researchers within the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy and Institute for Therapeutics Discovery & Development (ITDD) and collaborators at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. The team will work to further birth control research conducted at the University of Minnesota, University of Kansas and elsewhere.

“Having professionals in medicinal chemistry, chemical process development, high-throughput screening, pharmacology, and lead and probe discovery all in one place made the University of Minnesota one of the few centers nationwide qualified for this contract,” said Vadim Gurvich, Ph.D., research associate professor in the ITDD. “We’re excited to get to work.”

Gunda Georg, Ph.D., professor and head of the College of Pharmacy’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry, is at the forefront of developing a non-hormonal pharmaceutical solution to stop sperm from ever reaching maturity. Georg, the principal investigator for the latest NICHD contract, is also collaborating with her colleagues on a non-hormonal birth control pill for women.

To this point, the development of an effective method of male birth control has been challenging. According to Georg, no toxicity can be tolerated when it comes to male birth control and the pill’s effects have to be reversible. Eliminating undesirable side effects such as testes shrinkage is another challenge. Furthermore, while female birth control is only trying to control the behavior of a single egg, male birth control must account for millions of sperm.

Georg believes her team has developed promising non-hormonal solutions and remains hopeful that these types of funding will help research further. Fortunately, while NIH funds available for distribution have declined for many institutions, faculty from the U of M College of Pharmacy have received an increased amount of NIH funding in recent years amid an increasingly competitive marketplace. This latest contract follows a $4.7 million grant for birth control research awarded to the U of M earlier this year.